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26 June 2015

How to be an intergenerational church

The Church - probably the group with the largest age range and most diversity there is. We know the importance of raising the next generation to encounter and develop and deepen a relationship with God and encounter Him. But do we often presume this only really happens in separate age groups?

"We all learn differently and God will communicate in all sorts of creative ways if we let Him."

Mention all-age worship or family services and it may conjure up cringe-worthy preconceptions of ways to entertain the children; sitting through puppet shows or games for the sake of kids. Some adults opt out and others endure the 'children's slot'. Often the culture in the Church is to do things separately, so coming together is a huge leap and leaders can be dissatisfied with the result.

But ministry leaders on the ground are exploring alternative and effective ways to engage both young and old to discover the richness of what it means to worship together across generations. 

Some are concerned adults won't learn to become like children or the children see what it means to grow as a Christian if age groups are always separate. Jason Gardner, youthworker at St Peter's, Harrow and author of Mend the Gap, said: "Families spend more time together than they used to. Why then do we keep them apart when it comes to worship? The biblical picture is of a gospel that unites people across divides, uniting young and old."

Jane Butcher oversees the schools team and family in homes ministry with the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF). "As adults we frequently listen to the perspectives of other adults, but how familiar or open are we to hearing perspectives from children? Children are readily open to the impossible becoming possible." 

"New ways to help generations connect are emerging into wider awareness now," says Sam Donoghue, co-editor of Childrenswork magazine and head of children and youth for The Diocese of London.

"Resources are provided according to spiritual styles rather than age groups, offering different options of ways to engage with God. So, rather than having a specific craft for all children, you have an art space where adults and children who are that way minded can engage together."

Simple changes can make worship more intergenerational and create opportunity for movement, dialogue or active response. 

Lianne Semans Smith, church and community development worker for Scripture Union leads all-age programmes and has co-written Explore Together, a resource based on zones and learning styles. "When we get together we make space to hear from God and learning from each other is a key part of growing in faith." Lianne will often simply present a story and ask open questions. "We all learn differently and God will communicate in all sorts of creative ways if we let Him."

Chris Leach, an experienced children and family ministry leader, planted a weekly all-age fresh expression alongside her husband Rev John Leach. "We are prayerful and intentional about our DNA and key values," says Chris. "We aim for what we call the 'Shrek effect'. The film Shrek engages the children's attention while at the same time engages adults at their own level."

"It's not quiet or predictable. It's messy and costly because it asks us to put our personal preferences to one side, move outside our comfort zones and consider the needs of others."

John Leach mentions that they make everything optional. "No guilttrips for the dads, visitors or indeed anyone if they don't do theactions, for example. A key to good all-age worship is to keep it shortwith a simple point and to leave people wanting more. The ministryis focused on helping everyone, whatever age, to grow as Christiansinto confident and mature disciples."

Over time, songs and simple liturgy become familiar, which helps non-readers to join in and families to use them at home in their own worship times.

Nick and Becky Drake lead worship for everyone and are part of the New Wine team. "We aim to lead the whole church in a face to face encounter with the living God," says Becky. "More than any specific song choice, or set of actions, it's an attitude and a commitment of the whole church to 'honour one another above themselves'."

"Allowing young and old to get to know each other in more informal settings allows relationships to grow as well as faith," says Kay Morgan-Gurr, national director of Children Worldwide and Alliance council member. "It's not just about Sundays. Intergenerational church is learning, worshiping and growing in our relationship with Jesus together, as a Church family."

Outside of services, there are other ways to bring all ages together, including Messy church, social events, festivals and informal prayer. Many of these are accessible to those who find church times, structure or liturgy difficult.

Nick Jackson, leader of Powerpack ministry and the local children and family leader at Headington Baptist in Oxford leads a multigenerational discipleship group. "It is lovely to see all ages from 5 to 60-year-olds use their leadership gifting and fascinating to see how people relate in their zones."

Alan Charter, ministry development director at Scripture Union, says:"We need a shift from a purely independent focus and individualised approach to the gospel towards greater interdependence in mission as the body of Christ.

"We need to nurture the young in their formative years and live out our calling to pass the gospel from one generation to the next. The more we develop community, with meaningful generational connections, the greater our impact will be."

Krish Kandiah, founder of Home for Good, says: "My vision for all-age Church revolves not around a service, but rather on a community of God's people who know and love one another and will do whatever they can to help each other love God and live for Him in the world."

A shift to an all-age culture takes time to build and involves intention, vision, imagination and hard work. Mary Hawes, children and youth advisor for the Church of England, admits it's not easy: "It's not quiet or predictable. It's messy and costly because it asks us to put our personal preferences to one side, move outside our comfort zones and consider the needs of others."

"We aim to create a culture where children are actively involved alongside teens and adults, valued and vital," adds Chris Leach. "Being together as the whole body of Christ opens up fresh opportunities for all to be renewed by the Holy Spirit."

For more organisations working for an intergenerational Church, have a look at these resources:
Faith in Homes – faithinhomes.org.uk
Mend the gap: Can the Church reconnect the generations? Published by IVP in 2008 by Jason Gardner
We are Family conference –11-12 September in Liverpool faithinhomes.org.uk/we-are-family-conference
Explore Together resources – exploretogether.org
All Age training from Big Ministries - bigministries.co.uk/allage-training
All Age Worship by Lucy Moore - Published by The Bible Reading Fellowship in 2010
Worship for Everyone – worshipforeveryone.com
God Venture resources – godventure.co.uk
Creative Worship for all-age church by John Guest
Creative Ideas for All-age Church by Karen Bulley

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