Thursday, 28 October 2021

In essential - Unity - Looking at Intergenerational Ministry

I'm writing this after an interesting and challenging day at Synod at which it became clear that we need to start thinking about the way we can do things differently. This article is the result of attending an online Intergenerational Conference last month. I hope it makes you think about re-evaluating how we can be church together.

To start with we need to recognise who is present in church, the generations they may be from, and are there any generations missing? It could be of no surprise to find out there are groups missing from our church communities as they stand, but are we in contact with people from these groups, and if not what ways do we consider we can build these contacts?

Why intergenerational relationship and ministry?

Being all ages together used to be natural in all things. Now religious institutions are one of the few places that are intergenerational, and children and young people connect with adults of all ages (and each other), but we have fallen into the habit of silos depending on ages. This should only be part of the story and being all together nourishes a robust faith across all generations. Only as the whole body of Christ can there be a range of views, skills, gifts, and perspectives. It also recognises that a faith journey is for the whole of life, you are never too old to learn more, explore faith and deepen a relationship with God (and other people).

The web of care and nurture of faith allows all those in church to invest time, love, and energy into the young (and each other). The young need to see how adults do 'faith', respond to God, and live a Christian life, and how they sometimes fail but dust themselves down and get up again. They need to see how life's difficulties and celebrations are part of all Christians’ lives and being a person of faith does not mean life is always easy, smooth and without difficulties.

Being intergenerational in church isn't just about sharing spaces but about sharing stories and supporting one another. As we accompany one another in ministry, mission, and daily life we 'ferry' faith across the borders. We value 'others' with different perspectives on life, at different stages of life and faith journey, and recognise the love God has for all of us. Analysing who is and isn't in church across a range of factors will help us to develop a ministry for all, including those currently on the fringes, or outside the church. Giving voice to everyone, not just those who are used to speaking, but those with no power will encourage growth for everyone. A recognition that we learn and grow together, that everyone contributes to everyone else's growth is vital for this to succeed.

To do this work we may need to act in new ways:

  • Share resources - use them to bless and sustain the community;
  • Recognise the Other's expertise (whatever that is from playing a musical instrument, leading worship, or making Lego models);
  • Share stories across the generations asking -
    - Where did you see God in this?
    - What scars are there from your experiences? (be cautious here)
    - How was God present in difficult situations?
  • Build networks;
  • Make decisions together.

Act as called to by Psalm 78:1-4

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

3 things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.

4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

There are at least 80 references to 'generations' in the bible and usually referring to telling stories. This doesn't have to be linear it can hop around the generations, younger people may have stories of faith to tell their elders of where God is at work in their lives, or where they see it at work in others lives.

Who are the generations?

In European and North America commonly considered to be:

  • 95 and older (1901-1926) - the Greatest Generation
  • 76-94 (1927-1945) - the Silent Generation (seen and not heard) or Traditionalists
  • 57-75 (1947-1964) - Baby Boomers
  • 41-56 (1965-1980) - Gen X or Busters
  • 25-40 (1981-1996) - Gen Y or Millennials
  • 9-24 (1997-2012) - Gen Z or iGen
  • 8 or younger (2012 - present) - Alpha Generation

Each generation is formed by the great events that have happened during their lives like world wars, introduction of technology, milestones like a man landing on the moon etc.
Be aware that generations may be defined differently by other cultures, possibly by migration. How can we look at that within our churches?

Where does one begin?

Start by naming, claiming and celebrating the generations present remembering this is part of the witness of the church.

Tips for facilitation of intergenerational interaction

Think generations in every aspect of your ministry. When having a get-together is there seating for everyone - how about an event that has a whole range of seating options, rocking chairs, low chairs, high back chairs, bean bags, etc. The seating needs to suit everyone and sometimes this means we must rethink what seats we provide.

It may be worth doing 'dots' - people take a coloured spot that match their generation, or decade of birth, and then they are asked to get in groups of five with everyone in the group having a different colour dot. It doesn't have to be sticky dots, how about flowers, Lego bricks, wrapped biscuit or cake (swapping encourage between the generations), etc.

Keep to groups of five - more than this and the group tends to split on age lines. Seat around small tables, or none - long tables tend to divide. Use the groups for prayer, bible study, activity, discussion of the way forward, etc. but allow time for stories to be told by everyone in the group, and different perspectives to be seen. This can be a marvellous opportunity to share stories across the generations.

The dot system can be used to get people into groups of the same generation, maybe to look at what they can bring to the session before coming into mixed age groups.

So, I urge you to think intergenerationally, not just in church, but at social events, church committees, bible study groups etc. It is easier to talk to people of your own generation but so rewarding to converse with those from different generations, to build intergenerational relationships and encourage flourishing of all those the church is in contact with.

Sr Joy Raynor
Provincial Youth and Children's Officer

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