Why is it challenging to befriend people from other generations? Why do we tend to stick with those who resemble us in appearance, thinking, and behavior?
Well, it’s simply because it feels comfortable. We prefer familiarity and dislike disagreements or trying to decipher someone’s actions or words.
According to a study by the University of Kansas, when left to our own devices, we naturally seek out individuals who share similar values and worldviews. The research strongly suggests that the level of initial similarity greatly influences whether a relationship develops (Source). In short, it’s easier to build and maintain connections with people who are mostly like us.
In the not-so-distant past, people lived more integrated lives, with different generations working and learning together in the same spaces (Source). However, societal changes, along with the implementation of age-based laws and policies (such as child labor laws and Social Security), led to a gradual segregation of generations. This resulted in the creation of age-specific institutions like preschools, high schools, senior centers, and assisted-living facilities, further separating generations into distinct spheres (Source).
So, if we prefer the company of those similar to us and society facilitates this separation, why should we strive for intergenerational relationships? Because studies also show that while it’s easier to be around like-minded individuals, it’s not necessarily beneficial. In fact, it is healthy for us to experience a diverse range of relationships spanning different generations.
As one researcher puts it, connecting with people who differ from us is valuable for acquiring new ideas, challenging our perspectives, and staying in touch with the diverse world around us (Source). Moreover, studies have shown that both younger and older individuals are among the loneliest groups, with corresponding higher rates of mental health issues and shorter life expectancies (Source). Additionally, young people miss out on crucial life and social skills when they lack interaction with adults and friends from different age groups (Source).
This issue is relevant to our churches as well. Unfortunately, age segregation is prevalent within our faith communities, mirroring the broader societal trend. We often find ourselves congregating based solely on age, with some churches even dedicating separate wings or buildings to specific age groups. Consequently, the youngest and oldest generations often feel marginalized, experiencing loneliness and a lack of socialization within the church community (Source).
Here’s the crucial point: according to Scripture, our faith is meant to be passed down from one generation to the next. We need each other, and the factors that bring us together should not be the ones that drive us apart. Yet, we witness countless young people leaving the church, often citing a lack of community as a key reason (Source).
We must take a radically different approach. We need to foster cross-generational relationships that embrace both our similarities and differences (refer to this article on the Intergenerational Body of Christ for more insights on this topic). We must recognize that the ties that bind us as the body of Christ are not contingent on our generational experiences but on God.
To answer the question posed at the beginning – why is it challenging to build these friendships? Because society constantly tells us that life is easier and more comfortable when we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals. However, our minds, bodies, and souls crave community, not just with similar people, but with those younger and older than us. These relationships offer fresh perspectives, diverse experiences, and unique opportunities for spiritual growth and maturity (Source).
Ultimately, pursuing such connections will lead us to longer, happier lives and enable us to fulfill the call to “make disciples of all nations.”
LAST WEEK TO REGISTER: REFOCUS COHORTS
Registration is OPEN for our Summer REFOCUS MINISTRY COHORT.
Research tells us the top reasons for people leaving the ministry are stress and loneliness. It doesn’t have to be that way. ReFocus Ministry cohorts provide ministry leaders a shared learning experience around generational discipleship. Twelve weeks of learning together and ongoing accountability, coaching, and community with like-minded leaders from diverse backgrounds and experience.
About the Author
Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and a doctorate in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.