Becoming an Intergenerational Church: What does this mean?
Simply stated, intergenerational is “one or more age groups doing something together” (Allen, 2003, p. 2). Intergenerational Ministry (IM), however, encompasses intentional interaction between the generations that promotes the faith and spiritual development of all ages. This article will take a thorough look at research conducted in this field in order to properly understand this model of ministry. Articles will follow that explain the reasons intergenerational ministry is vital for children’s faith development.
Christine Ross (2007) describes the difference between the terms multigenerational, transgenerational, and intergenerational, which are all used to describe a recent trend of intentionally considering the various generations within an organization:
Most congregations are multigenerational or transgenerational in that they have more than one generation engaged in worship and ministry activities….However, a congregation focused on intergenerational ministry will enable the various generations to communicate in meaningful ways, to interact on a regular basis, and to minister and serve together regularly. (p. 26)
Allan Harkness (2000) states that “intentional intergenerational strategies are those in which an integral part of the process of faith communities encourages interpersonal interactions across generational boundaries, and in which a sense of mutuality and equality is encouraged between participants” (p. 52). Allen (2002) emphasizes that the general idea of intergenerational Christian education or intergenerational religious education is that
children, teenagers, young adults (single and married), parents, and grandparents gather in settings where all members give and receive from each other. All ages can participate actively in prayer and worship, and, in some settings, share spiritual insights, read scripture, and minister to one other. (p. 8, emphasis added)
Intergenerational ministry includes the key component of intentionality and interaction among every generation. Intergenerational ministry “occurs when a congregation intentionally combines the generations together in mutual serving, sharing, or learning within the core activities of the church in order to live out being the body of Christ to each other and the greater community” (Ross, p. 27). James White defines intergenerational religious education as “‘two or more different age groups of people in a religious community together learning/growing/ living in faith through in-common experiences, parallel learning, contributive-occasions, and interactive sharing’” (Roberto, 2007, p. 6).
As I have researched this field of ministry, I discovered an important concept: intergenerational ministry is not just another program. It goes beyond programs to a form of being. I have termed my conception of intergenerational ministry as becoming intergenerational. Allen (2002) describes intergenerational ministry in the following manner:
It is more than adding orange juice at the greeting table, more than allowing children to sit in ‘big church’ for a few minutes at the beginning of worship, more than letting the preschool class present a song during corporate worship. It involves how Christians define themselves, see themselves, and live together as community. (Allen, 2002, p. 28)
Kirk (2003) also summarizes the concept of becoming intergenerational as well:
It is deliberately called intergenerational because it is precisely that! It is not just about including children-a very patronizing view that adults might adopt. It is not just about families, for there are many who have no family, yet are part of this wonderful flow in which God has set us all. This is about all of us appreciating one another, giving and receiving from the generations around us, without compromise and without losing our identity, that we ‘may be one.’ (p. 8 )
Intergenerationality is the mindset of congregational leaders as they implement church ministries, as opposed to adding programs to existing activities of a congregation. A church becomes intergenerational when there is consistent intentionality in placing all ages together in various settings, when children and teens look up to the older adults in the congregation as fellow believers on the journey of faith, and when the adults and elderly see the blessing of youthfulness and all that they can learn from the younger generations. It occurs when age is no longer a boundary or a frightening thing to integrate. Becoming intergenerational encompasses becoming one in Christ under His headship and authority as His body, serving, learning, and growing together.
Allen, H. (2002). A qualitative study exploring the similarities and differences of the spirituality of children in intergenerational and non-intergenerational Christian contexts. (Doctoral dissertation, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA).
Allen, H. C. (2003). Nurturing children’s spirituality in intergenerational settings. Lutheran Educational Journal, 139(2), 111-124.
Kirk, D. (2003). Heirs together: Establishing intergenerational church. Suffolk, Great Britain: Kevin Mayhew.
Roberto, J. (2007). Best practices in intergenerational faith formation. Lifelong Faith, 1(3), 5- 16.
Ross, C. (2007). Being an intergenerational congregation. Issues, 41(2), 24-32.
You may also enjoy our practical article on connecting older adults and children in your church. You can also read an article about inter-generational ministry on Wikipedia.