“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4 NIV)

I remember Betty. Betty would teach me in Sunday school every week for at least nine years and she never missed a Sunday. I was taller than Betty by the time I was eight! She was a loving, patient, passionate follower of Jesus. I still remember her and her service for the children in my church and whenever she heard of some of the things that I was doing, she was always so happy, she owned the fruit that God was using me for and rightly so. There was something so beautiful about this time in my life and my experience of church. Her wisdom and care and modelling of Jesus to me was really significant and I hope that she in turn remembered some passion and simple childlike faith from me.

I think this little illustration is one that highlights what the church is meant to be, a reflection of the full body of Christ. In the great commission’s call to make disciples from all nations, the use of the original Greek word ethnos” literally means all types of people, or maybe another way to translate it would be: people who don’t look like you. The body of Christ is to be an inter-generational, cross cultural, cross background expression of the fullness of the creation that Jesus loves and gave His life for.

Sponsored

“Old men and old women will come back to Jerusalem, sit on benches on the streets and spin tales, move around safely with their canes—a good city to grow old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing—a good city to grow up in.” (Zechariah 8:4-5, The Message)

I think this is a picture of the church that the charity Embracing Age recently shared with me. We would all agree that the church should be a good place to grow up in, but it should also be a good place to grow old in. I love this picture and can imagine the temple and the elders speaking into it and shaping and encouraging and warning.

So how can we grow our churches in this area? It rarely happens by accident and needs some intentionality. I have only recently taken on the role of leading the mission Faith in Later Life, but I am sure that this challenge for the church to reclaim its cross generational engagement will be utterly transformative to the health of our churches, and to our ability to truly reach the ethnos” in our communities. Here are a few ways to start or continue to grow this ministry.

Is there a blind spot?

The first thing to work out as a church leader is whether there is a blind spot to any generation in your church. It’s hard to be intergenerational if you are missing generations and if they are missing, you will be poorer for it. I’ve been in churches that are all about caring for older people and find they have an unintended blind spot to young people or families. I’ve been in churches that are the opposite, all about young people and young families and blind to the older people in their communities. As you examine your vision and mission, ask yourself and your team what your blind spots are.

Reaching out

Many generations can benefit from being on mission together. The amazing charity Truth Be Told has sent parent and toddler groups into care homes to run regular story telling sessions. This has been amazing. The knock-on effect has been that some local churches have now closed their older people’s ministry post-Covid and relaunched the toddler group and the older people’s group as one group together around story telling. What a beautiful picture of the youngest, their parents and the oldest growing together.

Technology

I’m not sure there has been a bigger advance in technology and its capabilities than in the last 30 years or so. So much has changed so quickly. Could the youth in your church run technology training groups for the older people in your community?

Veda grew up in India, was a codebreaker in the war and lived on the south coast of England in her older age. She lived alone and most of her family still lived in India. One day, as she was struggling with her shopping, a person from a local church (who didn’t want any blind spots!) asked if they could help her. They got chatting and Veda said how lonely she felt. She was invited to church and to meet people to help change that. Very nervously she went and really clicked with a 30-year-old mum and her toddler. They decided to visit Veda every week and at one stage, they taught her to use an iPad so that she could video call her family. After a lot of time in this community, she gave her life to Jesus. The change her family saw in her was amazing. And they got to see her so much more as this technology was introduced and trained by a toddler and their mum!

Leaders

Being a far from perfect leader myself, I truly believe that many of the older people in our communities have so much to teach us. What if those who have been leaders in their lives were able to pour into current or potential leaders today? What if stories could be shared, wisdom given and warnings heeded? Would we see a maturing of our leaders beyond something we’ve seen in this generation? Maybe some of the same old mistakes would come around less frequently. I’d love to see the elders speaking into the future elders in this way.

Youth mentors

Alongside this, could our young people grow with a mentor or mentors across the generations of our churches? I know there are safeguarding issues to be wrestled with and good practice to be formed and trained, but what a difference it could make. I know of many groups where things like this have been key in keeping young and old connected and following Jesus.

Prayer

Dear Lord, I thank you that you have placed us all in communities with different cultures and generations and You prayed for us to be One as You are.

Help us, Lord, to see every generation around us.

Help us, Lord, to value every generation around us.

Help us, Lord, to build communities that drink deep from the well of wisdom and experience gifted to us.

Help us, Lord, to see so many older people finding a place of life and service in our communities as they are inspired afresh by other generations.

May our churches look like our cities, Lord.

In the matchless name of Jesus, we pray,

amen