Recently, I’ve been asked to share some of the research and studies that I have used in writing my blogs and developing my heart for family and intergenerational ministry. The following is a brief overview of some of the top studies, articles, and research I’ve used to formulate my ideas and share my heart with all of you.
The Research behind Intergenerational Worship
One of the first longitudinal studies done on youth in regard to church attendance post high school once the Millennial decline became apparent was done by Fuller Youth Institute in 2006-2010 and they released their findings here. Primarily, their research found three things:
1. While most U.S. churches focus on building strong youth groups, teenagers also need to build relationships with adults of all ages.
2. Churches and families overestimate youth group graduates’ readiness for the struggles ahead with dire consequences for the faith
3. While teaching young people the “dos” and “don’ts” of Christian living is important, an overemphasis on behaviors can sabotage faith long-term.
Further research showed that while there was no “silver bullet” churches that encouraged intergenerational connections and worship and youth that felt involved and connected to the larger church had a much greater chance of remaining in church post high school. (The findings can be found here).
Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark, authors of Sticky Faith, were among those who first influenced me to understand the of importance for intergenerational worship. In this article, Kara Powell clearly demonstrates the need for and support of corporate worship, stating ” Of the many youth group participation variables we examined, involvement in intergenerational worship and relationships had one of the most robust correlations with faith maturity.”
In 2016, Fuller Youth Institute released a new study called “Growing Young” that looked at churches that were continuing to “hold onto” their young people and even grow in the Millennial sector of their congregation. One of the key reasons they found for that was “Warm intergenerational relationships” at that “involving young people in every ministry has allowed these churches to thrive with authenticity and intergenerational relationships” (Source).
Both the findings of Barna Research Group and the most recent Pew Research support the idea that Millennials often leave church because they have no connection to the larger church body, no relationships with adults outside of specialized ministry areas, and no sense of belonging in corporate worship since they’ve never or rarely attended. You can find the links to this research in the following article.
In 2010 Lifelong Faith also released a study that showed 6 key factors in young adults remaining religious (affiliated with church and Christianity) – the first three applied directly to the family but the next three to the church, specifically supportive non-parent adults and personal religious experiences in the larger church, not just in youth group or children’s church. Read more here.
In 2017, The Journal of Intergenerational Relationships explained that intergenerational relationships create essential learning environments for all generations. Specifically they find that three things are necessary for intergenerational learning, 1. There must be space to learn about one’s own generation with other generations, 2. All generations must act as learners and teachers at the same time, and 3. The learning must motivate participants towards in a particular way. (Source)
The Reasons for Intergenerational Worship
For clarification purposes, please know that I am not opposed to quality Christ-centered, community-focused Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry, but I am concerned when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never having time to fellowship together. As my friend Matt Deprez shares, “(I) believe in age-appropriate ministries with intergenerational opportunities.” There are many benefits to children participating in corporate worship we can’t necessarily quantify as I share here.
Additionally, it’s not just about the kids – WE, the adults, need them. Christ tells us that we must “be like children.” Matt. 18:3. But, how can we learn from them if the adult church community is never or rarely around them as I share here?
Intergenerational worship a multi-faceted issue.
Much more could be shared in terms of research and the need for corporate worship and community and what church looks like when intergenerational ministry is emphasized. Check out the book Join Generations by Matthew Deprez for some more great information on this topic.
And every church has its own unique culture and needs to consider. There’s no cookie-cutter model. However I do believe that there is a bigger vision needed that includes children in worship with adults at some point and allows for relationships to be fostered between the generations, even those who don’t volunteer in kids ministry.
Some have shared with me their concern that churches are losing families and that this cannot “simply be fixed” by any one thing such as intergenerational worship. I agree and that’s why I am a huge advocate for the equipping of parents for discipleship at home and equipping the church to be their biggest cheerleaders, constant partner, and strong support as they do so.
Most church services today are designed to reach one target audience – adults and generally, older adults. In order to be churches that welcome children, some things might have to change; there might have to be a new “normal.”
I feel however that times of communal worship and fellowship, where kids and youth can see these things modeled for them and where church members who aren’t involved in kids ministry can see them, grow with them, and know their name is an important part of that plan.
The Heart Behind Intergenerational Worship
While I don’t feel like there’s a cookie-cutter answer for every church and there are some churches that are able to foster intergenerational connectivity without including kids and youth in the worship service, I believe corporate, communal worship is one important and overlooked tool God has given us for reaching the next generation.
- Matthew 10:42
- Matthew 11:25-26
- Matthew 18:2-6
- Matthew 18:10
- Matthew 19:13-14
- Matthew 21:16
- Mark 10:13-16
- Luke 9:46-48
At the very least, intergenerational worship gives families more time to spend TOGETHER which is an endangered moment in this day and age. One study of 4,000 families showed that on average they spent 49 minutes actually together (not in front of a screen, separated due to activities, in different rooms of a house) in a day. 49 minutes. A more recent study from 2013 lowers that time to a mere 36 minutes per day. We could more than double that with one worship service spent together.
What better time for families to BE together than when they are worshipping God and spending time with fellow believers?
What better place to participate together in learning, growing, and discipleship than in the house of worship in the midst of the congregation?
In a world that is consistently pulling families apart, shouldn’t church be the very place we create space to put them together?
There are no easy answers.
I don’t think there should be. Being the church wasn’t supposed to be “easy.”
Each of us, parents and ministers, must weigh out before the Lord what is His will, using the Bible as our guide and His Spirit as our witness. But, given what I’ve seen and the research I’ve read, I feel it is imperative that we, the Church, welcome the children into our midst as integrated members of Christ’s body and intentionally create space for them in our communal worship.
Because, as the kids at my church say each Sunday, together WE are the body of Christ.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About the author
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com