12 really practical ways you can mix generations without scrapping age-directed ministry

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Instead of affinity-based small groups, develop groups that cross generations. 
  4. 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.
  5. Have youth/seniors nights. The youth group can design and run an evening at the church for the senior’s ministry.
  6. Put discipleship under one umbrella. Maintain a children’s program, youth program, and adult programs, but have one leadership team that oversees them all.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Acknowledge regularly that the church is a family, and all people of ages and stages of life have a place in the church.
  12. 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.
Contact us and ask for a consultation if you would like to hear more practical ideas tailored to your church. 
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4 Responses to 12 really practical ways you can mix generations without scrapping age-directed ministry

  1. Carey says:

    A subject I’d love to hear your thoughts about… in a small group/home church context, how would you recommend including children in the group yet still provide adequate opportunities for adults to share honestly and openly?

    • Steve says:

      Carey, Great question. Cross Generational group meeting don’t have to look a lot different from the typical small group, at least not every meeting does. Holly Allen has a great talk on intergenerational small groups. She suggested having the meetings as families most of the time, with some meetings being adult only. In her testimony, she claims that children and adults begin sharing at the same level, when appropriate, as just adults. In fact, she says that kids ask harder questions.

      In my experience, we’ve tried to include children for a portion of most meetings. This means during a dinner before or the snacks after. The children don’t participate in the study time, but the group members do become acquainted and interactive with the children. We’ve invited youth to say in our meeting with mixed results. Sometimes they become the child care speciallists. Again, results depend on the youth.

      I’d say try something and see what works for your group or church. If something doesn’t work the first time, back off but don’t give up on the idea.

      • Carey says:

        I appreciate the responses and will check out the link. I’m thinking on a couple of levels on this… 1) How many parents can openly share about, say, marriage problems when their kids (or someone else’s) are there in the group? None. So there has to be a context where that can happen appropriately. 2) What did the 1st century church do? Their “meetings” were likely all ages… but perhaps some of the deeper connection didn’t happen at “meetings”… if they were more involved in each other’s lives outside the meetings, that sort of connection and care could have happened there… just thinking out loud.

        • Steve says:

          The first century church is interesting. For that matter most of the church up to the last century would not have had small group meetings, at least not on the formal level that we have them today. They met to worship. And they met to break bread.

          We’re sensitized toward privacy. In a world where many family members shared a one or two room houses, privacy wasn’t an option. I would think that the 1st C church knew how to have discreet conversations with children around.

          On the other hand, small groups are often build as much off of a therapeutic model that probably didn’t exist in the 1st C. There’s no clear evidence, that I know about, that suggests the church got together to talk about marriage problems or other things like that as our groups tend to value.

          I don’t think we have to give up talking about marriage and personal issues (although we could focus a bit more on God in our gatherings). We don’t have to move back into one bedroom houses, but having children in the house shouldn’t keep members from having space to talk about what they need to talk about.

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