19 September 2023 15:20
Intergenerational Church or Mending the Gap
Can you think of a more diverse organisation (or a place where people gather) than the local church? I can’t.
We talk (quite a lot) about the importance of raising the next generation who will encounter Jesus. Or who will keep the church going when we are too old may be a less helpful way that you have heard it expressed!
I have spoken to a few people recently who tell me that not everyone relishes the little all age slot we do at St Bart’s on a Sunday. It was hardly a surprise, at 55 I am not that keen on dancing around with kids at the front of church either! A couple of hours after those conversations, I was walking into town and my little lad (or one of my Sunday dance partners) started singing, “nothing’s too big, nothing’s too small, nothing’s too much, He cares for it all”. Am I more keen to dance next Sunday? That depends on who I am trying to please I suppose!
The thought of all-age or family services have many groaning inwardly. Some embrace it enthusiastically, some endure it quietly and some not so quietly and others stay away.
For a long time, we just did things separately, thanked God for the Sunday School leaders and allocated a budget for felt boards and bean bags. Bringing everyone back into one room is something which can happen purely out of necessity (there are no Sunday School leaders!) or it can be by choice. Either way, it can be daunting. But I want to suggest that exploring ways to engage both young and old and to worship together across generations could be a gift to the church.
Jason Gardner, 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."
I wonder which of the recent Disney or Pixar films you have been dragged along to by a child or grandchild. Frozen, Shrek, Lion King or Toy Story? All have children captivated but explore the big themes of good, evil, love and sacrifice in a way which speaks to the adults too. Why must church settle for less than that? Why does it have to be for the cerebral or those who appreciate a particular musical style? Paul (a stickler in so many ways) after his encounter with Jesus tore up rule books he would have killed to defend and tried “to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can… to spread the Good News”.
This conversation is awkward for those of us who have been in church for a long time and have learned to love it a certain way. We could share with each other our favourite styles of church…we could even set about trying to create it for ourselves in Wilmslow. I say try because I have not managed to please everyone so far and I am not likely to start now!! But that conversation, as interesting as it might be, would be an ‘adventure in missing the point’.
We are here to share the good news of Jesus with Wilmslow and to grow in his love. Respecting and cherishing the 200 or so who are already in the church family at the same time as finding ways to connect with the 20,000 or so who are not. And if you tell me that is like trying to knit fog then I am ready with my needles!
It will take an attitude and a commitment of the whole church to desire only what creates an environment for people (of all ages, learning styles and backgrounds) to encounter Jesus. It will take time, vision, imagination, hard work and sacrifice. It will be made possible by the development of a community who know and love one another to the extent that as each new person arrives the church changes its identity to make space for them.
After all, “nothing’s too big, nothing’s too small, nothing’s too much, He cares for it all”
What is Intergenerational Church? In just a few words
It is a community learning, worshipping and growing in our relationship with Jesus. Together, as a Church family.
What might it look like?
- A blend of worship and teaching styles which speak to people of different learning styles
- Midweek groups to carry the load of more in depth teaching which used to depend on long Sunday sermons.
- Withdrawal spaces for people to undertake themed activities
- Art spaces, graffiti walls
- Sketch pads in the pews
- Clipboard with activities for children
- Imaginative ways of hearing voices from the congregation – from all age groups
- Interviewing people and praying for their Monday to Saturday Christian lives
- Imagine the children taking their clip boards in to the choir stalls to show them they found ‘Galilee’ in the word search, and the choir keeping them there to sing an anthem.
- A focus on good hospitality – ground coffee and not turning around to look when the toddler drops the crayons!
- Above all else an intentional treasuring of everything that make every person what they are.