One of the leading trends in youth and family ministries is the notion of intergenerational experiences, which happen when the church encourages ministry, service and worship between generations. Research has demonstrated that these kinds of interactions strengthen faith formation for children and youth. Young people learn from trusted adults. In many ways, the Sharing Life concept is an underlying current for intergenerational friendships, which we invite you to consider in this final chapter of our “Best Practices” series.
- Youth serving in church (w/ adults)
This idea has risen a few times in this blog series, and stems from the 5th Degree in the Sharing Life concept. The great thing about this context is that mutual learning and sharing life happen when the effort is intentional and is focused on a common goal. It’s not about building these relationships for the sake of just having the, it’s about encouraging and supporting faith growth among youth and adults.
- No age restrictions to general church life (e.g. in prayer meetings, small groups, fellowship after service, worship service)
Depending on your church’s tradition, culture and polity, eliminating age restrictions may require some changes in ethos. That being said, we sometimes bring greater restrictions to these gatherings that is really necessary. When younger generations are encouraged to attend–and are welcomed not just in presence, but their ideas too–they get to witness the church’s life in action (presuming there is life). They get to experience the movements of God along with everyone else. The older generations also benefit by seeing young peoples’ faith demonstrated in creative ways. They may even see how God can be expressed in ways beyond what they’re used to.
- Intentional intergenerational programming (e.g. events, testimony sharing, promoting youth activities to wider congregation, programs that bring together folks of all ages with age-divided breakouts, missions trips for all generations)
Clearly, there is a place for age-specific opportunities. However, the church also needs to set aside structured times for intergenerational opportunities. While some intergenerational friendships may develop naturally (without being organized) in some situations, there are times when you want to intentionally encourage intergenerational friendships.
- Mentoring or prayer partners
Generally speaking, children and youth aren’t concerned about whether the older generation cares about the next generation: they want to know that they are cared about individually. That is, each young person needs to feel important/relevant/known. Intergenerational partnering for mentoring and prayer encourages those individual interactions, where (as the show “Cheers” would say) everybody knows your name. A church that has at least one adult investing in each child and youth is one that demonstrates young people belong to this church family.
- Youth in church leadership positions (e.g. Sunday mornings, youth in committees to do church-wide things)
While not every youth has the maturity to be in a leadership position, each church can likely identify at least a few with leadership potential. Providing growing leaders with opportunities to lead is key to their faith formation, especially as God is shaping them in that way. Perhaps their initial responsibilities are relatively small. As they grow, allow those opportunities to grow with them (e.g. Consider having a youth or young adult who has the maturity and potential be part of your church’s leadership team/church council). It may be considered risky by some, but if God has placed that challenge before them, we should come alongside them to nurture, support and develop that leadership gift in a faith setting.
There are many ways to encourage intergenerational friendships. In what ways does your church do this?