When I was in high school, we used to play a game we called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”  Basically, the game was that someone one would say aloud the name of a person or movie and then in six steps or less connect them to Kevin Bacon. For instance, Mission Impossible connects to Tom Cruise who connects to Kevin Bacon in A Few Good Men.

Trust me, it was wildly entertaining to us.

This idea of being connected to someone, even if it is only through a mutual acquaintance, holds meaning for us. We research our family histories, we take DNA tests, we associate ourselves with a heritage or tradition and we connect ourselves to something bigger. And most of us have heard stories from those who have come before us about our ancestors or experiences of connection that our family has had. It helps make up our identity and holds value to us and our experience.

Connectedness is an experience that has been researched by sociologists and developmental psychologists for decades. Research has shown that often the concepts of belonging and identity are directly associated with the sense of connectedness a person has to a group or community. And there is a reason for that – often connectedness is established through story or shared identity and many times that is passed from one generation to the next.

In Erik Erikson’s stages of development, he points to the later stage of life as being a time of Generativity vs. Stagnation. In simple terms, a time of passing on legacy or a time of becoming isolated and alone. Obviously, the latter is preferred to the former in a healthy development. And often this generativity is experienced in intergenerational relationships between young and old.

Last year, some researchers wondered why those conversations were so important so they conducted a study where they intentionally set up some university students with a group of older, aging individuals and 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.

Four 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.

When we talk about intergenerational ministry and generational discipleship in the church, we are not merely talking about older people and younger people occupying the same space on a Sunday morning.

It’s not just about having a good mix of ages in the room or ensuring that learning and worship opportunities are available to all. Those things are important, yes, but that’s just the salt to the entrée.

The central goal, the real meat of the ministry, is to develop a place of connectedness and identity-forming where communication and conversation inherently leads to mentoring (life lessons) and growth (generativity). It’s about creating space for relationships to form and everyday discipleship to occur.

Four life lessons in 45 minutes.

Could you imagine what could be shared in a faith community if we intentionally and purposefully established time and spaces for our oldest generations to interact with our youngest generations in meaningful times of worship, learning, and serving together?

This is generational discipleship.

It’s not about kids. It’s not about youth. It’s not about adults or senior adults. It’s not about age at all.

It’s about shared story, mutual identity, and simple conversation.

It’s about relationship and connectedness. And ultimately, it’s about being the body of Christ.

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.

For more information, visit us at www.refocusministry.org/cohorts or fill out the contact form below with “Coaching Cohort” as your subject.

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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

Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.

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.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and the Importance of Connectedness

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