FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER: Why Intergenerational Services are Good for the Local Church (Part 4).

Finally, a regularly scheduled intergenerational service allows the church to benefit from mutual edification.  Such edification takes place through the relationships that develop among the believers who regularly meet together. Researchers David M. Csinos and Ivy Beckwith state that for young people, “Receiving support, encouragement, and guidance from three or more nonparent adults is a key developmental asset. Through intergenerational community, children and youth have opportunities to form these types of relationships.”[1]  Referring back to the aforementioned Lilli from the book, Sticky Faith, “I would have liked to see more integration within the larger church body and a clear direction for teenagers to learn what it means to walk with Christ, take up their cross daily, serve others at a cost to oneself, and be disciplined.”[2]

An intergenerational church service allows children to receive such support from a non-parent, which research shows, is a key catalyst in their social and emotional development.  According to one study: “Children who receive from their church the provision of love, empathy, caring, trust, a sense of community, and the feeling of family are more likely to internalize the church’s values regarding prosocial behavior.  They are also more likely to experience God as close and responsive, which in turn predicts increased prosocial behavior.”[3]  Powell and Clark recount another testimony of such inclusion from a young lady named Bess.  She stated: “My parents always made sure that I was involved in a lot of adult groups and classes at church and it was there that I felt the most valued and welcome.”[4]  When children are seen as an important part of the church community, they receive the necessary social and emotional support for healthy growth.

It is not only the youth who benefit from an intergenerational service.  Adults of all ages can also gain from having the “fresh” eyes of children in their midst.  Kara Powell recounts a time when her eyes were opened to this truth when she writes:

It was our Good Friday evening service and our family arrived a few minutes early. As we were waiting for the service to start, Krista pointed at the front of the worship center and asked, “Mommy, what are those yellow tubes? There are so many of them.”

I smiled and answered, “Krista, those are the pipes for the organ.”

“Mommy, what’s an organ?”

My amusement at my daughter’s first question quickly changed to dismay. No one, including me or my husband, had ever explained to her all of the dynamics and elements of our worship service. How could she feel a part of the broader community if she felt like a confused outsider? So I made it my mission at that Good Friday service to explain everything. I whispered in her ear, “Hear that music? That’s coming from the organ.”

“See that woman? She’s making announcements.”

“Can you read those words on the screen? They’re reminding us what Jesus did by dying for us on the cross.”

Here I am a champion for intergenerational ministry and my own daughter didn’t understand what was happening in intergenerational worship. It was a good reminder that we grown-ups take a lot for granted, and children have a lot to learn.[5]

Furthermore, adults profit as they regularly encounter the child-like faith on display.  Garland declares how this mutual edification takes place when she writes, “As children learn from the experiences and knowledge of those older than they are, so to do we adults learn from the experiences and knowledge of young people.”[6]

One man stated that such a service can be used to move a person out of prior comfort zones.  He states, “If we’re reaching out to the community, we are going to have at least one out of two kids who don’t have a dad in the home.  So they need healthy male mentorship to encourage them and let them know how special they are in God’s eyes.”[7]  He then stated that he saw his role as being one of these mentors during the intergenerational service.[8]  Another man in his late seventies who saw it as a blessing to have his children seated with him in the service during their childhood years stated that an intergenerational service gives hope to the future of the faith.  He said, “We pray for the families in our church.  Seeing these children in the church encourages us that they are under the preaching of the Word.”[9]  He went on to say that seeing kids in the church service gives him an assurance that his prayer is being answered regarding the future of the church.  “For me an adult”, he said “I want others to have the blessings we had.”[10] An intergenerational service provides a safe, non-judgmental environment where the entire audience, young and old alike, mutually edify one another through prayer, worship, and the teaching of Scripture.

In Ephesians, Paul declares that God’s design for the local church was to display His wisdom to the world through the inclusion of all ethnicities into the “one new man”, the church.[11]  The church has pursued this call yet, sadly, ignored the inclusion of all ages for the sake of tradition and comfort.  This has been seen to allow drastic results in the family and the local church.  Local churches should purposefully solve this despairing situation through a weekly intergenerational service to allow for parents to be proactive in the discipleship of their children, include children and youth in the life of the church community, and permit the congregation to benefit from the joint instruction from each age group.

Grace and peace,

Rick

[1] Csinos, David M, and Ivy Beckwith. “Better Together: The Formative Power of Intergenerational Community.” Family and Community Ministries (Online) 28 (2015) EBSCOhost (accessed June 3, 2016).

[2] Powell, Sticky Faith, (Kindle Locations 1116-1120).

[3] Crosby, Robert G III, and Erin I Smith. “Church Support as a Predictor of Children’s Spirituality and Prosocial Behavior.” Journal of Psychology & Theology 43, no. 4 (2015): EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2016).

[4] Powell, Sticky Faith, (Kindle Locations 1199-1200).

[5] Powell, Sticky Faith, (Kindle Locations 1301-1311).

[6] Garland, Family Ministry, 455.

[7] Carl Deaton, interview by author, Winston-Salem, NC, August 12, 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Dr. Barkev Trachian, interview by author, Winston-Salem, NC, August 11, 2016

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ephesians 2:11-3:10.

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