God established the Church as a family. Families are mixes of people from every generation. Unfortunately, few churches demonstrate this. The age-graded model of ministry works well as a faith factory, a way of getting everyone something that relates immediately to their needs. Faith factories work to process people, but several studies, including the work done at Fuller Youth Institute, show that generations need one another. The age-graded approach has value in spiritual development: children learn things at their level; adults process issues that are not sharable in mixed age groups; and new comers can attend churches without feeling that their attention needs to be split.
The Missional Family model of discipleship doesn’t demand the end of age group ministries, but it does require new ways of mixing ages, inside and outside of those ministries.
Here are12 examples of ways churches can mix their ages without ending their current age-directed ministries:
- Create a mentor program that goes beyond the youth group or children’s club. Introduce older adults into those relationships. Mentors are an important part of the Loving Community discussing in our post on the missional family discipleship.
- Reform your small group ministry to include families. Children don’t have to attend the “boring parts”, but they should be greeted, prayed for, and cared for by the group as a whole.
- Instead of affinity-based small groups, develop groups that cross generations.
- Include teens in small groups. Not all will feel comfortable joining, but some will. Others will learn that it isn’t “weird” over time. We have other ideas about small groups in a previous post.
- Have youth/seniors nights. The youth group can design and run an evening at the church for the senior’s ministry.
- Put discipleship under one umbrella. Maintain a children’s program, youth program, and adult programs, but have one leadership team that oversees them all.
- Develop a family worship Sunday that occurs on the 5th Sunday of the month. Some churches may choose to worship together more often, but an easy way to begin welcoming children and youth into “adult” worship may be on the quarterly occurrence of the 5th Sunday of the month. Churches need not make these Sundays juvenile in their structure, but can work to include all generations. I would also work extra hard to include seniors in some way. Avoid preaching on “the little children” in these weeks. Those sermons aren’t really applicable for little children other than to feel important.
- Close any youth classes that distract from being a part of common worship. By age 12, most children should be able to participate with the whole church.
- Preach sermons that make sense to a child. Seminary level sermons don’t really connect to most adults, if we’re being honest. These sermons can include abstract concepts and big words, but they should not be centered on difficult concepts. Terms should be well defined.
- Make a point of the value of seniors working with children. No one is too old to be used by the Holy Spirit. Rewrite job descriptions to help seniors find a place to serve.
- Acknowledge regularly that the church is a family, and all people of ages and stages of life have a place in the church.
- Value your singles. Remind them the Apostle Paul said that being single can create a unique availability to serve in the Kingdom work. We offer more ideas about including singles in this post.