I grew up in a small rural community just outside of Tulsa. My family attended Inola, First, and this church played an important role in the life of my family and in my own personal life.
The beauty of this congregation was the generations represented each time the members gathered. Like in most small-town churches, everyone interacted with each other. The Sunday School classes were divided for specific grades or life stages, but there was a healthy balance in intergenerational interaction. From Sunday School to special events to weekly worship, a variety of people representing multiple generations poured into my life. I stand convinced that the healthy intergenerational relationships I established with these believers led me to remain connected to a local church as I entered young adulthood.
Over the last 15 years, I have served as a student pastor, witnessing both the power of intergenerational interaction but also the effects when there is none. While age-segregated and life-stage ministry is important and helpful, more intergenerational interaction needs to take place within the walls of churches, not just for the benefit of younger generations but for the older generations too.
While this intergenerational interaction is multi-faceted and requires a multi-faceted response, I believe one key element that is often missing is generations growing in appreciation for one another. I long to see the generations have more interaction that will lead to a stronger and healthier church.
For this to happen, the generation interaction process must have the Bible as its foundation. The Bible reveals who God is, His work among His people, and what their responsibilities are in carrying out His work.
One of the church’s responsibilities is passing on God’s grand story, the Gospel message about Jesus Christ, to those of all generations. Scripture offers three theological truths that serve as the biblical basis for this interaction process in order that God’s story be passed from one generation to another.
First, God desires people of one generation to tell of His works to another (Psalm 78 and Psalm 145). Second, God desires generations to relate to one another (Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12). Third, Christians contribute to the unity of the church through the way generations care for one another (1 Tim. 5 and Titus 2).
Outside of the Bible, there is no shortage of support for intergenerational relationships. In many sciences, intergenerational relationships are vital to healthy growth and development. For one generation to grow in appreciation for another, there needs to be movement from knowledge of God’s design for intergenerational relationship to acting on that knowledge.
There are three key movements to help people and churches move toward more intergenerational interaction. First, small groups are a proper environment for healthy intergenerational interaction. Second, intergenerational groups support the emotional health of their members. Third, every member of a group having responsibility is a means for empowering every generation.
There are three action steps churches can take to help create more intergenerational interaction leading to more intergenerational relationships. The first is create intergenerational small groups for the purpose of Bible study, prayer, Scripture memory and accountability. These groups will learn, encourage and empower one another.
A second action step is give opportunities for generations to serve missionally together, whether that is a local mission project, domestic mission trip or an international mission trip. When generations serve side by side together, they learn to appreciate and value what each brings to advancing God’s mission.
A third action step is creating an avenue for church members to develop an intergenerational friendship with someone from another generation. This may be done through women’s or men’s ministry, one Sunday School class adopting another, etc.
I personally have watched the benefit of all three of these action steps. While not every group, mission project or intentional friendship was perfect, most of the people involved expressed a growth in appreciation for those of other generations.
We know God’s mission will continue to advance using one generation to reach another. We also know our churches will be stronger and healthier with more intergenerational interaction. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”
May we not just do this with our words, but rather establish and cultivate relationships with those from different generations to continue to tell God’s great story.