The first post in this series offers a look at the demographics of those who responded to my survey of pastors and church leaders in search of their insight about how they’re ministering to and with congregants over age 40. (Click here to read it.)
I’m sure the call to pass on our faith from one generation to the next predates the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but the words given to Israel before they crossed into the promised land after 40 years in the desert crystallized how to best do this – and why. While the family is the primary way in which the essentials of faith are transmitted from parents to children, the community plays an essential role in the formation of next generation disciples.
For followers of Jesus, the church is meant to that supportive community. I asked the sixty (and counting) pastors and leaders who took the survey to describe their church’s philosophy toward intergenerational ministry, I also asked how they’d each characterize the level of relationship between members of different generations within their congregation. Here’s what some of them had to say:
The Sunday morning worship service is intergenerational ministry for one respondent:
“We are a multi-generational parish. There are three to four generations of the same families who worship on a Sunday morning.”
Other respondents reported that the generations mix well in many areas of congregational life:
“Our church is VERY intergenerational. Choir, book club, different events are attended by all generations. Older members welcome and are accepting of young families and children in worship.”
“We are naturally very intergenerational, because we are a farm community and everything is family oriented. I don’t know that we have a philosophy about it.”
“We have had a strong focus on intergenerational worship. Our congregation is highly homogenous and biased towards people over 60. They like having younger people around, but do not necessarily reflect their values.”
“In a small church there is strong recognition of the stimulus and value of intergenerational involvement at as many levels as appropriately possible.”
Worship styles have segmented other congregations:
“We certainly love the ‘idea’ of multigenerational ministry but in practice it’s quite difficult. We’ve had lots of conversations and debates around music volume, and we’ve adjusted it down partly for the sake of 40+. (Partly for the sake of young children too, however.)”
“We desperately want intergenerational ministry. But worship music has divided is too much. However very encouraged that when we care for the marginalized (and we do a lot) we all serve alongside each other. Also have many older adults investing in large student and college ministries!”
“They desire to do things together but generally speaking their worship styles and preferences drive them apart. One way we have addressed this issue is by providing two distinctively different worship services on Sunday morning.”It’s not just music that divides:
“More interested in protecting their age group than reaching the younger.”
“I would say it’s not good. The service segregation of the 90’s has led to there being little to no interaction, even though we all ‘love’ each other.”
“There is a lot of segregation due to youth needs.”
“Our church is not supportive of intergenerational ministry.”
Other leaders are working against the grain to shift stratified demographics in their congregations:
“We highly value intergenerational ministry, although we face challenges like other churches in this area. We choose not to do much ‘segmenting’ of the congregation (e.g. no ‘singles’ group, or groups centered around age or gender). There are many fairly strong relationships between generations in our congregation, although some express to us that they feel one group or the other gets too much attention. We encourage intergenerational small groups, and try to draw people of all ages into opportunities to serve in the church.”
“There is little intergenerational ministry or programming but it really hasn’t been tried much. Our congregation is over 130 years old and has a very diverse age range with lots of social relationships between generations. We are trying to slowly do more intergenerational ministry, but it goes against the grain of ‘what we’ve always done’.”
“Striving to broaden the intergenerational groups that exist. The younger adults (under 40) that do connect with ‘older’ adults (over 40) seem to appreciate it and value it. They ALSO want peer friendships!”
I’ll save my thoughts and conclusions for a later post. For now, though, I will say that we in the church have not merely been called to either aping our culture or trying to invent a counter-culture. We are members of an entirely new, kingdom-shaped culture that has the Shema in the very oxygen of the “place”. I will also add that though the nature of my questions about those over 40 may seem to imply a bias toward generational segregation of some kind in order, that is not my intent at all. In fact, the opposite is true. Stay tuned to this series for more on this.
The next post in this series will take a look at what I’m hearing about the joys and challenges of working with and ministering to those over 40. After that, I’ll make an attempt to think through how these attitudes intersect with what I heard from the people who took my first survey.