Passing It On: Generational Discipleship in Church

What do we mean when we talk about “generational discipleship”? It’s a term that I am hearing more and more frequently and it’s one that I myself use often in this blog.

Simply put, generational discipleship is the passing on of our faith from one generation to another.  

In Scripture, it is the model we are given for how we instill within our children and grandchildren the faith that our parents and grandparents shared with us and we do so within the context of relationship, mentorship, and community.

baton-passThere are examples of generational discipleship all through Scripture.

The most oft-quoted verse about generational discipleship is probably Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where we are told to impress the commands of the Lord upon our children and to talk about them when sit and when we walk and when we lie down and when we get up…so basically, all of the time. And this command is given within the full assembly of Israel to all the people so not just to parents but to the larger faith community.

We see this idea of generational discipleship play out in Scripture through so many intergenerational and familial relationships. Some examples include but are certainly not limited to…

  • Eli and Samuel (I Samuel 3)
  • Timothy and his mother and grandmother AND Timothy and Paul (2 Tim. 1:5)
  • Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2)
  • Naomi and Ruth (The book of Ruth)
  • Moses and Joshua (Deut. 31)
  • Mordecai and Esther (The book of Esther)

So how does generational discipleship play out in a faith community?

In 2017, The Journal of Intergenerational Relationships published an article whose findings explained that intergenerational relationships create essential learning environments for all generations.  In other words, if generations are going to interact with each other in meaningful ways, there are some key essentials that need to be in place.

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
  3. The learning must motivate participants towards in a particular way.

Often when our churches gather, these dynamics are either not in place at all or are difficult to find. Putting multiple generations into a place where they can interact in meaningful ways can be challenging because of differences in likes, dislikes, development and experience.

As a result, many churches opt for an environment that segregates the generations from one another and promotes learning within one age range rather than between the generations.  It’s much more difficult to create an intentional space for both to give and receive.

While these things are challenging, they are not impossible to overcome. It might be easier in the short term to maintain age-specific environments, but it is clear that in the long run, generational discipleship will be hampered by the lack of meaningful intergenerational relationships and interactions.

So what can we do?

There’s no silver bullet that will magically erase these challenges or suddenly make it easier to engage generations in learning and living together, but there are some avenues to explore that will create the space for growth.

  1. Stated Purpose – If you desire to put generations together for anything from corporate worship to shared meals, be sure and let everyone know the purpose behind your action. Give a stated reason for creating a multi-generational space and repeat it often so everyone is on the same page.
  2. Be Creative in Connection – Connecting different generations doesn’t have to look the same and connecting same generations. It’s unlikely that a second-grader is going to go out for coffee with a senior citizen. But what if the oldest Sunday School class showed up to cheer on the kids in tee ball in soccer?  What if the teenagers worked alongside their parents in serving their community together?  What if intergenerational prayer partners were connected to each other?  There are a lot of ways to interact with each other in meaningful ways!
  3. Give Generations a Voice – There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have nothing to give or that you are not heard.  If we step back and notice that our church lay leadership, committees, service groups, etc. all reflect only one or two generations and those groups are the ones casting vision, leading, and guiding the church, then there are multiple other generations that may not be feeling heard. Creating intentional space for all generations within your leadership structure can help flip that “top-down” mentality on it’s head and ensure that all generations have the space to give and to receive, to teach and to learn, so that all can grow together.

Since the separation of ages and the perception of differences mirrors that of our society, it’s easy for us to think “that’s just the way it is.”  But it’s important to note that it wasn’t that way for centuries. And equally as important to note that the impact on the church is a substantial one. Why?  Because our faith is primarily passed from one generation to another.

That is generational discipleship.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

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Devices Are Not The Enemy

When I was young, my dad once shared with me that often times growing up, I would hear two sides to a story. Like a pendulum, opinions on things would swing from one side to another, but the truth usually lie somewhere in the middle. Decades later, a mentor to my husband shared the same thing (only in Latin, which sounds cooler): “Veritas en medio est” which means “The truth is in the middle.”

The latest wave of “sides” that I’ve seen has been in regard to the use of electronic devices by children, youth, young adults… everyone.  There are facts and statistics that seem to “support” each side of the pendulum on this one.

boy with phoneI know parents who are adamantly opposed to any form of device ever being used by their child, citing everything from biological research that devices literally harm the brain to social concerns regarding the availability of kids to access mature content at the push of a button or be vulnerable to bullying without a safe place to escape (all legitimate concerns).

I know other parents who lean towards embracing devices, citing other research that shows that kids who use devices at a young age are better at problem solving, are more socially conscious, and learn basic academic skills earlier.

Oh my goodness, how in the world are we supposed to navigate this?  Well, I’m going to follow the advice of my mentors here and encourage us to consider that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Devices are not the enemy.

They are devices.  We control them. We can even turn them off.

As parents, we control the access to them within our home. We can turn off the wifi. We can take away devices. We can monitor what our kids have access to.

We can also use them constructively. We can create space that invites our kids to learn with us how to responsibly use devices. We can model healthy behavior. We can create a culture in our home that helps our kids responsibly use devices.

Ultimately, devices aren’t the issue. We are.

Whether we are the parent that says, “No devices, end of story” or the parent that says, “All the devices, let’d dive in,” the reality is simply this – we are in charge of the narrative. And since, I suspect, most of us tend to be somewhere in the middle, aware of both the dangers and the benefits and doing our best to walk the wire and do the right thing, ultimately the issue is … us.

Jon Acuff has a great series on technology and kids and one of his primary takeaways is this: “You can’t stop a changing culture, but you can control the culture in your home.”  In other words, as parents, we can’t stop the fact that devices are becoming more and more integrated in our society. We can’t.

Even if we choose to remove all devices from our home, the reality is if we walk outside of our home at any time and choose to interact at all with the world, we are going to find a reliance on devices is part of that culture.   But what we can do is create a culture inside our own home that puts devices in their proper place.

We can respect the device as what it is – a tool, a social platform, a learning resource, an object with an off/on switch – and we can establish ways of interacting with said device that help our kids and youth to develop healthy habits that will help them when they walk out of our home.

But it’s even bigger than that.

We can establish a culture in our home of kindness, a culture that says we treat others as Christ would and that extends into our social media networks.

We can establish a culture of self control and moderation, a culture that says we don’t need to over indulge or become obsessed with anything and that can extend to our use of devices.

We can establish a culture that says we honor Christ first, a culture that is first of all focused on Christ-centered relationships and community and that can encompass how and where we use devices.

We can create a culture that becomes so much a part of our home that when anything new is introduced into it, that new thing is screened by the culture and put in its proper place, and that includes devices.

Doing that will take work,  a lot of work. It’s not an offhanded thing. Creating a culture in our homes requires actual and intentional thought and time.  It requires stated expectations and shared values. And those don’t happen overnight.

Creating that culture is as much a part of the discipleship process as reading the Bible, praying with our children, and serving our community.

Discipleship at home isn’t about adding more to our already busy lives; it’s about welcoming Christ into every aspect of our lives, including technology. It’s about finding ways to intentionally invite Jesus into our devices, not in some “super spiritual” Jesus juke kind of a way, but in a recognition that like every other part of our lives, this one needs His grace as well.

There are articles upon articles out there that will give ideas galore about how to actively engage your child in healthy ways with devices. Articles about how to make it more safe. Ideas on intentional conversations you should have with your children. I recommend reading them. But I also recommend this; don’t let fear or apathy control the decisions that we make in regard to devices.

We have the exciting opportunity to help our children experience life within the safe space of our home with the guiding principles of our culture through the grace of Christ.

With that before us, let’s not let devices steal the spotlight.

Instead, let’s prayerfully consider how these objects can be best experienced in our children’s lives in ways that prepare them for the future and engage them with discipleship within our homes.

(This article is the third in a series on social media, technology and discipleship. To read the first and second, click on the links)


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

The Question of Relevance, Discipleship and Kids

One of my favorite television shows is Sherlock. I love his character, based on the book kid, but fleshed out in the show by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. One if the concepts that Sherlock employs as he is attempting to solve a case is his “mind palace”  the basic premise is this: We are barraged with an onslaught of information all day long, some seemingly relevant and most not so much. Sherlock says that he has trained his mind to put all the information into “rooms” in his mind that he can access in the future as needed.

The reality is, most of us just tend to forget information that our mind seems irrelevant and focus only on things that are messaged as important, necessary or relevant to our life, likes, and lifestyle. 

When it comes to discipleship, there is a lot of discussion about making the Bible “relevant” to children and youth.

Bible-and-PhoneThere are those who say that the Bible is inherently relevant so it doesn’t need our help; we just need to teach the Bible (or at least our denominational understanding of the Bible because, let’s face it, there are different interpretations even within that context).

There are others that say while yes, the truths of the Bible are timeless, the message needs to be framed in more culturally accessible forms, ranging from live-action videos and pop music styles to video games and social media messaging.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I am not a fan of the either/or approach to just about anything. I think a both/and approach that takes into consideration social context, spiritual formation and physical development is the best way to be truly relevant, not just in the present, but well into the future.

So how can we, as parents and ministers, help our children and youth create a faith “mind palace” where the truths of the gospel and Christ’s love can take up residence and be recalled as they grow and as there is need?

 

Creative repetition

Have you ever noticed how your young children will watch the same movie or series over and over and over again?  Believe it or not, what we can find mind-numbingly repetitive, they actually like!

My favorite quote from G.K. Chesterton states, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.”

That’s not to say we should make things boring, but we shouldn’t be afraid to share the same story with them in a bunch of different ways, especially in ways that reflect the world around them. My son and I have read through a total of three children’s Bibles and we are getting ready to start a third. It’s the same message every time, but each time, he gets something more from it, just like we do as we read God’s Word.

Active participation

Hearing about something and actually doing something are two very different things. Experience trumps description every time and participation in real life makes any abstract concept instantly relevant. So if we are talking about things like serving others and love being more than words, it is important for us to find ways for our children and youth to actually serve and love others. Let them practice what we preach!

There are so many ways that we can help kids and youth to get more involved in actively participating in worship, community and service!  Check out this page for some ideas on how to help kids be more actively plugged into their faith community and this one for ideas on practical ways to disciple kids at home.

Consistent modeling

This is on us. We are the adults, the ones who the children in our faith community and/or family are looking to for the context into which their beliefs are lived out.  Are we giving them a holistic picture of what it means to be a disciple?  Could they look at us and see us loving God and loving others, serving and mentoring, being available to them and to others in our faith community?  Does what we say and what we teach them line up with what they see and how we treat them?

Relevance isn’t just about fitting into today’s culture; it’s also about being connected or closely related to something. If our faith is connected to and/or closely related to our actions, we’ve just made discipleship, Scripture, and faith relevant.

There’s no silver bullet for discipleship.

There’s no super-secret easy way to make sure that faith sticks.

But there are ways to make the things we desire to pass on to them in terms of our faith relevant enough that they will remember them for a lifetime; that somewhere in their mind palace the truths they need to carry them forward will be stored and ready for them to pull out when needed, without all the detective work.

This article is the second in a series on social media, technology, and discipleship. To read the first and the third, click on the links!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

Why We Need To Be There

On Sunday, I joined with a group from our church to walk through the streets of Lexington for the Lexington Mural Challenge Scavenger Hunt. In Lexington there are over a hundred murals painted on the sides of buildings, in alleys, up and down streets, throughout the city.

Each mural has a story and each story is a part of what makes Lexington the city that it is. 

Our church hosted the walk through the city as part of our Lex Get Together activities aimed at helping people who are new to the city get to know it better and those who are old to the city to learn something new. We figure there’s no better way to get to know a place and the people who live there than to explore it, engage with it, and experience it.

Which is why I have an Instagram account.

twitter-292994_1920You see, I’m the mother of an almost 15 year old. Her “city” is Instagram. Her “streets” are the people she follows. Her “murals” are found in that lovely search feature at the bottom of the screen. And her community is found in the multiple group conversations she is a part of.

Each image has a story and each story is a part of what make her world what it is. 

Realistically, I know this is, like everything is, a phase that she is going through, an experiential stage common to most kids her age. I don’t think that for the rest of her life she will “live” there but for now, it’s where she is interacting with people on a daily basis.

And I need to be there.

I need to be on her streets and in her community. I need to understand viral videos, trending memes, and the language that is spoken. More than that, I need to be aware of the messages that are being given and received, not so that I can control them, but so I can have a conversation about them.

Our church plant recognizes that to minister effectively to those in the city of Lexington we feel called to, it’s important for us to experience the culture and engage with the environment.  Our children and youth are our first ministry but if we are not where they are, if we are not engaged, not experiencing their world, we will have a much more difficult time having conversations that lead to discipleship and faith formation.

I still get made fun of by my girls for being old and not getting things, but that doesn’t deter me from remaining engaged and aware. If I’m willing to walk the streets of a city so I can know it better, I’m definitely willing to scroll through a social media app to know my children better.

Be where your kids are. Be present and aware.

Ask questions like, “Have you seen anything interesting lately?” and “What’s new on Instagram?” For younger children, let them sit with you and see how you interact with people. Teach them healthy ways to engage digitally with you because one day, even if it’s after they leave your home, they will engage.

Establish the culture of loving God and loving others in all areas of life, including the digital one, so that even when you are not there, they will be able to approach technology of godly, responsible ways.

Discipleship at home is more than family devotions and Bible stories before bedtime. It’s intentionally welcoming Christ into every area of our lives and looking for opportunities to grow our faith no matter where we are and helping our children to see Him.

Note: In our home, we have limited the social media world our older kids have access to one location so that it is easier for us to engage and interact. Each family understandably needs to find their own rhythm and guidelines, but whatever those end up being, just make sure that you are there. You can follow me on Instagram @christinaembree.

This article is the first in a series on social media, technology, and discipleship. To read the second and third in the series, click on the link!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

The Way We Do the Things We Do

In his book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, author Stephen Chbosky wrote, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”  I’ve seen this posted as inspirational memes and quotes on people’s walls for years but it wasn’t until I started really digging into generational discipleship that I saw how this concept plays out in ministry, especially in intergenerational relationships within the community of faith.

We all know that communication is more than just words.  Communication takes many forms, from verbal to nonverbal, intentional to non-intentional, systemic to institutional. The way we do the things we do speaks volumes. The words we use pale in comparison to the actions we take and the method by which we take them.

In my last few years of observing how we go about discipleship in church, hearing the verbal communication of welcome and community and observing the nonverbal communication like methods and actions, it’s becoming clearer to me that one reason the church is losing the rising generations is due in part to the fact that they only accept the love they’ve been told they deserve.

Stripped of our words, what do our churches often communicate to the generations who attend?

  1. My Space, Your Space – If we look at most church buildings, we will tend to find wings that are set apart by age, often down hallways or even separated by floors, much like school buildings or nursing homes in society. The common space, the sanctuary, can be a place where all ages gather but in many cases that doesn’t happen frequently.
  2. My Service, Your Service – A lot of churches have at least two if not more services and often those services look and sound different (contemporary, traditional, blended, etc.). Frequently these services become equally age segregated simply by the fact that they are intended to reach specific age groups or worship preferences.
  3. My Time, Your Time – When describing worship experiences, often people will say it is their time in the week to connect with God, to be renewed and refreshed, to have a personal experience. Distractions and discomfort is often minimized during the service time to allow for that so that even when we are together, we are essentially alone, but occupying the same space.
  4. My Church, Your Church – Having served on two church staffs and having consulted and coached with many more, this is something that repeatedly comes up, namely, the idea that within a church there may be two or more distinct faith communities based on age, likes/dislikes, and preferences and that people in these groups don’t even know the people in the other groups. One church I worked with once described their church as “Five Churches under one roof.”
So what does this have to do with accepting the love we think we deserve?

Well, if we say things like, “We welcome all ages into our community” but the proceed to navigate the children to one area, the youth to another, the adults to yet another, and the seniors to another, that verbal communication becomes muddied. It is difficult to enter a space that isn’t “ours” even if we hear that we are welcome.

be-quiet-in-churchIf we say, “All ages are members of our church community” but the youngest members never or rarely see or hear from the pastor or other adult leaders in the church or just other adults in the church except children’s ministry volunteers, do they feel truly part of the congregation?

Conversely, if the older members of the congregation never or rarely get to interact with or build relationships the younger generations, can either accept love, advice, encouragement or even just friendship from the other?

We use a lot of words to indicate unity and cohesion, but often our nonverbal communication speaks to separation and division, which, in turn, often falls along generational lines.  And that makes it very hard for each generation to accept love and friendship from the other because it doesn’t feel “right”.

I wonder what would happen if instead we embraced the uncomfortable.

If we sang some songs we don’t necessarily love.

If we allowed for some distraction and discomfort during our corporate worship time.

If we intermingled with generations who say and do things we don’t understand.

If we prioritized relationships with the whole body over the comfort of those we know best.

I mean, it would be uncomfortable to be sure. But, as a friend of mine who attends a church who is working to become intentionally unsegregated on Sunday mornings shared, maybe that is the point.

Maybe it’s not supposed to be comfortable. Maybe it is supposed to take work, to challenge us to grow beyond what feels good, to be surrounded by a much bigger world that doesn’t look and act and sound like us. Maybe there is room for both times of corporate worship and times of age-appropriate teaching. Maybe an either/or way of doing church isn’t the only way of doing church.

And maybe, if we can find time and space for the both/and, the generations who are following ours may not agree with everything we say and do but they will accept the love of the Church and the Lord because they know they are truly a part of the church, the community, the body of Christ.

I think at the very least these are ideas worth exploring, even if the questions we ask and conclusions we land on make us a just little bit uncomfortable.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

“Just Because We Don’t Like It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not True”

My family recently watched Avengers Infinity Wars (don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this post). At the end, some of us were unhappy with the way things had ended in the movie and have spent considerable time coming up with alternate endings or spinning theories about what “actually” happened. At one point as I was offering just such an explanation, and a really good one at that, my youngest piped up with this nugget, “Just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

His words stuck with me for two reasons; one, because he probably heard that from me and two, because he’s absolutely right. Often times, when we are faced with a truth that we don’t like, we try to find alternative ways of facing the facts.

If the truth makes us uncomfortable, we try to find a comfortable option to face that truth with. If the truth doesn’t fit within our expectations, desires or opinion, we find ways to explain it away or simply say it doesn’t work for us. 

face-2031963_1920The nature of this blog is often to share uncomfortable truths and offer ways for us to embrace those truths even if it means we have to consider implementing change or doing things that we find less comfortable than others.

In the case of this particular blog, the facts we often look at and consider surround the idea that more and more of the members of the rising generations are walking away from the Protestant church and increasingly labeling themselves as “unaffiliated” with religion.  And we ask questions about why that is and what we can do about it.

And often the answers presented involved uncomfortable things; things that require us to change how we are currently operating and the approach we are currently taking.

Things like:

Inviting and welcoming children and youth into places of corporate worship as active participants not passive observers

Creating space for meaningful interactions between generations with the intentional focus of fostering relationships that lead to mentorship and discipleship.

Involving children and youth in the decisions, leadership and activities of the church in a way that affirms that they are full-fledged members of the body of Christ.

Redefining church, not as a place we go to on Sunday, but as a people and a way of life that is who are are every day of the week and therefore we join into each others lives on ball fields and ballet recitals and dinner tables and coffee dates and just being a people that fills that intrinsic, God-given need for community.

But these things require something of us. They require change and intentionality.

They require that we accept the truth that something has to change and we begin to try uncomfortable things.

It means that we may not always get the Sunday morning experience we are used to and/or we desire. It means we may need to get creative about when and where we have our intimate and undistracted times of worship. It may mean that throughout the week instead of just hunkering down and living our life, we open up our doors and our schedule to invite others in or to go to where they are.

It might mean sitting on hard bleachers in the cold just to cheer on that kid from church that sits in the pew in front of you and just can’t believe you came to her game.

It could mean not going out to our favorite after-church restaurant but instead inviting that new family over to our house for lunch.

It could mean that instead of passing the offering plate and dropping in a check and feeling as though we’ve given enough to the church, we also raise our hand and volunteer for that after-school program or that to be a prayer partner for that young person.

It might even mean that on Sunday morning our worship is accentuated with the cries of an infant, the squirms of a three-year-old, the laughter of a fifth grader, the fidgeting of a fifteen-year-old and the questioning look of a seventeen-year-old and instead of seeing those things as distractions, viewing them as opportunities to face the truth head on; that loneliness and being “unaffiliated” are real things for this generation and if being with a faith community on Sunday morning and hearing one’s name spoken each week with love and welcome can combat it, then it’s worth whatever discomfort one might face.

We can no longer offer alternative explanations to the very real truths about the rising generations. As much as we might like to just continue on as we always have, the reality is, if we do, these truths will become more and more the experience for our children and youth. But if we are willing to face these truths head on, in our church and in our lives, and do uncomfortable things in order to address them, then it is possible that those whose lives we intersect with might just experience a different truth.

As for the Avengers, well, I still have my theories about that one…


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

The Loneliest Generation and the Church’s Role

If you’ve been on social media at all lately, it’s likely that you’ve seen a story about a recent loneliness survey done by Cigna (a global health service company) that reveals Generation Z is the loneliest generation currently alive around the globe. This came as a surprise to many people who naturally assumed that the oldest generation would be the ones who experienced the greatest loneliness, not young vibrant 18-22 year olds that boast huge followings on social media and are seemingly always surrounded by people.

And that’s not all. It’s not even that the 18-22 year olds are lonely; it’s that they join nearly half of all of America in saying that they are lonely.

“The survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 years and older revealed:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).” SOURCE

person-409127_1920A couple of years ago, Pew Research released a survey that showed religious affiliation in America and it was revealed that the largest drop in church membership and attendance was in Protestant Christian churches and the greatest gain (so where those people went) was in the category of Unaffiliated, not associating with a religion or religious community.

I cannot help but see the similarities of these two surveys.

If you look up the definition for “unaffiliated” you’ll read things like, “not associated with another or others” and “not connected” and ” not a part of.” Another word for those things is “lonely” or “alone.”  If we look at the multiple studies that have been done on why there’s been a decline in the attendance of 18-29 year olds in church, they put it this way; “We don’t belong.”  

There’s a sense that there simply is not place for them any more.  

They had a place a kids in the children’s department and they had a place as youth in the youth department but as high-school graduates, they are met with a way of worship with which they are unfamiliar, a group of people they have little to no relationship with, and a myriad of other opportunities outside the church building walls that are screaming, “You BELONG Here!”

They are…Unaffiliated…Lonely

It’s not that suddenly 18-29 year olds don’t associate with religion.  44% of the Muslims surveyed were Millennials!

It’s not that 18-29 year olds don’t believe in God.  Of all the survey respondents who identified as Unaffiliated or “religious nones” only 3.1 % identified themselves as atheist.

It’s that they do not belong. They don’t feel a part of the community.  They feel alone.

And I think we, the church, must take some of the blame for that.  

Over time, we’ve created a place where we inhibit relationships and stifle community by segregating generations and dividing up spaces based on age.

We make it difficult forge a deep sense of community by limiting our interactions making the church fit within certain hours and places instead of recognizing the church is a people not a place.

We label certain things as “worship” and make attendance at those events indicative of what a “Christian” is instead of recognizing that all of life is worship and inviting people to worship is inviting them into our lives.

We’ve created a lonely place, especially for those who “graduate” from our specialized children’s and youth programs into our larger corporate gatherings where they’ve never had a meaningful conversation, built a single intergenerational relationship, or experienced a heartfelt interaction with other older members of the congregation.

It’s never been their church. It’s been their parent’s church and their grandparent’s church.  “Big” church, adult church, but not their church. 

And they feel unaffiliated. Lonely.

If we are going to reach the loneliest generation, it’s not going to be through worship styles or coffee shops. It’s going to be through community.

It’s going to be through an intentional movement toward intergenerational relationships forged through time spent together, not just inside the walls of a church building, but time spent in life being the church. It’s going to have to be “on purpose” not simply by accident or by chance.

We will need to create and cultivate the space necessary for these types of connections to be made and we will need to recognize that community is more than just people being in the same space or building together; it is a place where people feel understood and not isolated, a place where they can feel close to people because there are people for them to talk to, a place where “meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, happen on a daily basis.”

The loneliest generation needs the church to be the Church.

The Fellowship of the Believers (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

We’re All In This Together: Practical Ways to Connect Generations

The other day I was talking with a fellow minister about the research and studies behind intergenerational ministry and she said,

“Look, I get it! I do. I think there’s merit to what you are saying and I think you are probably right. But let’s be realistic. The biggest reason that there is age segregation is because generations just don’t like being around each other. They don’t have anything in common and they just want to be where their friends are.”

I know that she is not alone in that sentiment. I’ve had others who have shared with me how difficult it is to force people to be together when they don’t really want to be. Older people like to hang out with older people and younger people like to hang out with younger people. It’s just how it is.

Or is it?

The idea of breaking population up by generations is a relatively new one. Naming generations didn’t start until the mid to late 20th century and has continued since (Source).  Obviously generations existed before then but giving them an identifier, a name, was relatively new and some of the first people to pick up on it was advertisers and marketers. Now instead of hoping they reached the right audience, they could actually target a certain group by name.

The development of technology and social media created even more division by generation and marketers were quick to grab hold of those differences in order to reach the right audience through what is called generational marketing (Source).

In other words, our differences were intentionally magnified and our similarities were played down.  It became easier and easier to fall in with the crowd that talked like us, acted like us, and was lumped together with us by the media, social media and marketers. It felt comfortable.

And soon our differences to other generations and our similarities to our own generation began to define our interactions. At the same time, our society restructured to make this even easier; everything from graded schools to retirement communities grew in popularity and we grew apart from each other.

fistbumpRecently there’s been a return to cross-generational and intergenerational communities and contexts because of the research being done on the importance of multigenerational community. (Source).

As crazy as it seems to us, it’s actually quite normal and quite healthy for generations to spend quality time together. It’s actually how we are made and we benefit from it.  But, because of the way society is currently structured, it feels uncomfortable and not fun.   And because of that, we think that we don’t have anything in common and we can’t be friends.

But, that’s simply not true.  It’s what we’ve become accustomed to but it’s not truth. The truth is we actually live better, more fulfilling lives when we are around each other.

Is it possible to reverse the trends?

Some amazing places are showing it is possible, like this intergenerational care home in the UK and these intergenerational communities in the US. They are built on the idea that we have more that unites us than separates us, more in common than difference. And I believe that can be done in the church as well. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things we can do in our churches today. But how?

Start Slow

Realistically most of the generations that attend a church don’t even know one another’s names. They often don’t attend the same service times, they are in age-specific Sunday school classes that don’t intermingle with other classes, and they very often are in different parts of the church building.

The very first thing we can do is provide a way for generations within the church to learn each other’s names. Check out this cool resource that is a perfect way to create connections across generations: Pray for Me.

Create a Common Identity

As members of one faith community, this idea of a common identity should be relatively easy to create. Basically, using your church’s vision and mission, craft language that can be used across generations to say “This is who WE are.”  Don’t just use the language in the adult classes or church service where children and youth aren’t present.

Make sure that everyone knows they are part of the church and identify with the mission. As silly as this may seem, tee shirts are a great way to make this happen. Magnify the similarities NOT the differences.

Allow for Interactions

If your church is set up in a way that doesn’t allow for generations to mix and mingle (separate services, classes, and spaces) then it will be necessary to intentionally create space for interactions to take place. Meals together, intergenerational worship, and cross generational events are some ways to allow for that.

It’s also vitally important facilitate and encourage interactions outside of the church buildings. Some ideas:

  • Have the kids who play sports or dance post their game or performance schedules and encourage older folks to attend.
  • Ask the older generations videotape themselves telling stories about their memories of being in church and share videos with the kids once a month.
  • Create a Homebound Ministry with the youth who go and visit people who aren’t physically able to come to the church.
  • Host classes where skills can be taught between generations, older to younger and younger to older.
  • Find places in the community where teams could volunteer and serve and send intergenerational groups out to serve with one another.

Show Up in Unconventional Ways

If there is always an adult leading the call to worship, let a child do it. If a child always takes up the offering, have a college student do it. Move chairs and tables around so that people end up sitting with other generations and making new friends.  Keep messaging that we have more in common than we think and help them discover common likes, dislikes, and activities. And when you find a commonality, celebrate it!

If there is an advertised “churchwide” event, then make sure the whole church is there, all ages, including children. 

Regardless of what our society has convinced us of, this is actually what we want. Our soul longs for community and our physical health and well-being benefit from it in ways we are just starting to understand. So, yes, while it will take some intentional work and some consistent messaging, ultimately the end goal is worth it.

WE will be THE body of Christ.


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Fan Into Flame: The gift of Firsthand Faith

Recently I’ve heard a number of sweet stories of kids experiencing God in their lives. I love that whenever kids have these experiences, parents seek me out to tell me about them. But I love even more that in each of the stories, the kids were having their own personal revelation of God and His love for them in ways that were unique to their story and to their life.

Because that is firsthand faith.

I heard that particular description yesterday during a chapel service at Asbury Theological Seminary. The speaker was the dean of chapel, Jessica LaGrone, and she shared about the relationship between Paul and Timothy through the lens of a pilot light.

She shared that growing up there was, in the basement of her grandparents beach house (more aptly described fishing shack, according to her) an old gas water heater. In order to get hot water in the house, one needed to travel to the dark, dingy corner where it was located and turn on the gas. But the gas always instantly turned to a huge flame with a “whoosh” because the pilot light was burning deep inside the seemingly dormant device.

She compared this to Paul’s conversation with Timothy where he tells him to “fan into flame” the pilot light that had been lit in him by his mother Lois and his grandmother Eunice. In describing this, she stated,

“Faith can be passed on to us, but it cannot be secondhand. We need firsthand faith.”

It’s the difference between indoctrination and influence.  The nuance between being dogmatic and being one who disciples, between forceful acceptance and faithful formation.

Generational discipleship, the passing on of our faith from one generation to another, is essential to who we are as the body of Christ. Just as Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and indeed, Paul and other believers, invested in him as a young man, so must we “light the pilot lights” of those who come behind us; our children, our friends’ children, young people in our faith community, our neighborhood, our world.

But we must also encourage them to “fan into flame” that light that has been lit within them. We don’t want to create secondhand Christians, that live only off of our experiences and convictions. We want them to burst into bright flame because of their own revelation of who God is and what He has for them.

And we don’t want that to be a once and done thing. We want them to grow and mature and experience the love and grace of God over and over again in their lives.

We want to inspire firsthand faith. 

Which means…

Our kids may not look like us. They may not act like us. They may not like the same worship styles that we do. They may not end up attending the same church as us or even remaining in the same tradition as we do. We may even disagree about some things as they grow up and mature and own their faith.

heart-1783918_1920But that pilot light, no matter how different or dormant their faith looks, can only be lit if we invest in discipleship, in the passing on of our faith.  If there is nothing to fan into flame, it is much less likely that they will find that firsthand faith.

It is for us, church, adult believers, grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, friends who are like family and friends who choose to be invested, the Pauls of this age; it is for us to light that flame. To demonstrate what firsthand faith looks like be living a life worthy of the calling we’ve received and fanning into flame the gift we have been given from those who came before us.

If the next generation is to have firsthand faith, we must light the pilot light. 

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:5-7)


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author. 

Shifting Blame: Digging Deeper on the Question of Church Attendance and Family Ministry

It’s no secret. Attendance at church across the board is down…depending on what metric you use and what statistics you look at. But for the most part, it’s safe to say, that regular weekly attendance in a church building is in a downward spiral. Some studies show than the average “regular attender” at church only comes once or twice per month and obviously, this affects the attendance of children and youth as well. Having been down this road in a number of different ministry settings, I’m always struck by the reasons that are given by those in children, youth and family ministry for why attendance is down.
boys-2769553_1920

“Sports are to blame.” And let’s be honest, team sports, especially travel ball, are one reason. Practices and games no longer get put on hold for Sundays and Wednesday nights so if a child joins a team, they will likely be asked to be with the team on those days at some point.

“Parents are to blame.” The common line is that parents no longer value church and therefore church is seen as optional while other things require commitment. In fact, just today I saw a tweet that read, “The most common parenting perspective fail I see played out on a regular basis: church should be convenient but sports require sacrifice” which is a combination of the two observations above.

“Church is optional.” Some have pointed to the fact that church attendance is sometimes used as a disciplinary tool (i.e. Didn’t do your homework? No church for you!) while others comment on how school is a priority but church is not.

There’s a lot of blame being doled out for why things are the way they are. But is it possible that the criticism we often shift outward also needs to be directed inward?

Instead of blaming sports and ballet and parents and society and school and (fill in the blank), it seems it would be wise for us, the church, to look inward and ask,

“Why is it so easy to leave? How have we created an environment that implies consistency is not necessary, that commitment is optional, and “church” is a thing of convenience?

I believe if we take the time to honestly critique ourselves, we will find that we must share part of the blame for the shift in church attendance and necessity.

Church as an Event

I’ll never forget hearing the phrase, “Make Sunday morning the best hour of their week!” encouraging ministers to focus all of their attention on making that Sunday morning hour so popping, so exciting, so over-the-top memorable and fun, that kids couldn’t wait to come back.

However, the trade-off for that is that we had to create programs that appealed primarily to the senses and not necessarily to the soul and spirit. That’s why the approach of using church attendance as discipline is an easy “punishment” to dole out.

Church as Competition

A friend was talking to me the other day about church programming and marketing and made the statement, “When will the church realize we don’t have to compete with the world, that we really can’t compete with the world? We have a totally different thing to offer.”

And that’s just it. Our churches, funded nearly entirely by donations, cannot compete with concerts and movies and malls filled with all the things. We can’t compete with Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter feeds. We can’t compete with multi-billion dollar ad campaigns and streamlined marketing plans. And we don’t need to. It’s not a competition. We aren’t going to win people back to church by being the newest, coolest thing on the block. We are not in competition with the world OR with each other. We have Jesus. We have community. We have truth. It’s not a competition.

Church as a Building

My husband has pointed out quite frequently that if you look at the history of the word church, it changes over time. The simplest explanation is that in the New Testament, “church” was “ekklesia” which translates to “a gathering of people called out”. Over time, as buildings were built for those people to meet in, the German word “kirche” took the place for church and it referred to the building. So when we ask, “Did you go to church?” we usually mean, “Did you go to a building?” But the reality is, church isn’t a building.

We all know that in our head, but when we measure things like “church attendance” we are looking specifically to people being in a kirche not people living in ekklesia. And when we invite people to church, we invite them to a place, but, as my husband often points out, we should be inviting them into our lives. If church is a building, it’s easy to miss a week or two. If church is community, it’s much harder to skip out.

Church as Age-segregated Silos

We don’t see each other and so we don’t miss each other. We don’t know one another’s names or what our lives look like outside of Sunday morning, so we can’t check in on one another through the week and ask how things are going. We don’t pray together. We don’t worship together. And we don’t share life together.

And we can give all the reasons in the world why that is okay and best and most convenient for all, but the reality is, the consequence of consistently segregating the generations from one another has led to a breakdown in community and a lack of intergenerational relationships from which discipleship and mentorship flow.

I’m sure there are many more things we could add to this list. I’m sure that some of them are particular to individual faith communities. I’m also sure it is easier to blame sports and school than to look inwardly at ourselves and ask hard questions about how we, the church, have contributed to the lackadaisical attitude towards regular attendance and consistent community.

But what if we did? What if instead of focusing the blame elsewhere, we determined to look to ourselves first and to do what we could to create a community, an ekklesia, that was focused not so much on attendance as discipleship, not so much on programming as relationship, not so much on a building and a time as a people and a way of life.

What if we started with our church? 


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook.

About this Blog

EmbreeFam2017

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed

*The advertisements at the bottom of this page are chosen by WordPress, not by ReFocus Ministry, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of the author.