There has been a return recently to cross-generational and intergenerational communities and contexts mostly because of the research being done on the importance of multigenerational community.
As crazy as it seems to us, it’s actually quite normal and quite healthy for generations to spend quality time together.
But, let’s be honest: The way society is currently structured, connecting with generations outside of our own can feel uncomfortable and decidedly not fun.
And because of that, we sometimes think that we don’t have anything in common with generations other than ours and, even more sadly, that we can’t be friends.
But, that’s simply not true. It’s what we’ve become accustomed to but it’s not truth.
The truth is we actually live better, more fulfilling lives when we are around each other. Is it possible to change our minds?
Some amazing places are showing it is possible, like this intergenerational care home in the United Kingdom and these intergenerational communities in the United States.
They are built on the idea that we have more that unites us than separates us, more in common than difference.
And I believe that can be done in the church as well. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things we can do in our churches today. But how?
1. Start slow.
Realistically, most of the generations that attend a church don’t even know one another’s names.
They often don’t attend the same service times, they are in age-specific Sunday School classes that don’t intermingle with other classes, and they very often are in different parts of the church building.
The very first thing we can do is provide a way for generations within the church to learn each other’s names.
This “Pray for Me” resource is a perfect way to create connections across generations.
2. Create a common identity.
As members of one faith community, this idea of a common identity should be relatively easy to create.
Basically, using your church’s vision and mission, craft language that can be used across generations to say, “This is who WE are.”
Don’t just use the language in the adult classes or church service where children and youth aren’t present.
Make sure everyone knows they are part of the church and identifies with the mission.
As silly as this may seem, T-shirts are a great way to make this happen. Magnify the similarities, not the differences.
3. Allow for interactions.
If your church is set up in a way that doesn’t allow for generations to mix and mingle (separate services, classes and spaces), it will be necessary to intentionally create space for interactions to take place.
Meals together, intergenerational worship and cross-generational events are some ways to allow for that.
It’s also vitally important to facilitate and encourage interactions outside of the church buildings. Here are some ideas:
- Have the kids who play sports or dance post their game or performance schedules and encourage older folks to attend
- Ask the older generations to videotape themselves telling stories about their memories of being in church and share videos with the kids once a month.
- Create a homebound ministry with the youth who go and visit people who aren’t physically able to come to the church.
- Host classes where skills can be taught between generations, older to younger and younger to older.
- Find places in the community where teams could volunteer and serve and send intergenerational groups out to serve with one another.
4. Show up in unconventional ways.
If there is always an adult leading the call to worship, let a child do it. If a child always takes up the offering, have a college student do it.
Move chairs and tables around so that people end up sitting with other generations and making new friends.
Keep messaging that we have more in common than we think and help them discover common likes, dislikes and activities. And when you find a commonality, celebrate it.
If there is an advertised “churchwide” event, make sure the whole church is there, all ages, including children, youth and senior adults.
As Paul would say, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Regardless of what our society has convinced us of, this is actually what we want.
Our souls long for community, and our physical health and well-being benefit from it in ways we are just starting to understand.
So, yes, while it will take some intentional work and some consistent messaging, ultimately the end goal is worth it: We will be the body of Christ.
Christina Embree is a church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children’s ministry.