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Intergenerational approaches for passing on the faith with all ages

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As we continue to move into the 21st century the church should consider implementing intergenerational approaches that build upon the Biblical references confirming children’s roles in the church. Jesus’ commanded to bring the little children to Him as He taught to an intergenerational crowd (Matthew 19: 13-15, Mark 10: 13-15, and Luke 18: 15-17) and His use of a child as a teaching tool that all must “become like little children” (Matthew 18: 1-6, Mark 9:33-37, and Luke 10:21). In addition, within the New Testament 12-year-old Jesus taught the elders in the synagogue and Timothy with his older spiritual mentor Paul.

Look around at school events, community sports and recreational programs where children are separated by age-level while parents are working or engaging in adult projects. Church events and committees can be added to this separation of the ages. The Father created us to be in relationships with other humans. We are always changing and growing; therefore, everything is interconnected.

James White (1988) in the book “Intergenerational Religious Education” outlines four patterns in planning intergenerational religion education.

  1. In-common experiences brings people of different ages together to do something in a similar manner at the same time (e.g., doing a project, participate in common event, game),
  2. Parallel ministry experiences separates persons by age to work in the same activity simultaneously.
  3. Contribute occasions when each group shares what has been learned or created previously (e.g., different groups work on parts of a worship service, skit), and
  4. Interactive-sharing sends persons into interpersonal exchanges of their thoughts, feelings, or actions in order to get another generations perspective. This pattern is the most difficult to facilitate but it gives the greatest benefits toward increasing understanding between the generations.

It is suggested that each ministry group or committee find ways to involve at least one additional generation to ten percent of the activities planned for the upcoming year. Some of the activities that your Christian Education team can implement are the following:

  1. Youth included on team;
  2. Special announcements represented by youth, middle and mature ages;
  3. Special event quizzes for all ages ( e.g., MLK, Black History, Resurrection);
  4. Participant in special events (e.g., MLK prayer breakfast, MLK program, Black History program);
  5. Special project in conjunction with display team (e.g., youth wrote essays “Faith of Our Fathers” for Father’s Day display); and
  6. Requesting each choir to same song (i.e., Lift Every Voice and Sing – February 2015).

Remember that the lack of intergenerational contact will lead each generation to see itself as a separate subculture rather than an integral part of an entire church community a point-of-view that often leads to conflict and competition rather than cooperation as Jesus taught. Therefore, if your church opts to use one or more of White’s intergenerational patterns toward faith building it will ensure you are during the will of God.

Reference: White, J. (1988). Intergenerational religious education. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.

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