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Benefits of Intergenerational Community For Every Generation

You all know by now that I am a strong advocate for creating spaces in our churches for multiple generations to connect, to worship, and to be together. And generally when I share this sentiment it is in reference to generational discipleship and the passing of our faith from one generation to another. It’s focused on the spiritual and communal benefits that all generations receive when they learn from and experience life with people of varying ages and life experiences.

I recently shared this information that highlights the most recent research done in this particular area.

Barna Group has recently completed a study focused on children’s ministry that has yielded some important information about how that discipleship journey plays out. They shared this information recently at the Awana Child Discipleship Summit and here is what they found:  It wasn’t enough for a child to be simply be involved in children’s ministry at their church in order to engage in the formative practices and meaningful characteristics of a disciple. There needed to be more, another integral step, another piece to the puzzle: Relationship.

They discovered that when kids have a meaningful relationship with an adult in the church, they are twice as likely to have an ongoing relationship with the church.

They are three times more likely to be engaged in Scripture including understanding the metanarrative of Scripture and integrating biblical principles in their life.

They are twice as likely to say church matters to them, three times as likely to see church as a highlight in their week, and three times as likely to read the Bible on their own.

The conclusion drawn by the researchers at Barna Group? (and I quote) “The meaningful relationships individuals have as a children fundamentally influence the stability of their future faith.”

Now, here’s the reality check: Only 2 out of 5 kids in children’s ministry have a positive, meaningful relationship with a mentoring adult. Two. Out of Five. That’s only 40% of kids in children’s ministry at a given church (For more, The Next Great (KidMin) Revolution Is Nothing New)

Now, if all the benefits we could list were found above, that would be motivating enough to begin to explore ways to connect the generations in our faith communities. But the benefits of this type of community do not end there. Over the past 70 years, research has shown the benefits of intergenerational relationships extend far beyond the spiritual into our emotional, mental, and even physical health, impacting our quality of life at every stage and every age.

4 life lessons in 45 minutes

These life lessons came in various forms categorized by the researchers as meaning making, personal growth, emotional valence, wisdom characteristics, life lesson type, and autobiographical memory type. But here’s the important takeaway – connectedness, identity, and healthy development for young and old can be found in conversation with one another.

Last year, researchers conducted a study where university students met with a group of older, aging individuals and were encouraged them to have a discussion (Source). Most sat and talked for about 45 minutes and shared a mutual dialogue without prompt or guidance. Afterwards, the researchers coded the recorded conversations and found something very interesting: During the course of the conversation, the elder individuals offered, on average, four life lessons in the form of story to the listening younger generation.(Source)

Benefits for Older Adults

  • Improved physical health: Older adults that interact regularly with younger generations burn more calories, experience fewer falls, and are less reliant on canes.
  • Improved mental health: They perform better on memory tests, and those with dementia experience more positive effects than in non-intergenerational activities.
  • Improved emotional health: Feelings of isolation and depression decrease AND feelings of self-worth and happiness increases (Source).

Benefits for Middle-Aged Adults

  • Improved familial relationships –  Middle-aged respondents who reported more positive and less negative ties with their parents AND reported more positive and less negative ties with their own children (Source).
  • Improved mental health – For many middle-aged adults, their social relationships shrink over time with less and less of a social network and more isolation. However, the evidence suggests that, generally, the more varied your social network, the happier and healthier you will be (Source)
  • Improved physical health – Research has found found that people with adequate social (intergenerational) relationships have a 50 per cent lower mortality risk compared with those who report poor social relationships (Source).

Benefits for Youth & Young Adults

  • Improved social skills –  Teens in intergenerational relationships see enhanced social skills and more stability in their daily lives, which can help them do well in school and steer clear of negative influences (Source). 
  • Improved life experience – In one study, the following were all reported by young adults as a result of their participation in intergenerational relationships: 1) enjoyment 2) feeling rewarded 3) changes in search for meaning in life 4) enhanced academic learning 5) insights into careers in aging 6) improved perceptions of older adults 7) emotional connections with older adults 8) uneasiness with giving advice to older adults 9) improved skills for interacting with older adults 10) changes in service motivation.

Benefits for Children & Youth

  • Improved life experience – 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; 52% less likely to skip school; 37% less likely to skip a class; 33% less likely to hit someone (Findings from Big Brother, Big Sister program).
  • Improved social and emotional development – Research results show that children from intergenerational academic programs had higher levels of social acceptance, a greater willingness to help and greater empathy for older people, slightly more positive attitudes, and better able to self-regulate their behavior than children from traditional age-segregated programs (Source)

We can see that the benefits of intergenerational community are vast and impact all generations. We also know that the existing of meaningful relationships across congregations is directly correlated to resilience and faith retention in rising generations. We see examples throughout Scripture of generational discipleship and intergenerational community.

There simply is NO reason for us not to begin creating spaces and opportunities within our churches for intentional intergenerational community, to cultivate meaningful relationships, to provide times of corporate worship, and to engage all generations in the mission and service of the church both to one another and our community. In fact, exactly the opposite – all reason points to us moving more and more towards times together rather than times apart.

Psalm 78:1-7

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,
So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born,
    and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds
    but would keep his commands.

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