A few days ago I shared one of my passions, the next generation. I'm personally invested because I've got 2 kids, and I'm professionally invested because I spent almost 9 years in student ministry. One of my dreams as a new pastor is to see our sanctuary and property filled with kids running around and young parents chasing after them. But that's not all. As I've driven around our area my heart has been burdened by the number of 55+ communities around us. God's dream isn't just for one age group to be together, but for all. The Gospel's message is for everyone, and Gospel community involves everyone from 1 to 101. That's why I've embraced and loved the word multigenerational--bringing together people from extremely different backgrounds just by the year they were born into a community that's beyond friendship, it's family.
So many times when a church wants to focus on one age group, others are left wanting and neglected. Sadly when this happens a church doesn't become a multigenerational family, it becomes congregations within congregations (young vs. old, contemporary vs. traditional, three-piece suits vs. Skinny Jeans), and it disrupts the unity of the Body that the New Testament emphasizes over and over again. I want to give 7 ways that a church can become a truly multigenerational family.
1. Invest in Next Generation ministry - Investing in these ministries (birth-young adulthood) is more than providing a budget item or space, it's an intentional effort to champion and support these ministries. Investing in them includes recruiting and developing volunteers, promotion during worship services, and inclusion in the church as a whole. Investing also includes facility structures, including safety/security, cleanliness, and accessibility (signage is huge, so is having key people to help guests).
2. Develop Pathways for Assimilation - Are there ways for people, regardless of age, to assimilate into the membership and involvement? Introducing a Prospective/New Member Orientation can help with the front door of assimilation, but beyond that are there ways to involve in small groups, opportunities to use gifts/abilities to serve, and accountability to keep the back door closed? Developing a Multigenerational mindset means asking the question "Can anyone, regardless of age, find a place here to belong?"
3. Reflect Titus 2 - One of the coolest things I learned about Millennials in my doctoral work and beyond is that this is a generation that craves mentoring. Titus 2 gives us a great pattern for older investing in younger. Younger are able to learn from the wisdom and experience of those older, and the older can be incredibly valuable to helping build a legacy.
4. Connect Generations - I love separate spaces for youth and children's ministries, because it gives them "their place" where they can learn, worship, share, and grow in their own way. Sadly what I've seen many times is that this turns into isolation--where kids and teenagers never cross paths with adults (and vice versa). I served in a church 7 years and I couldn't count how many times people would say "oh what a lovely space for the youth, I never knew this was here." Connecting generations means inviting them into each other's space. It can be a formal fellowship or it can be as easy as a middle school class inviting the widows to join them for Bible study. When we bring generations together, we're tearing down the walls that too often separate us in churches.
5. Encourage Deference > Preference - We all have preferences over what we like in music, style, fashion, sermon length, and seating arrangement. When Paul talks about his liberty in Christ, he doesn't use it to flaunt or brag about what he can do, instead he points to deference to others. So when we don't like the music or think the service should be oriented towards _____, we need to put our preferences on the back burner and instead defer to someone else. This attitude of humility, considering others more than ourselves, lets each generation see how the others flourish and thrive. So sing songs you don't know (even if they repeat, because the angels will sing Holy, Holy, Holy forever!), let a teenager talk about Christian rap, and don't roll your eyes when the Southern Gospel quartet gets up to sing.
6. Community Engagement - "If you build it, they will come" worked great for Kevin Costner, but not for churches. Becoming a multigenerational family means finding ways to be involved in the community. Contact your local schools to see if there are ways to serve as volunteers, set up a table at Open House, build relationships with retirement homes and senior centers, encourage members to coach Little League, connect with families at the pool or grocery store, and recognize the influence areas God has given you to engage people who don't know Jesus.
7. Listen - Leaders who charge all-in without listening are asking to step on a land mine. Listen well to your people, develop a vision that they will buy into. James gives us great wisdom that we should be quick to listen but slow to speak--and becoming multigenerational means that we're taking time to listen to the genuine, heart-felt concerns of people. It means we become a people who are willing to listen to each other to learn and grow, rather than a people who dismiss the other generations. When younger people learn the older ones have sacrificed and worked hard for what they have, they listen. And when older people hear the passion and enthusiasm for Christ the younger have, they cheer.
It's a beautiful picture isn't it?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.