Cultivating Inter-generational Communities
This week we’ll talk about why it is so important to cultivate inter-generational communities. Next week I’ll give you a long list of ideas to cultivate more connections across the generations and I’ll be looking for your ideas too. First, think of your community….
1. If you were to place your ministry sub-group (e.g. Bible Study group, Sunday School, youth group, board, small group, soup-kitchen…) on a continuum between age-stratified relationships and intergeneration engagement, where would you fall? 2. What about your church as a whole?
Different generations and age groups certainly need times where they are separated out so the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel for their life can be explained in language they understand and in ways relevant to their reality. However, if the majority of the time the generations are separated from one another, we are all missing out on the richness of being a family together.
Here are four reasons I believe we need to foster more inter-generational connections in our faith communities, churches and camps.
1. We are family (I’ve got a song running through my head right now)
a. Created for belonging - We are created in God’s imagine. God is a social Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit. Our triune God enters into relationships with the world He creates, with us. We are relational beings at our very core. It doesn’t matter who you are, you need relationships. God uses relationships. Back in the Garden of Eden God kept declaring everything he made “good”, but there was one thing God declared not good. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) God gave Adam and Eve to each other and “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25) We all need places, especially teenagers, where we can have relationships of “no shame” – places to be real, to be vulnerable, to be known and accepted. Forget about the sexual part, the naked part, we all need places to be safely known for who we really are. The church can be this place. That’s family, where you can walk in, just as you are, and find belonging regardless of where you are along the age spectrum. How can you create places for belonging in your community?
b. Become family – when someone becomes a follower of Jesus, they instantly become part of the same family, with the same heavenly Father (check out 1 John 3:1, Ephesians 2:19). They become part of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor 12:12ff), where they need the others parts – the foot, the hand, the mouth, the big toe, in order to function well as God’s body in this world. If we put any generation, any group, on the sidelines we are affectively amputating ourselves and missing the joy and gifts of using the whole body. I’ve said this on this blog before, I know personally how much I need other followers of Jesus to be my family. We should feel adopted and incorporated into an additional family – Grandma’s, Grandpa’s, extra Mom’s and Dad’s, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children in the faith. I remember when I was serving at a small church in rural Nova Scotia and the congregation decided to collect money in a gas jug to help me out with car expenses. The help and message this sent made me feel like a daughter. How can you help people feel adopted into family in your community?
2. This is how discipleship happens – If I asked you right now “what helped you mature in your faith the most?” My guess is you would think of a person, likely a person further along in their faith somehow, that invested in you and helped you grow in your faith. God uses relationships to refine us (Proverbs 27:17). God especially seems to use those that are different than us, to teach us and mould us. No one can grow to maturity in Christ on their own. Each generation needs to be pouring into other generations (Psalm 145:4). Don’t you love when you see this happening? It’s great when I see children and teen walks into a church like they own the place, making their way through the Sunday morning crowd to give hugs or updates to people in various generations before they can find their seat. Are different generations involved in the discipleship of one another in your community?
3. It shows our love to the world – Do people look at your church, camp or faith community and see only division? Jesus said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) …not, if you love everyone in the same age bracket …not, if you love everyone that looks like you …not, if you love everyone with the same energy level as you …not, if you love everyone that likes the same things as you BUT simply love one another, without any qualifiers. Scripture speaks of the power of the Gospel to break down dividing walls. Our unity and love shows when dividing walls are demolished. Christ is the bond that binds us together, and that is the strongest bond, stronger than anything that could divide us. Dividing walls of age, gender, and background have all be broken down and reconciled in Christ (check out Galatians 3:26-29 and Ephesians 2:14-18). Do people look at your community and see the beautiful unity Christ has brought?
4. The family that plays together, stays together – integrating different generations together is part of the solution towards solving the crisis of losing our youth and young adults as they grow up. We are discovering a lot of youth are slipping away from faith communities during the transitions in life - transitions from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to life after high school. Yet, if youth have relationships with people across the generations, they are much more likely to transition well. We all need people that care about us, check-in with us and know us to the point that we could “hang-out” together.
I encourage you to check out the hemorrhaging faith research that surveyed 2,049 young adults aged 18 to 34 in Canada. (Found at: http://tgcfcanada.org/hemorrhagingfaith/). The study found that for people who grew up in the faith as children and youth, approximately 4 in 5 from the Catholic and Mainline traditions no longer attend church regularly by the time they are young adults. For those who were raised in the Evangelical tradition, 1 in 2 no longer attend regularly by the time they are young adults. Most importantly, look at what the study says in terms of the factors that increase the likelihood that a person will stick with their faith by the time they reach adulthood. Also take note of how inter-generational relationships could directly enrich or support these things to happen in the lives of our young people. • Parents with engaged faith (5x more likely) • Camp (56%) & Mission experiences (71%) • Sense of community • Experience of presence of God for themselves • Opportunity to participate and lead (60%) How can you enable the younger generations to have camp and mission experiences? Can you encourage and support them to go to Tidal Impact this summer? How can you enable them to have a sense of community, opportunities for leadership and opportunities to experience the living God for themselves? How can you support parents in living out their faith?
The way forward is to see each other as collaborators across the generations instead of competitors. We need each other. No generation is on the sidelines. God does not put anyone on the sidelines. You are an important part of the body of Christ. God is using different ages to transform you. God is using you to transform both those older and younger than you.
Who is one person, from a different generation, you need to connect with and get to know better?
As a leader, how can you foster collaboration across the generations?
Come back next week to share specific ideas on how we cultivate more connections across the generations.