Wanting something and actually having something are two very different things. I talk to a lot of churches that say they want community, even have community listed as a value or written into their mission statement, but when we actually sit down to talk, community is mentioned as something that they feel is missing. Especially when we talk about intentional community that extends across generational boundaries and into meaningful intergenerational connections.
However, a few churches I’ve had the privilege to journey with have implemented some pretty cool initiatives that have helped them to overcome the barriers between the ages and created spaces and contexts for these types of connection and community to exist.
Here are five practical, real-life examples of intentional community-building that can be implemented in churches of any size or generational population; which one is the best fit for your faith community?
“What’s your gift?”
A church that I am currently working with is doing a FABULOUS thing for Valentine’s Day. The pastor has been working on a series about spiritual gifts and as part of that series, the staff has worked to connect some of the oldest members of their congregation with some of the youngest for a video-taped interview where the young will ask the elder to share about their spiritual gift. As a bonus, the staff has prayerfully connected young people with similar giftings in the hopes of sparking an ongoing connection.
Pray For Me
This continues to be one of my favorite ways to connect generations in the spiritual practice of prayer. Each child/youth is connected with three prayer partners of multiple generations who commit to praying for that child/youth for a period of time, like a school year or a liturgical year. Some churches have used postcards or bookmarks with some information about the child/youth on it and the prayer partner uses that to help them remember to pray.
The book Pray For Me by Tony Souder along with other resources including a special Pray for Me Grandparents book can be found here and to read about one of my personal experiences with Pray for Me, read here.
When kids and youth are asked to describe their faith, they are far more likely than adults to use action terms rather than theological or “belief” language. For them, faith in action is faith so one of the best ways to help disciple the younger generations is to create space for service, especially serving alongside adults from other generations.
One church I’ve worked with has partnered with a local rescue mission to do everything from bake cookies to share meals to create “welcome home” baskets for newly housed individuals. All of their service projects have a component that allows for young children to older adults to have a way and a place to serve. Our church has a Service Sunday every fifth Sunday and while we don’t focus on just one local organization, we do rotate through several ministry partners and work to ensure that there is a way for every age to serve.
According to developmental theorist, Eric Erikson, older adults thrive when given a place to share their wisdom and life lessons with rising generations. One church decided to make sure that church was the place they could do that. One Sunday a month, the oldest Sunday School class members spread out into the other classes for Storytime and each of them take a few moments to share a personal story with that other class. Sometimes it’s just a story for fun, sometimes it’s a testimony of their Christian experience, and sometimes it’s a life lesson or teaching moment. Regardless, it’s a time that the whole church looks forward to; a special moment to hear from those who have lived rich full lives and are ready to share their experiences with others.
I’ve shared about this before and I will share it again because I have found this practical but powerful approach to be an incredible way to create community within a congregation. Place a bulletin board in a visible space and ask parents, kids, and youth to post their sports schedules, theater performances, spelling bees, swim meets, and the like on the board. Then, invite the older church members to visit the board and commit to showing up at these events to cheer on the young people and their families.
I’ve worked with churches who have done some version of this and all of them comment to me about the results. The community grows closer, the families are more connected to the church, and the kids know that they belong to a spiritual family who loves and supports them. For more on one church’s experience, click here.
Any one of the above ideas could be a catalyst to help bring a community of faith closer together. A combination of one or more could begin to shift the culture of the church from one of age segregation to age integration. And implementing three or more could very well create a space for deeper community than perhaps the church has experienced in its memory. Gathering together with the intention of listening, serving, praying, supporting, and affirming one another in our gifts, callings, and state of belonging can only reap benefits of love and joy.
If you would like to begin to explore how your church might move in these directions, reach out using the contact form below for a free initial consult and brainstorming together! It’s time to turn our desire into a realized experience of intentional community and loving God and others together.
If you have ever felt alone in your heart for intergenerational ministry, if you have ever wondered what the next right step is or been curious about how you can best serve your church’s discipleship or mentorship ministry, then a ReFocus Ministry Coaching Cohort might the place for you.
ReFocus Coaching Cohorts provide ministry leaders with the opportunity to expand their leadership skills in a twelve-week shared learning experience. Facilitated by an experienced coach, a cohort group of 7-10 individuals from multiple faith organizations meet weekly to explore and apply the principles of leadership in generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and church culture transition. Through extensive exploration, inquiry and dialogue, the coach and fellow cohort members help participants identify their role in generational discipleship within their faith community and deepen their leadership capability.
Interested in learning more? Fill out the contact form below or visit us online at refocusministry.org/cohorts.