Walking together: Intergenerational church
How much richer church life could be, says Sam Richards, if all age groups did everything together
Lois is my biblical hero. She is mentioned in passing in 2 Timothy as Timothy’s grandmother, along with her daughter Eunice, Timothy’s mother. This is the first example of intergenerational Christian ministry, grandmother and mother passing on a living faith to a young man who would become a Christian leader.
Of course, Paul was also part of this intergenerational community, along with many others. Intergenerationality was the norm in biblical times because society was based around the family (work, social life, faith, financial and other support) and family meant multiple generations and multiple connections, not the nuclear or fractured family units we default to today. Everyone was part of a family – it did not depend on age or marital status, usefulness or potential. God established human community to be intergenerational, and makes his promises ‘from generation to generation’.
It is very easy to read the Gospels through our contemporary assumptions about adult-only, serious events in the life of Christ and the early Church. However, children and young people are present throughout, even when not explicitly mentioned. Mark records a youth fleeing naked when Jesus is arrested, and Paul bores a young man to death in a late-night church meeting! A key biblical image of the Church is the family of God. Jesus describes everyone who does the will of the Father as his brother and sister and mother. It is the community within which we are all children of our heavenly Father.
Today’s Church could have as many as seven generations potentially spanning more than 10 decades: infants, children, young people, emerging adults, young adults, middle-aged adults, older adults. Church is one of the few places in society that remains multigenerational – a characteristic we should treasure. For most of the rest of life we are segregated into groups of predominately one or two generations. But there is a fundamental difference between multigenerational and intergenerational. Churches can cater for generations separately (with programmes, services and activities aimed at different groups) and be multigenerational. Or churches can cater for generations together, intentionally creating communities that bring people of all ages together in worship, discipleship, service, mission and ministry: intergenerational. The shift from multigenerational to intergenerational is so counter-cultural, profoundly biblical and vital for the regeneration of the Church we must engage with this seriously for all our sakes…
Sam Richards is Head of Children’s and Youth Work for the United Reformed Church. This article is based on her chapter in Re-envisioning Children’s Ministry (Ed Sally Nash, Carolyn Edwards and Sian Hancock) which will be published by Jessica Kingsley later this year
This is an extract from an article that was published in the February 2018 edition of Reform