My earliest memory of church was when I was four years old at a women’s gathering at my church. I don’t remember if there were other children there or if this was one of the many times I tagged along with my mother to a church function. I do remember the moment the leader announced “the youngest person at the table gets to open the gift box in the middle of your table.” I remember my delight (four-year-olds rarely delight in being the youngest!) as I unwrapped a beautifully embroidered handkerchief. I felt special. I belonged. I’m no longer the youngest one at women’s gatherings anymore, but I hang on to that early memory of feeling seen and welcomed with a place at the table in the church at a young age and it informs how I see intergenerational ministry in the church.
Becoming Intentionally Intergenerational
The congregation I serve has been on a journey over the past few years of becoming more intentionally intergenerational. We are most fully the people of God when we are gathered for worship, service, learning, and fellowship together with all ages. We learn, worship, serve, and build community best when we honor the perspectives and gifts of all ages. But being intergenerational doesn’t always just happen. Intentionality is the key.
Want to become more intentionally intergenerational? 10 Practical Steps
Get Buy-in From Leadership
Is your pastoral and church leadership on board with becoming more intentionally intergenerational? Spend time on the front end educating leadership about the why of intergenerational ministry and make sure you have their buy-in.
Form a Team
Intentional intergenerational ministry cannot be sustained by a single staff member or congregation member championing it. Take Jesus’ cue and gather a team around you to advocate for intergenerational ministry. Questions to ask as you build your team:
- Who naturally advocates for intergenerational ministry in your context? Who is passionate about relationship building among the generations? Start with those who have supported past intergenerational efforts.
- Does our team reflect our intergenerational vision? Invite team members from each generation.
Start as an intergenerational ministry team by learning together. Read and discuss articles, books, websites, and videos. A great place to start is John Roberto’s website Lifelong Faith, namely the section on Intergenerational Faith Formation.
Where are you now in regards to intergenerational ministry? Where is God calling you to? Working through a visioning process helps focus your work. I recommend GenOn Ministry’s new Intergenerational Ministry Snapshot Tool as a helpful resource to guide this visioning work.
If you don’t set a few goals, you risk chasing after endless “great ideas.” Focus your team’s energy by setting 2-4 goals that emerge based on the learning and visioning process. What 2-4 goals would most move your congregation to becoming more intentionally intergenerational?
Name a Structure
Where does intergenerational ministry fit in your congregation’s structure? If it doesn’t have a place, it doesn’t have staying power. Responsibility for advocating and planning for intergenerationality must have a place in your structure, just as age-segregated ministry does. Talk with your leadership about creating a structure for intergenerational ministry. This will vary by context –perhaps monthly or quarterly meetings to look at upcoming intergenerational opportunities. Or, you might have intergenerational advocates who sit on various committees and resource those particular groups.
Train Other Teams
Creating a culture of intergenerational ministry cannot happen if only a handful of people are invested. Train all committees/teams in your church to view their ministry through an intergenerational lens. Our intergenerational team visited each committee at our church for a short 20-minute presentation using a handout we created, “What is Intergenerational Ministry?” We guided them through the why of intergenerational ministry, offered questions to consider, and best practices to keep in mind. We finished the presentation by brainstorming with them ways the specific ministries under their care could be more intergenerational.
Stop, Collaborate, & Listen
Throughout this intergenerational ministry journey, I’ve been reminded of the words of Vanilla Ice who wisely sang – “Stop, collaborate, and listen.” These three powerful words inform next steps in intergenerational ministry:
Stop: Stop before adding more programs. Resist the urge to try that next “great new program” and first consider what’s already happening that can be more intergenerational. Also understand that being intergenerational is about more than programs and events; it’s a way of being. A goal of our intergenerational ministry team was to focus on learning, visioning, and culture first, and not get sidetracked by programs. Lay the foundation first and then programs will naturally evolve out of your goals.
Collaborate: It’s time to get out of our age-segregated ministry silos! What energy would come from ministry teams working together? In my church context, a joint calendar planning meeting brings together representatives from a variety of church committees to look intentionally at plans for the church year. During this time, we find ways to collaborate and work together, creating better quality ministry. Instead of quantity, we’re looking for ways we can pare down our events/programs and work together as committees in order to enable a better quality of ministry, less burned out volunteers, and less overwhelmed families.
Listen: Intergenerational ministry is already happening in your congregation, whether or not you intend for it to. Listen for the stories of how your congregation is already intergenerational and then share those stories far and wide to help your congregation see with a lens of intergenerationality and the possibilities already among them. Perhaps you have a couple who encourages a college student in your congregation by checking in and inviting them consistently for dinner. This can happen organically without a full-fledged Adopt-a-Student program. In particular, smaller churches are specifically set up for success in intergenerational ministry as it often happens organically in ways that larger churches spend countless hours and energy trying to emulate. But whatever the size of your congregation, celebrate and share those stories of where intergenerational culture and practices already exist as a way to help others see the possibilities.