Intergenerational mission

The idea of intergenerational churches is popular, but truly intergenerational churches are rare.

Randy Shepley

What is your favorite church or denominational buzz word or phrase? There are so many: missional, free and faithful, purpose driven, emergent, traditional, contemporary.

When overused, buzz words can begin to lose their meaning. Take, for example, one of my favorites, “intergenerational.”

“Intergenerational” means persons across different age groups are connected in some kind of relationship. In a church or denomination, this means persons from different generations share in friendship, faith, prayer, dialogue, mutual respect and commitment to the mission of God.

You would be hard-pressed to find a person opposed to the idea of an intergenerational church. Who would vote against the belief that all church members must stand together, regardless of generational differences, in order to do the work of Jesus?

The idea of developing intergenerational churches is popular, yet truly intergenerational churches are rare. Why?

Many congregations are multi-generational instead of intergenerational. A multi-generational church boasts members and attendees from different generations, but these groupings are nearly always segregated into their own generational gatherings.

Rarely do Builders have conversations with Busters or Millennials have conversations with Boomers. In a multi-generational congregation, persons from many generations are present, but the groups silo away in generation-specific bunkers.

Often, generational groups only come together to “discuss” the style, time or dress in the worship service, how money is given to missions or another generationally charged topic.

An intergenerational church, on the other hand, looks for intentional ways to build connections and friendships between the generations. This does not mean separate generational groups are forbidden. Rather, the congregation encourages and facilitates the cross-pollination of friendship and conversation between groups. Likewise, staff and church leaders cultivate an environment and attitude of intergenerational connection.

Many church members, pastors and staff persons are unwilling to pay the price for intergenerational community. In a truly intergenerational fellowship, the vision and core values of the congregation belong to everyone.

If loving the children of the church and community is a core value of the congregation, then it is a core value for the senior adults and the younger families of the church. If the senior adults value history and tradition, then it is incumbent on the younger generations to listen and respect history and tradition even as a post-modern world requires new techniques and ministries to do God’s mission.

The truth is, intergenerational churches are rare because we want our church our way. It is easy to let generational preferences drive the vision of the church or even a denomination. We can even justify those generational preferences as God’s preferences.

Not long ago my church took 39 people on a mission trip to Carolina, Puerto Rico, where we worked alongside the dear people of Iglesia Bautista de Metropolis. We learned many spiritual and cultural lessons, but perhaps the most meaningful gift we received was intergenerational, spiritual friendship.

The youngest persons on the trip were 5 years old and the oldest was 75. Every decade in between was represented. What an amazing gift to see the Holy Spirit build respect and friendship among these different age groups as we ate, prayed, worshipped, played, laughed and cried.

I wish I could say the remarkable intergenerational growth from this trip was a result of stellar planning on my part. Instead, this was the Spirit’s work. What I learned is the crucible of service can fashion different generations into a community of authentic fellowship.

Truly intergenerational churches are not born by decree or vote. They are forged in the refining fire of servanthood and in the cooling care of humility.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.