Intergenerational Church

I applaud congregations who are called to be racially and ethnically diverse. One of my brothers is a pastor of one such congregation, and when done well, experiencing worship with others with different backgrounds and pigment tones is a foretaste of the Kingdom to come. It’s beautiful, and it’s a value I hold near and dear.

Today I simply want to reflect on another version of diversity, namely, ‘intergenerational’ diversity. Over the years in ministry, I have become aware that this type of diversity quite often does not hold enough value within the church planting world. One can only experience unity with diversity and that unity must include everyone, ‘young’ and ‘old’ alike.

The current trend of churches closing their doors across North America is largely due to the fact that they are no longer intergenerational. Maintaining and investing in all relationships across generational divides is crucial for long-term survival. It is relatively easier to connect with people our own age, but what we need is the insight, wisdom, and experience from those who are older. We need one another for the long haul. In order to be a church that will last multiple generations you have to have multiple generations worshipping together.

There are challenges as a church planter to attract people from different ages, but I think it is a necessary challenge to pick up. Intergenerational churches enjoy a perspective of the church that is rich and healthy. Young people can have elderly people mentor them. They may not be their grandparents, but how sweet it is to ‘hang’ with someone their grandparent’s age. Seeing faith in people of all ages renews the soul. It reminds us of our differences, and though it may lead to ‘worship style’ preferential fighting (which occurs all too often), it can also lead to beautiful illustrations of sacrifice. For example, consider the following statements: “I love the organ because Mrs. Betty does” or “I’ll listen to that guitar as long as Little Sally can worship that way.” In its purist form, the dance of accommodation between generations for the purpose of worshipping our God is a glorious, one that can last for generations.

When I pastored at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, Hamilton, Ontario, we would often times invite members of our congregation to speak at our youth group. I remember one evening we were going through a small group study on Dating and Relationships. We invited three couples from our church to speak more directly about marriage. All three couples were of different ages, one of whom was in their 70s. It is difficult to describe how meaningful it was for these Christian couples to share their thoughts about marriage. Some of the questions the teens asked were ones they probably would not ask their parents or grandparents.

Churches which are intergenerational are robust. They will last longer by definition. Yes, they have their challenges, but all forms of diversity do.

Just look at the challenge Jesus embraced to open the floodgates of salvation for people from all tribes, languages, nations, and epidermis colors. Intergenerational diversity may not get the same amount of publicity as other forms of diversity. Perhaps because many churches that do not consider themselves to be diverse may not realize they have a ‘hidden gem’ deserving of celebration.

One final pastoral thought: all diversity is risky because often times there is an imbalance of power that exists within the group. Intergenerational churches are good, but it would not be fair to ignore the fact that generational bullying can happen. One can point to the sin of ‘worship wars’ within generations, something that misrepresents the true witness of the Gospel. Further along the sin spectrum is the multiple forms of abuse that can happen due to corruption in the hearts of power hungry sinners. The pattern of corrupting what God has made good remains a struggle, and in many stories is hidden and silent. For the ways in which intergenerational sins have caused God’s children, both young and old, to go astray, we must cry out for mercy and forgiveness.

As our church plant continues to meet, and as we continue to bear witness of the Gospel in southwest Wake County, we do so taking up the charge to be diverse, to do so with wisdom, to do so with prudence and due-diligence, and to do so seeking reconciliation and justice for all.

So, do you feel inclusive and affirmed because of your age within your church family? If not, reach out, become vulnerable and begin a discussion within your church.