By Jill Kayser, Kids Friendly Coach, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
I’ve just re-read Hamish Galloway’s 2013 sabbatical report “Empowering the next generation – young adults and the church”. I felt compelled to return to this report in the hope that it would add a local perspective to my bulging “kite” of research on intergenerational church . I want to find every possible tool (and voice) I can to motivate and resource our church leaders and congregations to seriously grasp the importance of fostering intergenerational community. Scriptures command it, Jesus role models it, post-moderns desire it, research confirms the importance of it, but as often is the case, the church is the last to get it, even though we were the first to have it.
“Intergenerationality is our Christian faith’s past and future” says John Roberto, author of “Generations Together” and founder of Lifelong Faith Associates.
Our denomination’s commitment to become “Kids Friendly” over the past 13 years has laid a solid foundation for us to build on. Churches who have committed to work to become “Kids Friendly” report a marked shift not only in attitudes to and practices with children, but in the culture of their faith community.
“Becoming Kids friendly changed the spirit of our congregation to one of openness, joy and energy,” says Rev Nathan Parry, Island Bay Presbyterian, Wellington
“When we at St Aidan's made an intentional decision to become a Kids Friendly Church, we didn't realise the ripple effect this would have on the whole of our faith community. This has resulted in every aspect of our communal life experiencing renewal and creative energy for mission.” Says Rev Alf Taylor, St Aidan’s Presbyterian Church, Birkenhead.”
Being “Kids Friendly” has become a norm for many of our churches and paved the way for promoting and facilitating intergenerational relationships.
Galloway uses Deuteronomy as a framework for his thesis. He writes: “It is a book that delves deeply into passing faith down through the generations. It has timeless lessons for us to apply to the generations of today.”
Galloway captures his thesis message, the promotion, nurture and guidance of young people in faith, in the word “generativity”. “It’s a word psychologist Erikson used to describe the way those in mid-life can positively care for and empower younger generations.”
While the motivation for Galloway’s report was to explore how the church (his in particular, but applicable to many,) can best connect with young adults in today’s post-modern world, I believe his findings and suggestions, inspired by Deuteronomy and his exploration of “distinctive generations”, can and should be applied to all ages and as early as possible.
The command of Moses is to embed the principles of the law in the hearts and lives of a new generation. “Talk about it with your children…..” as Galloway points out himself: “Barna research suggest that if people do not make a commitment to Christ by the age of 14, the likelihood of them doing so is slim, so ‘get faith to your young uns’!”
Galloway’s research was informed by a young adult focus group from Hope Presbyterian who expressed a desire to have more opportunities for intergenerational conversations and fellowship.
Embedding an intergenerational ethos in our churches will, I believe, ensure that these intergenerational conversations and friendships are happening from an early age and will continue through the teens into young adulthood. And before we know it this generation of young people will naturally become the older friends and mentors to the emerging generations.
And let’s not forget this is all about passing on faith.
People come to faith by socialisation. “Lectures and books are unlikely to be much help (especially in the early stages). What is required is an immersive learning experience, involving socialisation and non-formal learning through observation, imitation, experiment and many hours of practice so that the skills become second nature.” (Making Disciples in Messy Church, Paul Moore)
But also and possibly even more importantly, people come to faith through relationship. “What appears to be most important in people’s growth to faith is a loving, caring, close relationship with other Christians. In the nurturing process of our children, we must allow them to develop deep personal relationships with as many of the people of God as possible.” Lance Armstrong: Children in Worship. The Road to Faith.
An intergenerational church prioritises and fosters relationships across the generations. It creates opportunities for all ages to worship together, learn together, pray together, serve together and play together. “Intergenerational” is a way of being. It is integral to the church’s culture. It is who they are. And being intergenerational is intentional!
Some pointers for embedding an intergenerational ethos in your faith community:
- Welcome and value all people, ages and stages, equally
- Recognise disciples are made in community
- Understand disciple-making requires intentional, non-formal apprenticeship-style, experiential learning and formal learning
- Foster and facilitate good relationships between young and old
- Empower leaders and the congregation to role model this way of being
- Welcome and bless the lowest and the least
- Love and serve one another and your community