I can recall the first time my Senior Pastor mentioned his vision for an “intergenerational” ministry involving teenagers. As a young Youth Pastor, I had come to believe multiple myths about youth ministry, one of the biggest being, “Youth Pastors are most important in young people’s spiritual development and older people just don’t understand youth today.” I figured if a teen was going to “mature spiritually,” surely I was the most educated and equipped one to get the job done.
Little did I know, engaging teenagers with the greater church at large would have a much bigger impact on their faith journey.
We actually discovered this by serving together.
As a youth ministry team, we had been talking about ways to serve in our community and landed on serving once a month at a local nursing home. The home was about a half-mile down the street and happened to be the location where one of our youth worker’s grandmothers lived. She mentioned that there were a lot of residents who didn’t get regular visitors, and suggested that we take our teens to visit once a month after church. The plan was simple: load up the church van, bring a few batches of cookies, knock on the doors, and let residents know we love them. After a few visits, they began to look forward to our crew of teenagers arriving at their doors.
Within a few months, the greater church at large caught wind of what we were doing and began to ask if they could come along. Before we knew it, families and people of all ages were having pizza together at a local restaurant, heading over to the nursing home, and loving on the elderly. We watched as kids as young as 3 and 4 hugged complete strangers, middle and high school students pray for residents with their parents, and even our retired folks came alongside young people and engaged in conversations with the very people who are often lonely and neglected. It was a sweet unfolding of God’s Kingdom that taught us three things about what matters.
SMALL IDEAS MATTER
When we are introduced to new concepts and ideas, we often think we need to come up with a huge idea or plan to be effective. When it comes to intergenerational ministry, small ideas matter. Whether hosting an intergenerational mission trip, developing an intergenerational prayer partner ministry, or creating a mentorship program, there are ways to encourage intergenerational ministry in small ways in and in a church of any size. Looking at what you are already doing in your ministry and finding small ways to invite other generations to partner with you can be incredibly impactful.
SHORT COMMITMENTS MATTER
The idea of getting different generations into the same space can be overwhelming. For adults who aren’t typically drawn to teenagers, they may feel as though they have nothing to contribute. For teenagers who don’t spend a lot of time with adults, they may feel as though they are irrelevant. When we create opportunities that require a shorter time commitment, there is a greater willingness to push back some of the fears of working with each other and give it a test run. For many, they find themselves longing for more times together and as a result, show up for the next opportunity. Short term commitments also provide an exit ramp if the chemistry isn’t right.
ALL ROLES MATTER
When we begin the conversation of intergenerational ministry, all age groups are quick to talk about what they “don’t have” to contribute. Whether it’s the mom talking about her 3-year-old being a distraction or the 75-year-old feeling limited due to her physical state, it’s essential to remind people that everyone can contribute and all roles matter. There is something beautiful about watching people lean into their role. Whether you are the toddler knocking on the door of a nursing home, the retiree praying over the sick, or the teenager putting brownies on napkins, at the end of the day, you’ve taught each other that the Kingdom of God includes all people, and that’s something that impacts the faith journey in unspeakable ways.