Monday, February 25, 2008

What is Intergenerational...Really?

One of the most powerful faith formation factors in a teen's life is having a mentor-type relationship with an older Christian. In fact, in my experience, only parents active in spiritual leadership in their homes are more productive.

In my last couple of years as youth pastor I encouraged the older generation to make connections with the younger (and vice versa) as outlined in Titus 2. Initially, most people pointed to the worship service as being intergenerational. However, it soon became evident that very little connecting was taking place in this setting. Sure, several generations were sitting in the same room, singing the same songs, and listening to the same sermon. Sometimes a teen and an adult would sing in the same worship team or share responsibility passing the plate. But even then, no connection would happen.

What followed was a constant unnatural struggle to make intergenerational connections happen. What we discovered is that the structures most churches operate under prevent these from happening. For starters, we're simply not used to having different generations come together in significant ways, let alone share space together on equal footing. Our programs isolate us from each other. Scripturally, though, spiritual wisdom is to be imparted from the older, wiser generation to the younger, inexperienced.

So is this possible to happen in a significant way in the today's current form of church?


Elizabeth said...

Just a thought ... as a twenty-something, the only times I connect with church members outside my generation is by serving with them, in particular on mission trips. I've been on 2 trips where I've really connected to people outside my age group (and the relationships continue after the trip ends). I'm blessed to belong to a church that encourages teens and adults to travel and serve together, and I believe it is a vital way to connect church members who otherwise would stay within their age groups.

jeremy zach said...

You made some valid and great points about the reality of trying to force this intergenerational connection to just happen.

I think one needs to realize this happens over time and that it is a re-culturing.

One needs to have a strategy to incorporate these abandoned adolescents into the church. Getting the adolescents participating in the church service is only part of the strategy. The re-culturing of the church needs to start with the lead/senior pastor and the idea needs to be: the adolescent will be completely immersed with adult influenced!

This can happen a number of ways:

1) Student serve dinner to the church
2) Students being greeters, ushers, doing the announcements, supporting the technical crew, media, and playing alongside the musical worship team
3) Intentionally planning all church functions that are appealing to the youth.
4) Having a coffee/lunch time before and after church service
5) Having the youth ministry help set up another church ministry
5) Encourage the student to go to the men's and women's ministry events
6) Have an adult prayer team specifically praying for one student in the YM for 6 months.

My point is that having the adolescent in the service is only part of the intergenerational strategy. Church needs to be different for these adolescents. Everywhere else other than church these adolescents feel as though they are outsider and they will have to be submitted under an adult agenda.

How long exactly did you attempt this strategy?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Christopher B. Brooks said...

Great blog bro. Tough to read, but necessary.

The truth is that the larger a Church gets in attendance and membership, the less true intergenerational contact there is. To build and sustain an intergenerational model, one has to be committed to "small Church," where what happens outside of the 4 walls is more important than what happens inside of them. My mama is from Jamaica, and EVERY Church I have attended in JA is intergenerational.

They are all also small.

jshay said...

Jeremy Zach had some suggestions that have simply perpetuated the problem - at least in my current church.

There is a definite gap between students and adults here. The students are asked to serve and/or clean up at dinners. The students are expected to haul the Christmas decorations up and down from the attic. The students are expected to greet at 3 or 4 services each year. Most of all, the students are expected to stay out of the way and keep quiet the rest of the time.

The only adults who have a real connection with the students are the adults who volunteer with the youth ministry. Sadly, I've worked hard for 4 years to gather just 6 adults who are willing to do so. The general attitude is that they pay me to keep the kids busy until they are ready for "real" church.

We've tried all kinds of things - having students lead portions of the services, having the students lead a prayer retreat for adults, prayer partners, one on one mentoring for confirmation students, etc. None of these have been successful, and all of them have simply added to the "program overload" that I have been trying so desperately to get away from.

To answer the posted question: I don't think we can have real intergenerational connections in our current form of church.

jeremy zach said...


I got you. I feel you. However I think it is possible. Yes some of these ways fail, but I think the real changes needs to happen with the adults.

Adults need to learn how to interact with a teenager. It really should be modeled from the top down. Kids only do so much, until the adult has to take charge and lead. ya know?

If adults are excited about kids, then there is room to work however if adults want to keep to their Bible study and to their same pew row, then there will be no change.

I argue very hard that we need to have intergenerational connection, however it must be lead by the senior leadership and by the adults.

If the adults are not amped for their church family's children, then there are bigger problems. The problem is not with the philosophy of intergeneration connection, but the willingness and openness of the adults within the church.