Alison Faison

Why Intergenerational Connection is Essential

For thousands of years supportive community-based cultures naturally encouraged children, youth, adults, and senior adults to be interdependent.  Of course, there have been dysfunctional communities and unhealthy church systems as well. In the U.S. we have siloed children, youth, adults, and senior adults in church age groups in ministries or programs without encouraging intentional intergenerational connections.  Quality age-appropriate group play, serving opportunities, and discussions are important for growing minds and hearts as well as faith-formation, but it does not stop there.  Christina Embree wrote a 2015 article entitled “Intergenerational Worship Can Anchor Your Church’s Youth” where she referenced Fuller Youth Institute’s longitudinal research done from 2006 -10 with regard to youth church attendance after high school. She introduced the article with this, “Intergenerational worship is one of the most important and most neglected opportunities within the local church.” “Primarily, their research found three things:

  1. While most U.S. churches focus on building strong youth groups, teenagers also need to build relationships with adults of all ages.
  2. Churches and families overestimate youth group graduates’ readiness for the struggles ahead with dire consequences for the faith.
  3. While teaching young people the “dos” and “don’ts” of Christian living is important, an overemphasis on behaviors can sabotage faith long-term.

Further research showed that while there was no “silver bullet,” churches that encouraged intergenerational connections and worship, and youth that felt involved and connected to the larger church, had a much greater chance of remaining in church post high school.” Embree gives a shout out to Kara Powell and Chap Clark, authors of the book, “Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids,” as they were speaking to the values of intergenerational worship. “Of the many youth group participation variables we examined, involvement in intergenerational worship and relationships had one of the most robust correlations with faith maturity,” Powell explained Embree goes on to cite studies by the Barna Research Group and Pew Research Center support the idea that Millennials often leave church because they have no connection to the larger church body, no relationships with adults outside of specialized ministry areas, and no sense of belonging in corporate worship since they’ve never or rarely attended. A Lifelong Faith study showed six key factors in young adults remaining religious (affiliated with church and Christianity). The first three applied directly to the family, but the next three to the church, specifically supportive nonparent adults and personal religious experiences in the larger church, not just in youth group or children’s church. I am not opposed to quality, Christ-centered, community-focused children’s ministry and youth ministry, but I am concerned when families and churches are consistently separated from each other and never have time to fellowship together.” My teen daughter attended Calvary’s spiritual retreat last weekend where she volunteered at the prayer station with two Calvary members, one being her youth leader. She had a chance to help with the station as well as see children coloring mandalas, senior adults planting seeds, and adults taking a time out in the quiet chapel. Instead of showing frustration, considering that she was the only youth at church on a Saturday, she calmly left church at the end of the retreat and said that she enjoyed being around people.  I am thankful that my children feel that they belong and that they are invited to contribute. Being with others even when not having a verbal conversation speaks volumes to youth.  Children and youth observe and receive the messages: “You are enough. We have time.  I take time out for myself. I rely on others when I need help. I like being with you.”  These messages can reach children and youth on Sundays when they are with people of all ages during worship and in events outside of worship. During age-specific classes such as Confirmation or a mixed age class space such as Sunday Studio children and youth get to know their peers and safe adult volunteers which leads them to deepen connections that help them in their faith-formation and long-term sense of belonging.  If a child or youth participates in a serving opportunity such as Pack a Sack or contributes items for the Outside Giving Tree, there is a completely different understanding of ministry. They are receiving the ministry of community while giving to others. Children and youth that are siloed in groups at church might understand that they are there to receive a program, but do not necessarily feel that they belong unconditionally to the larger church body.  That message of interdependence and belonging has to be fostered by people of all ages praying, worshipping, serving, fellowshipping, and sharing talents and humor side-by-side. Data reveals that children who eat meals with their family on a regular basis are less likely to develop eating disorders as youth and adults,  and more likely to develop confidence in having conversations about a large scope of topics with peers and those of all ages.  Being seen and heard, or rather, witnessed, is essential for growth, calculated risk-taking, and combating onsets of loneliness, self-absorption, and fixed mindset.  Watching others play, create, express feelings and opinions, helps us to see how we are similar and different. We exercise our empathy, as well as laugh more when in the presence of others. This helps us to become active players that can safely shine our uniqueness while choosing to be on a healthy cooperative team that will take us places God wants us to go. I am thankful for all of the ways Calvary has offered intergenerational events and ministries.

More to Explore

100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation

The next time you are at childcare or Sunday Studio, please pick up a free copy of Rebecca Kirkpatrick’s book 100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation. This book focuses on the practice of planting the seed of faith, feeding the soil of each child’s soul, and watching children and youth grow. We want them to know the oral tradition roots that originate with the Israelite People, the Gospels that tell the life of Jesus, the acts of Jesus’ followers, and the liturgical seasons of the church starting with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

How to safely intervene when someone is targeted by violence.

How does supporting a targeted person relate to church and being in relationship with others in a Christ-like way? Wherever humans are, divisions can be created. Like Jesus, we need to know how to show up, de-escalate, be present, ask for help, ignore attackers, respect targeted people, and then have the courage to follow up with the situation until it is addressed and supported. People of all races, genders, religions, and economic status are targeted, but we know that black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQI+ people, as well as those experiencing poverty are most often targeted by attackers. How did Jesus show up for children, tax collectors, sex workers, widows, and everyday folks? Jesus took accountability by sitting and eating next to people, as well as walking with them. That seems easy enough, but our society's actions show us stories filled with the bystander effect or the phenomena of nobody acting even when they are watching violence in front of them.

How to talk with someone experiencing mental health challenges.

“‘How are you showing up today?’ That’s a language we use a lot,” Thomas-Bush said. “As a person of faith, how are we going to show up loving our neighbor, loving ourselves?” Thomas -Bush works with youth at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. This youth group was featured in Our kids and mental health, an April 20, 2022 article in Presbyterians Today. “In 2019, more than 1 in 3 students indicated they persistently felt sad or hopeless, an 11% increase over 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report, 2009–2019. The report also showed that 16% of students made a suicide plan.” We cannot ignore youth, this data or assume that youth will get help on their own. Most adults suffering with mental health challenges do not reach out for help. It is important that we notice behavior changes that go beyond typical age-appropriate developmental behaviors and check in with the person. Parents, adults, youth leaders, and teen peers are realizing that listening without judgment, as well as asking direct questions can be the needed openers for someone to safely share their mental health challenges and then get the resources that they want.