The churches I grew up in weren’t particularly intergenerational. As a kid I was sent off to children’s church during the worship service and Sunday school after church. In high school and in college, I went to youth and young adult groups and was involved with para-church ministries like Youth For Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As an adult, in my thirties, I am one of the few of my generation that is still in church (Generation X is the most absent generation from church). Why am I here? Am I more holy than my peers? On a good day, perhaps. But the real reason is that unlike many of my friends I was able to forge meaningful relationships with older people at my church. While my friends and I had each other, I also had older sisters and brothers in the faith and spiritual parents and grand parents which nurtured me and mentored me. When my doubts threatened to swallow me whole, I was held by a web of relationships until my faith was more fully formed.
Holly Catterton Allen (professor of Christian ministry at John Brown University) and Christine Lawton Ross (professor of Christian education at Concordia) have teamed up to write Intergenerational Christian Ministry: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship. They observe that in many congregations, generations are stratified. Churches that describe themselves as ‘multi-generational’ or ‘trans-generational’ often fail to look for ways to intentionally integrate the generations (17-8). In contrast, Allen and Ross look for ways to engage multiple generations in Christian spiritual formation. It is is their contention that ‘cross-generational experiences are essential to Christian formation and the development of a mature faith (25).’
Allen and Ross divide their book into four parts. Part one examines the late twentieth century practice of separating the generations and the benefits of an intergenerational approach. They discuss how hyper individualism, societal shifts and ‘the homogenus unit principle (HUP) caused many congregations to separate generations from one another to more ‘effectively’ reach them. However, this approach segmented the church and prevented us from experiencing the mutual benefits of Christian unity (generationally).
Part two presents the biblical, theoretical and theological foundations for intergenerationl formation. They show the biblical precedent for cross-generational ministry by demonstrating that worship and formation were intergenerational concepts in both testaments. The insights of developmental psychology and educational theory further demonstrate the wisdom of their approach. Finally Allen and Ross also demonstrate the theological underpinnings for intergenerational Christian formation by basing their approach by exploring the significance of the Triune community and the implications for ecclesiology.
Part three further demonstrates support for intergenerational formation from the social sciences. Allen and Ross discuss religious socialization, gerontology, generational theory and their qualitative research into the value of cross-generational experiences for Christian formation.
In part four Allen and Ross turn their attention to practical matters. They give practical advice on fostering an intergenerational community, creating intergenerational worship and learning experiences, telling stories, planning Intergenerational missions and serving projects and intergenerational small groups. For their final two chapters, they focus on two contexts where intergenerational ministry is particularly challenging. The first of these is Asian American churches and the peculiar challenges faced by First and Second generation churches. They also discuss the challenges of trying to be intergenerational in a mega-church context. While there are no easy answers Allen and Ross give guidelines for developing greater intergenerational unity in those contexts based on some concrete success stories from churches which are dedicated to this sort of approach.
The appendices prove to be a practical resource. Appendix A presents forty intergenerational ideas, Appendix B lists various resources for intergenrational ministry and Appendix C lists intergenerational scripture passages.
Because Allen and Ross discuss at lengths the value of intergenerational ministry from a number of angles, this is a particularly good book for those who may be skeptical about intergenerational approaches. They admit throughout this book, that intergenerational ministry is not easy, but requires commitment and intentionality. However in the end, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. Any one involved in church ministry (regardless of their position) will find this to be a beneficial book. I recommend this book to pastors and lay leaders who are seeking creative ways to bring old and young together in their church.
Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.
Question for discussion: In what ways have older Christians impacted your faith? Younger?