One of the most popular ministry strategies of the last 60 years has been to segregate people in the congregation by age. There are a number of principles and advantages embedded in that approach that must be recognized and this post is in no way criticizing that way of doing things. First, that approach recognizes the natural tendency of people to befriend people in their same age/stage of life. Second, it is relatively easy for newcomers to show up and figure out where they “fit.” Third, you can cater curriculum and topics to a more narrow range of issues.
We have invested mightily into this approach and for good reason, it works for some things but not for everything. It has its limitations. This isn’t a problem unless it is the exclusive approach and little thought is given to how the congregation will foster inter-generational connection.
What we need is not age-segretation OR age-integration. We need to make room for both. Both are important. Both have value. But we don’t need to choose one or the other. We should embrace both. I remember being in grad-school sitting in a college class tackling all sorts of issues in life and in the scriptures when it dawned on me – none of us know what we are talking about on this issue! We need someone with more experience and knowledge to be present with us and help us understand from a more mature vantage point on life and the Bible.
If you have age-segregated ministries don’t ditch them. Instead, challenge them to plan several events per year that connect with other age groups. Have the teens host a Valentine’s dinner for the elderly. Have the Seniors ministry have a game night with the teens. Plan intergenerational service projects that the whole church can pitch in and make sure those who work together aren’t just the same groups getting together again.
The Bible teaches us a lot about the value of the generations and how they learn from and need each other (that will be covered in the next post). The church is not made up of one generation but of many and the body is at its peak performance when every part is doing its work in a coordinated and interconnected/mutually beneficial way, together.