Building an intergenerational church in a society that separates people by age groups can be a challenge. From preschool through high school children are put in classrooms with others their age. At the other end of life, we put our aged into nursing homes.
The church seems to have perfected this age segregation with our age-graded Sunday schools, youth groups, seniors’ groups, singles’ ministries, etc. Gen X churches, where a single demographic is targeted, was the latest trend until Willow Creek dropped its once popular Gen X service, Axis, because of a large drop in attendance.
Sunday school experts agree that this segregation leads to growth. Decades of data support this “birds of a feather flock together” thinking. On the other hand, many have observed that youth tend to drop out of church after high school graduation and young adults rarely integrate into the life of the church.
If the church is to be a community, then it needs to reflect the intergenerational quality of the traditional family. Norm Wakefield, Spirit of Elijah Ministries, suggests that a biblical model of youth ministry involves adults modeling appropriate behavior to the younger generation. He recommends men’s and women’s retreats that include the children. He has observed that teenagers behave differently with adults of their gender than in peer groups. Boys will model adult behavior when on a fishing trip with men because they want to be accepted.
Small groups tend to follow an intergenerational approach to adult ministries. This helps to fulfill the older women and older men mentoring the younger women and men mandate of the Bible. This can be done without a drop in numbers. The multiplication of small groups, particularly in cell churches, surpasses that of the traditional Sunday school.
One way to bring generations together is through big projects that involve the whole church. We had a car wash at Grace Chapel that involved children, teens, college students, older adults and seniors. It is one of the most endearing memories I have of a church working together. Our ministry to the nursing home has also involved people of all ages.
Building an intergenerational church can be a challenge but it is a witness to the world of the holistic community that God wants us to be.