It’s Not Enough to say “We Value Community”

I recently watched The Greatest Showman for the first time. Mind you, I had the entire soundtrack memorized because, it’s pretty fantastic, but I had never actually watched the movie. One scene that stood out to me was when P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) invited Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) into a partnership. During the interaction. Barnum basically dares Carlyle to put his money where his mouth is; to balk the norm and live into something greater. The invitation was clear: Put some substantive resources and actual risk behind this thing you say you believe in.

Over the past few years, I have had the chance to interact with churches of all shapes and sizes. I’ve worked with multiple denominations on multiple continents and multiple environments from urban to rural. And if there is one thing that I could point to and say, “This is what leads to success” when it comes to connecting generations in community, it is the shift from a “value” mindset to a “valuable” mindset.

Nearly every church I have the chance to journey with will share the things that they value. Inevitably, there will be a declaration that generational discipleship in the home and in the faith community is valued. But, when we start to dig deeper to look at how many resources (time, money, focus, opportunity, space, etc.) are dedicated to these things, we begin to see that being valued doesn’t necessarily translate to being valuable. In fact, often, the resources that could be used to foster these meaningful connections are diverted to maintaining the same programs, services, focuses and structures that actually impede relationships from forming.

Simply put, it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to just say “We value community.” We must take active steps to allow for authentic community to thrive.

It’s not enough to say “We value every voice.” We must tear down the structures and assumptions that keep voices marginalized and unheard.

It’s not enough to say, “We value children/youth.” We must engage the rising generations in active meaningful relationships and contexts that connect faith to action.

It’s not enough to say, “We value the elderly/aging.” We must create spaces where the aging generations can tell their stories, pass on their legacy, and experience generativity.

It’s not enough to say we value something; we must actually find it valuable enough to pay for it with our time, money, and effort.

Churches who begin to shift their focus (re-focus), adjust their time, divert their resources, and push through the discomfort of transition are the ones who end up experiencing new depths of generational discipleship and intergenerational community within their church family. And it doesn’t have to be a huge sudden shift; it can be just incremental steps of moving attention off of things that divide and onto things that unite and bring the congregation together.

  • Highlighting full congregational opportunities from the pulpit
    • Staffing and encouraging participation in intergenerational events and worship
      • Providing funding for trainings or service projects that are open to all ages
        • Investing in supporting, equipping and nurturing parents/caregivers for generational discipleship at home
          • Experimenting with new programs and spaces that allow for young & old to interact

Bottom Line? Resourcing matters.

Putting our money where our mouth is matters. Moving from an abstract idea that is valued to a practical engagement that is valuable matters. And yes, it will cost us something. Anytime we shift resources from one place to another be it time and energy or money and materials, there will be a cost. But that is what makes something valuable. It’s not the value that placed on it in word but the amount we are actually willing to pay for that thing.

But is it worth it? I truly believe that it is. It is worth our investment both in time and in money. And if you don’t know where to start, reach out. There are so many little steps that we can begin to implement that will allow us to shift to more connectional and intentional ways in our faith communities; ways that will connect us to each other and to Christ across generations in our homes and in our churches.

In the words of the greatest showman himself, “Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll wake you up and cure your aching. Take your walls and start ’em breaking. Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking. But I guess I’ll leave that up to you.”


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings.

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

For More Information about how you and your church can participate in this webinar experience, fill out the Contact Form Below with “ReConnect” as your subject.


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

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.

“I Believe in Jesus, but Don’t Call Me Christian”

“Younger people are less religious than older people.”

Across the board, this proves to be true. Doesn’t really matter what country one observes or what metrics one uses; statistically, research finds that younger generations tend to be less religious than those who have come before.

However, it turns out, what does matter is which religion is being studied.

According to recent Pew Research, Christianity not only has the most predominant age gap, in that it affects nearly every country that identifies as Christian, it also has the largest one by percentage meaning there is a larger gap in between the ages than other religions.

“Age gaps are also more common within some religious groups than in others. For example, religion is less important to younger Christian adults in nearly half of all the countries around the world where sample sizes are large enough to allow age comparisons among Christians (37 out of 78).

For Muslims, this is the case in about one-quarter of countries surveyed (10 out of 42). Among Buddhists, younger adults are significantly less religious in just one country (the United States) out of five countries for which data are available.

There is no age gap by this measure among Jews in the U.S. or Israel, or among Hindus in the U.S. or India.1 (Source)

Pew Research, 2018

The highest retention rates for religions are found in the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities.  The lowest retention rates are found in Mainline Protestants, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and atheism (Source).

Why?

There are so many people asking and answering this question. There’s a lot of research being done not only on why younger generations are leaving their faith and/or their church and why some choose to stay. More precisely, many younger generations are saying, “I still believe in God and Jesus and the Bible, but I don’t want to be called a Christian.” They are opposed to many of the movements that have been labeled as “evangelical” or “Christian” in the past decades and desire to distance themselves from that label and institution. Here are some common reasons for younger generations distancing themselves from church.

  1. Some stay away from church because they don’t feel like they belong. A study shared by Christianity Today found that about “58 percent of young adults indicated they dropped out because of their church or pastor. When probed further, they said:
    • Church members are judgmental or hypocritical (26%).
    • They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church (20%).
    • Church members were unfriendly and unwelcoming (15%)
    • Religious, ethical or political beliefs (52%)
  2. Others leave because their faith or their church was never truly theirs, just something they had to do for their parents or because children’s ministry or youth group was a fun social hangout. “Consider this finding: when students involved in the College Transition Project were asked what it means to be a Christian, 35 percent “gave an answer that didn’t mention Jesus at all.” (Source)
  3. Still others leave because they have no relationships the church or a compelling reason to stay.  According to an interview with Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute, “The number one reason why young people are walking away from their faith—it’s a lack of intergenerational worship and relationship” (Source).
  4. A more recent development, the perpetuation of conspiracy theories, political agendas, and nationalism within the church. A recent study by Lifeway found that 49% of pastors frequently hear members sharing conspiracy theories and predominantly these belong to the 65+ generation and are part of a predominantly white church (Source). This is a major issue for younger generations who both reject this mixing of church and state and racial divide and also call out conspiracy and nationalism on a regular basis.

Of course, there are more reasons, but these are some of the big ones. And the thing is, some of these can be resolved! 

Basically, each of these reasons boil down to this:  We need faith communities that are, as Dr. Powell stated another interview, “ruthless about focusing on Jesus [and] realize that Christianity can be awkward and sometimes confusing, but Jesus is always magnetic.” And this starts when they are young, when they are children, not once they have left.

We need communities that foster a sense of belonging to something bigger, create space for intergenerational connections that are meaningful and long-lasting, and invite a willingness to engage in conversations of doubt, faith, and culture. 

We can keep moving forward with age-segregated ministries, church services, and programs or we can step back, see the bigger picture, listen to what we are hearing from generations to come, and begin implementing the changes needed to address the concerns listed above all while remaining stalwartly focused on Christ.

It won’t always be comfortable for many of us to “change” and to embrace new ways of thinking and “doing” church, but it’s time to think bigger than today, bigger than “us” and consider our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

For more on these topics, check out the posts below and share your own thoughts in the comments


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings.

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

For More Information about how you and your church can participate in this webinar experience, fill out the Contact Form Below with “ReConnect” as your subject.


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

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.

Missing the Mark: The Failing Strategy of Trying to Woo Missing Generations

Increasingly, I find myself in conversations with churches that are concerned they do not have a lot of Millennials and Gen-Xers in their congregation. “We have two strong areas in our church,” one pastor said, “Seniors and kids 5th grade and under. We just can’t seem to hit the generations in between.”

This church’s solution to this problem was to focus on reaching those missing generations. Offering classes they thought they would like. Playing worship songs and preaching sermon series they thought they’d enjoy. Even adjusting the service time and format in order to appeal more to those generations. Nothing seemed to be working. So I offered this suggestion:

Instead of focusing on the weaknesses, build up the strengths.

Find ways to intentionally invest in and connect the oldest generations and the young generations currently in the church.  Create programming specifically for them. Give them the attention and the focus. Put together opportunities aimed at bringing those two groups together. After all, if the other generations aren’t there anyway, what have you got to lose?

The reality is this:  We need each other. These separations we have created in our churches based on generational lines and age segregation are not doing us any favors. Instead of making us stronger, they have made us weaker. They keep us from being connected to each other. They inhibit us from experiencing community with one another.

Being in the same building at the same time makes us not more connected that a bunch of loose legos in a bin. In order for those legos to build anything, they have got to be joined together.

We are at our very core hardwired to connect. This is actually the title of a study done by the Commission on Children at Risk completed in 2003 that looked specifically at depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental and behavioral problems in young people. Their conclusion? We are hardwired to connect to other people.

Simply put, we are built for community. We actually need places to be vulnerable and accountable, to pass on knowledge and gain new experiences, and without those things in place, we begin to disintegrate as an individual. “When younger and older connect, the intergenerational relationships built are a route to success in early life and a key to happiness and well-being in our later years” (Source). This begs the question – why?

Because we are created in God’s image and He is a communal God.

We are quite literally created FOR community. There’s no getting away from that very essential part of who we are.

When we look at our church community and only focus on what or who we are missing, we will miss out the gift in front of us. The next generation. The oldest generation.  As members of a faith that perpetuates itself through generational discipleship, passing our faith from one generation to another, finding ways to strengthen those connections will be our greatest gift.

If we are going to see our churches strengthened, we have to take our focus off the “missing” generations and begin to support, equip, strengthen, nurture, and connect the ones we still have in our communities.

Create space for them to be in relationship with one another, making meaningful connections (not just passing in the hall), engaging in corporate times of worship (not just periodic performances) and life-giving discipleship relationships (not just the sharing of an occasional word of wisdom).

Let’s invest in the generations of today and let’s focus on how we can strengthen their faith and their relationships in ways that will create lifelong faith for generations to come.


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings.

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

For More Information about how you and your church can participate in this webinar experience, fill out the Contact Form Below with “ReConnect” as your subject.


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

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.

Exclusion or Embrace? Age Integration in the Church

One of the most compelling aspects of the early church described in Scripture is the characteristic of deep, intentional, unusual community. Just look at how the church is described in Acts 2:

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.

Acts 2:42-47 NIV

This approach to community, hospitality and welcome made the early church stand out. It was peculiar for a group of unrelated individuals to live in such a way. It was said of Christians, “see how they love one another…how they are even ready to die for one another” (Source).

Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity describes Christians this way: “To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture” (p. 161).

Much has been written about this kind of Christian hospitality that embraces the marginalized and poor, takes care of the widow and orphan, and seeks to serve and love humanity, those in the church and those who live in community with the church.

Theologian Miroslav Volf has written an extensive work on Christian community called Exclusion and Embrace. Volf’s work is a in-depth theological work and I cannot do it justice in a short blog (If this piques your interest, be sure to check it out!). But what he writes about really struck my interest in regard to intergenerational community.

Volf characterizes Christian hospitality as embrace, an act that he describes in four parts: Arms open to others (invitation), arms reaching out to others (waiting), arms wrapped around others (embrace) and arms opening to release others (differentiation). 

However, there are times when Christian community doesn’t offer that welcome and embrace but rather there is a sense of division and exclusion. What exactly is meant by exclusion?  Just as Volf explores four movements of embrace, he defines four acts of exclusion: elimination, assimilation, domination, and abandonment.

In my role as an advocate for generational discipleship and intergenerational ministry, I read this insight through the lens of age integration and multigenerational faith experiences in community. In that light, we can see how the Church has struggled with each form of exclusion.

To be clear, there is not a 1:1 correlations between his work and the integration of ages and intergenerational community in a church….but… I do think it is worth at least considering in the light of Christian community and hospitality. Below is a short description of each type of exclusion and how we might see it play out in a church setting.

Elimination. Perhaps the simplest form of exclusion is simply to remove the “other” from the embrace of the gathered body. How is that done in church? Well, the creation of age-specific spaces severely limits the ability for generations to interact together and regulates where and when certain ages are allowed to be. In some churches. Some ways we can see this accomplished is in things like specifically banning children from attending corporate worship services or setting age limits on participation in church board, ministry teams, or staff. 

Assimilation. Things are a lot easier when we are all on the same page. Rather than celebrate our differences and uniqueness, assimilation pushes people into conformity. Intentional or not, we can see this in churches in such spaces as targeted worship services aimed at specific age groups, age-specific Sunday School classrooms and curriculum, generation-specific activities, and events or opportunities based on personal style and taste where homogeneity within the group, service, or event is expected and even desired. When these types of things become a consistent and regular occurrence in a community, the message can be “To truly be a part of this community, you need to be this age or act this way.”

Domination. Perhaps the saddest form of exclusion explored by Volf, domination is when “we are satisfied to assign ‘others’ the status… in their proper place, which is to say the place we have assigned for them” (p. 75). Stereotypes about age can impact a faith community leading to the majority age groups having greater voice and sway over the less represented older and younger groups. We can see this happening if we look at things like salary and budget distribution for ministries or ministry personnel, generational representation in places of leadership, and care of persons within each group, but especially in that of older, aging members.  

Abandonment. The final form of exclusion described by Volf is simply abandonment or “minding our own business” (p. 75). Very often children, young people, and older people tend to fall into these categories because they offer little financial benefit to the church, often cannot perform the needed duties of deacons and elders, teachers and pastors, leaders and servers, and instead get abandoned from the communal life of the body. Even churches who spend a great deal of money in creating age-specific areas of ministry can still abandon these generations by not incorporating them into the corporate life of the church, rather leaving them to their own separate spheres.

Volf describes this tendency to exclude as a result of our own discomfort with “anything that blurs accepted boundaries, disturbs our identities, and disarranges our symbolic cultural maps” such as a child crying out in a worship service, a toddler coloring and snacking in the pews, an older person needed helped slowly down an aisle, or a teenager dressing in casual or ripped clothing. Presented with these uncomfortable moments, it’s easy to think that these types of exclusionary actions are best for everyone.

But that appears to be the polar opposite of Christian community; in fact, from the descriptions of early Christians and all throughout Scripture, the idea of coming together, being a body made up of many parts, finding room for each member to connect, seems to be the traditional approach to church.

Regardless of one’s view one Volf’s characterization of exclusion and embrace, it would be worthwhile for churches to examine their gathering practices and the structures/programs that are in place to see if there are spaces where Christian community and hospitality is being intentionally or unintentionally stifled, especially as it relates to generational discipleship and intergenerational connections.


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings.

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

For More Information about how you and your church can participate in this webinar experience, fill out the Contact Form Below with “ReConnect” as your subject.


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

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.

What Does “Different” Look Like?

Last week, ReFocus shared a post about the missing church asking, “Where did the church go?” The conclusion was simple: If we keep doing what we have been doing for the past two decades, we will continue to experience the same results – a decline in church attendance and more and more people walking away from the Christian faith.

This post was widely shared, read, and affirmed but also raised the question: If doing more of the same is the issue, what does different look like?

As pointed out in the original post, “Believe it or not, our perfectly planned services and emotionally-poignant worship experiences and our super fun youth groups and our dedicated staff and high-tech curriculum are not what keep people connected to the faith. It’s relationship. Period. It’s the creation of a community that is integrated and intentional about being part of one another’s lives, regardless of time and space, and committed to being there for one another through all of life’s ups and downs.

But how can we do that? Often our current systems, programming, and curriculum rarely if ever allow for relationships to be cultivated across generations and beyond the scope of the Sunday morning/Wednesday night experience. We see shadows of what could be but we miss the full technicolor reality. However, if we are willing, there are some simple places where we can start.

Here are FOUR areas to begin the work of intentional intergenerational community.

PRAYER

In my opinion, there is no better place for a church to begin to connect to one another than through intercessory prayer for each other. The inspiration for our prayer program at church comes from Tony Souder‘s book Pray for Me which connects children and young people in the church with prayer champions of three older generations.

The commitment is simply to pray for one another throughout the school year. But our church found that if you are praying for someone, you start caring for that someone, and as a result, relationships begin to grow. For more information on my personal experience with this, check out this post from 2015.

SERVICE

One of the characteristics of children and youth are the ways they describe what it means to be a Christian. Most adults list Christian beliefs like believing in Jesus’s death and resurrection and believing in eternity. But kids and youth often will use actions to demonstrate faith; things like, going to church or loving others. One amazing way that a faith community can create a space for generations to be together is by providing opportunities for serving together.

When we serve together something happens: We are more likely to bond with the people we are interacting with and the part of our brain that forms memories is triggered and we hold on to that bond for years to come. (Source). Weeding a community garden, providing food for people in need, cleaning the church building or a neighborhood park….the possibilities are endless and usually not restricted by age. This is a great way to engage members of a community in relationship with one another.

PRESENCE

There are many reasons given by those in children, youth and family ministry for why church attendance is down. One big one is this: Sports are to blame.” Well, 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. So what if we flipped the script? What if the church showed up at the sporting events, the ballet recitals, the theater performances and the preschool pageants?

Consider creating a space in your church where the schedules and announcements for these events can be posted (physically or virtually) so that the church community can show up.

PARTICIPATION

Over the past few years, as I’ve researched and written for this blog and for classes, one theme kept coming up over and over again in regards to why young adults left the church behind – they didn’t feel like they belonged.  They felt like they belonged in children’s ministry when they were little. They felt like they belonged when they were in youth ministry as teenagers. But once they were in “big church” they felt out of place, disoriented, like strangers in a familiar place but one where they didn’t belong. One way we can begin to build intentional community is by finding ways to create spaces for participation in the activities of the church. Some simple ideas:

There is NO cookie-cutter method or “right way” to do this.

If a church is asking the questions, “How do we do community better? How do we bring generations together? How do we reach out to the kids, the youth, the elderly, the lonely, the isolated? How do we do church differently?” then that church has taken the first step. That’s where it has to start. A recognition that there is more and a desire to explore how to discover that more. Prayer, Service, Presence and Participation are just starting points….but they hold the promise of a better future, one where the church is truly together.


Let’s Get Started Together!

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


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

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.

Where Did You Go? The Disappearing Church

A friend of mine recently tagged me in a Twitter thread. In the post, the author made the statement that, in America, we are really good at “acute compassion” but we are terrible at “chronic empathy.” As an example, the author noted how Americans are quick to run to each other’s aid in times of emergency. We give blood, we show up in boats and trucks and haul people out of floods and fires, we donate to people in emergency situations, we show up whenever there is a crisis and we rally together as a country. But, we aren’t that great about creating infrastructure that offers ongoing care to those in poverty, care for the elderly and aging, and safety for the larger citizenry.

In the author’s words, “It is the long term work that makes disasters less damaging but we don’t want to give to the needy; we want to save the endangered. We don’t like being care workers, we want to be heroes.”

I think the author is right. I think, in our culture, it is easy to jump on board to a short-term care situation that requires minimal, short-lived sacrifice and feel good about it. But I think it’s far harder to commit to a long-term experience of hard work and dedication that requires the building of relationships, the commitment of time and energy, and the lack of immediate payoff. The latter requires something more than a momentary emotional pull to “do something.” It is much deeper and much more sacrificial; it requires us to lay down our comfort and willingly put ourselves in a position of service and humility.

And that’s exactly what I believe the Church is called to do.

You see, when I read this Twitter thread, here was my response: “Yes, and this applies to generational discipleship in the church too. We are great at altar calls and perfectly crafted worship services; terrible at lifelong discipleship and intentional community.”

The Church in America experienced a disruption over the past year that it was not prepared to handle. In fact, statistics show that 1 in 3 churchgoers have stopped attending church (in-person or online) since the start of the pandemic (Source). This is coming on the back of a rapid decline in church attendance over the last decade (Source).

Why? Because what we have been doing for the past two decades is not what keeps people in church. Believe it or not, our perfectly planned services and emotionally-poignant worship experiences and our super fun youth groups and our dedicated staff and high-tech curriculum are not what keep people connected to the faith.

It’s relationship. Period.

It’s the creation of a community that is integrated and intentional about being part of one another’s lives, regardless of time and space, and committed to being there for one another through all of life’s ups and downs.

Way back in 2013, the Barna Group shared this:The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and twentysomethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28% of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11% of dropouts who say the same” (Source)

What about Gen Z, the generation of young people in our churches right now? “Parents are the most important people and the greatest influence for children. According to this study, Gen Z admire their parents, but at the same time they don’t feel family relationships are central to their sense of self. They love their parents, but still long for good role models” (Source).

In the Church, we are good at acute compassion; we will show up for each other when there is an emergency or a crisis. We are good at weekly experiences and crafting worship services, Sunday schools, youth groups, mission trips, and Vacation Bible Schools that offer temporary fixes to our emotional and spiritual needs.

We are less good at things like creating space for intergenerational relationships to flourish, where older and younger people can create lasting relationships based around conversation, prayer, mentorship, guidance, and lifelong community

We are decidedly not good at addressing the structures in our churches that lead us away from each other such as age-segregated worship experiences and lack of communal opportunities to serve together consistently and building relationships outside of the church building and the hours set aside for “church.”

And then we wonder why each generation has fewer and fewer individuals who regularly attend church or identify as a Christian.

2020 has been a good barometer for this.

For individuals who had intentionally developed relationships with people in their church, who had demonstrated the willingness to put in the work of community, to remaining connected despite being about to gather in-person, to commit to Zoom worship and in-home family Bibles studies, to text one another and check in on each other, to continue building community despite the unusual circumstances…for those people, 2020 while difficult, was not a death knell to their faith or their commitment to church.

But for those who were loosely connected or even disconnected, who showed up for the experience or attended out of obligation, who didn’t have committed discipleship relationships with anyone at church or in their faith community outside of paid staff or volunteers…. it was much easier to walk away.

I believe we are faced with a challenge as we begin worshipping together again. We can either 1. Try to recover what once was and return to a sense of “normalcy” with lower numbers and zero change or 2. We can acknowledge we are good at acute compassion but terrible at chronic empathy and begin to change the way we do church by prioritizing relationships over programs and worship over services.

I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, if we don’t want to lose an entire generation (Gen Z or the upcoming Alpha Generation), we are going to have to commit ourselves to the long-term work of intergenerational discipleship, mentorship and relationship and it is going to take more than showing up on Sunday morning and occasionally volunteering in children’s ministry or giving towards the youth group mission trip.

We’re going to have to show up in the spaces and places where the younger generations are – the uncomfortable spaces like social media and the unspiritual spaces like ball games and the deeply spiritual spaces like committed prayer partnerships – and build intentional community as though our spiritual lives depended on it.

Because, at this point, I think they do.

Church as usual is not enough. It is time for a change. And it doesn’t start in a building. It starts in a community who says, “I refuse to just show up when there is an emergency or a need. I’m showing up when life is looking pretty good and I’m digging deep into relationship with intention and purpose. I’m going to relentlessly pursue relationships even if it is hard and rejection happens and I feel alone.”

That’s what Church really looks like. The easy road of “Sunday morning worship” is no longer an option. We must build something more. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” – Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:35.


Ready to Start? Not Sure How?

ReFocus Ministry is excited to offer “Everyday Discipleship: A Workshop for Parents/Caregivers.” 

This one-hour workshop covers an unlimited number of parents from your church to join us for a seminar including an Everyday Discipleship worksheet and follow-up resources for parents/caregivers focused on helping support and equip parents for faith formation in their homes.

This workshop has been widely attended by both ministers and parents alike with positive feedback on how it changed their perspective on discipleship in the home and got them excited about sharing their faith with their kids.

This webinar uses a Zoom format and is set up with an individualized code for your church only. All resources will be emailed prior to the webinar so you can distribute to parents with your regular communication.

Interested in learning more?

Fill out the form below with the Message: Everyday Discipleship and we will be in touch!


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

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.

Kids These Days

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Plato in The Republic

That’s right. This statement did not occur yesterday, last week, or even in the last century. No, this characterization of the “youth” comes to us from the 4th century from Plato himself. It was basically his version of, “Kids these days” while despondently shaking his head at their absolute lack of understanding and decorum. You can almost hear the sigh.

He certainly wasn’t alone in his commentary. Good old Aristotle chirps ups stating, ““[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances. They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”

I mean, I’m pretty sure I heard someone say that last sentence yesterday…oh wait, that was me.

But at least Aristotle was evenhanded, dishing it out to the oldest generation, stating, “[Elderly men] have lived many years; they have often been taken in, and often made mistakes; and life on the whole is a bad business….They are cynical; that is, they tend to put the worse construction on everything. Further, their experience makes them distrustful and therefore suspicious of evil. Consequently they neither love warmly nor hate bitterly….They are small-minded, because they have been humbled by life.”

It’s basically an Aristotelian “Okay, Boomer.”

So there you have it. This familiar story where the older look upon the younger and sighs and the younger looks to the older and groans. It’s not new. In fact, it’s kinda how we are built.

Why?

Well according to research (yes, they’ve done studies on this), it’s because we genuinely forget what it is like to be a young person. As we grow and develop, we begin to change how we see ourselves and the world around us. “People use their present self as a proxy for their past self as well as projecting onto past others.” (Source)

In other words, as adults, we can use our frontal lobe to make distinctions about life we couldn’t do as a youth and we tend to project that onto youth and expect them to see the world like we do…but they don’t. And vice versa, youth cannot understand why in the world old people can’t see what is in front of their face because it is so obvious to them .

Why does this matter?

Well, it helps us to understand why it is often so difficult for older and younger people to engage in meaningful conversations that lead to ongoing relationships. It’s hard. We are naturally biased against each other. We have to willingly fight our own bias in order to make space for the other.

But, why does it matter to us?

The primary way our faith is carried into the future is by passing it from “one generation to another” (Ps. 145:4). In the church, we call it generational discipleship. And, in order for this to happen, it is absolutely necessary that these old people and these young people are able to find spaces where they can talk, listen, and engage with one another in meaningful ways that lead to ongoing relationship.

But, boy, can that be difficult. In addition to a natural bias away from one another, our current society has many structures in place that actually perpetuate the distance. Things like…

  • architecture, building that have spaces specifically set aside for certain ages.
  • spaces, designed intentionally to be mostly accessible to one age group.
  • communication and technology, where information is obtained in different ways often leading to different perspectives.
  • relationship opportunities which tend to be fostered among similarly-aged individuals.

And yes, every one of these constructs can be found in most of our churches. Buildings with wings, spaces that aren’t kid-friendly, information offered in specific ways that may unintentionally exclude a generation, and community groups, Sunday schools, and church-related activities aimed at a certain age group or life situation.

It’s a quadruple-whammy plus an already innate bias against one another.

So, what do we do about it?

The first thing is to recognize, age segregation is an actual issue. That not only does it exist in our society, it also exists in our churches.

Next, it behooves us to consider if our church structures are such that it exacerbates the division or offers ways for generations to come together for the purpose of relationship, discipleship, and mentorship.

Finally, it makes sense that if we find that we are lacking in those opportunities, to begin looking at our faith community and start making in-roads and bridges between the generations so that generational discipleship can happen.

I mean, it’s likely that there will still be some head-shaking and eye-rolling BUT hopefully there will also be more hands held in prayer, hearts knitted in love and lives joined in relationship. Because, that is how our faith gets passed on and written in our hearts.


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes.

Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings. There are now TWO options for attending the webinar:

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

Anyone registered for all four sessions will receive a FREE half-hour coaching session/follow-up specific to your ministry needs.

To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reconnect-a-webinar-for-generational-connections-tickets-121384392987. Questions? Feel free to email me at christina.m.embree@gmail.com. Can’t wait to journey with you!


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

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.

Church Is NOT The Building…but the Building Matters

“I didn’t even know you had another daughter!”

This statement stopped me in my tracks a couple of years ago. It happened in the hallway of a church building that I had just started serving in. The phrase was uttered by one of the most faithful older members of our church to one of our most faithful younger members. As I glanced over at them, my mind scrambled to understand how two faithfully attending church members who obviously knew one another and genuinely cared for each other had missed such a momentous occasion as the birth of a child….three years prior!

It didn’t take long for my mind to fill in the gaps. The older woman, like many older members of our church family, attended the 8:15 am “traditional” service in the main sanctuary. Afterwards, at 9:30 am, she would go down the stairs to the Sunday School classroom she’d been meeting in for years and meet with her class. At 10:30 am, she would use the lower exit and head out to her car to go home.

Meanwhile, the young mother and her family would arrive at the church at 9:30 am for the “blended” service held in the Community Center, down the hall from the main sanctuary. During that service, her children would be on the first floor under the Community Center in their nursery and Children’s Church. After service, at 10:45 am, she would move down the hall to her Sunday School class and her children would remain in the same downstairs hallway for Sunday school. Then, at 12 pm she would gather her family and head home.

Sound familiar?

How in the world were these women ever going to see each other, let alone, see the children in question? When the daughter was born, a rose was placed on the pulpit to celebrate her birth… but only in the service she attended. Her baptism/dedication, while announced in the bulletin, was only celebrated in the Community Center.

The child’s entire interaction within the church building from the time she was born took place on one floor in one or two classrooms with a set schedule of church employees and volunteers.

So, it should have come as no surprise when I heard the older woman exclaim in surprise that she didn’t even know the three-year-old girl existed…but it did. And then the surprise quickly morphed into, “This is not okay! Something has to be done. This is not how a community should act.”

What?

Thus began a journey that eventually led to a weekly intergenerational service, quarterly all-church worship services, intergenerational prayer partners, and multi-generational events. But there was one thing that didn’t change – the building.

In spite of our work to create intergenerational connections, the architecture of the building we met in often presented a challenge. In fact, it was evident that the building itself was structured in such a way as to limit interactions of multiple generations on any given day.

So What?

The reality of architecture limiting our generational contact is consistent with the findings of research. In fact, even the designs of our homes have changed over time leading to lack of generational connectivity. In the past, homes were created with the expectation of a nuclear family and often the grandparents living together in a single space with perhaps a bedroom or two for some privacy. Today, the structure of large single-family homes with multiple rooms and bedrooms create financial, spatial and cultural barriers to intergenerational living (Source).

How does that happen?

  • Lack of available affordable housing in multigenerational neighborhoods has led to “age ghettos” where homeowners are primarily older and renters are primarily younger.
  • Homes in general are usually occupied by 1) single young people or 2) aging couples/singles or 3) a single family rather than multiple generations as in the past .
  • And, as we explored in the last article, these houses tend to group together according to age and life experience so we end up with neighborhoods, retirement villages, or sections of a city mainly occupied with people of the same generation.

Older Americans especially experience age segregation because of living on their own and not in a familial home. Most older Americans living alone are in doing so in isolation without intergenerational connection or relationships. (Source). The result of this spatial age segregation has led to a growing epidemic of loneliness among the elderly who are often homebound and without outside contact for days on end.

Other buildings are also created with specific generations and ages in mind. In addition to spatial constructs like sounds (music, television, noises) and sights (screens, lighting, colors), architectural constructs like stairs, hallways, gates/doors, open/closed space, and seating/resting areas send messages about who should be in a space.

Architecture plays a huge role in communicating who is welcome and attracting a certain “audience” to occupy a space.

Now What?

First, let’s consider the architecture of our gathering spaces.

  • Are there ways that our building is inhibiting generational connections?
  • Can any of these barriers be removed?
  • Could space be redefined by an architectural change like removing a barrier, increasing accessibility, or redirecting traffic?

Second, get creative in thinking about how the space, as is, can be used for multigenerational community.

  • Could other spatial features, visual or auditory, be put in place to make the space more welcoming to all generations?
  • Locate places in the building that would be appropriate for gathering more than one generation.
  • Create avenues to invite people into spaces they may not normally go like multigenerational events or small group meetings in different locations.

Finally, be aware that architecture might be working against you as you seek to connect members in your congregation to each other across generational lines.

  • Think of ways you can bolster those relationships that don’t depend on “being in the building.”
  • Encourage older members to go watch kids play tee ball or perform a dance recital.
  • Invite families to “adopt” an older person as a “grandfriend” and visit with them.
  • Set up a way for teenagers to eat lunch with adults who are serving in the community or sharing Christ in their workplace.

Don’t let the building the church meets in define how you do church; be the church that occasionally meets in a building!


Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?

ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings.

Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.

Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.

Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.

Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.

Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!

Anyone registered for all four sessions will receive a FREE half-hour coaching session/follow-up specific to your ministry needs.

To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reconnect-a-webinar-for-generational-connections-tickets-116093734485. Questions? Feel free to email me at christina.m.embree@gmail.com. Can’t wait to journey with you!


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

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.