Two congregants walk into a church. Does their age matter?
During the 2018 NEXT Church Conference, Liz Perraud, Executive Director of GenOn Ministries, presented on the future of intergenerational ministry. Churches have historically been multi-generational by accident, she argued. Now, however, we are called to create intergenerational ministries for the sake of institutional survival. But what’s the difference?
Above, Billy Kluttz, Seabury's New Media Coordinator, attends the 2018 NEXT Church Conference in Baltimore, MD.
Multigenerational ministry is accidental. Generations coexist within a congregation because of shared geography or family structures, not because of a shared mission or meaningful relationships. Accordingly, multigenerational churches often result in siloed generational segments with only limited interaction. Multi-generational churches can be dangerous for older adult congregants when they fail to address social isolation.
Conversely, intergenerational ministry is intentional and interactive. According to Perraud, intergenerational ministry is rooted in core values of intentionality, relationality, and equality. It is deliberate work to build egalitarian relationships across age groups, with shared identity and calling:
Intergenerational ministry develops disciples and energizes churches by bringing together any combination of at least two generations in planned and purposeful settings; empowering multiple generations to mutually invest in each other and in their faith community; intentionally encouraging … relationships among multiple generations (definition from GenOn Ministries, 'Intergenerational Ministry: Why and How?').
Intergenerational ministry is a choice for churches. And it’s a difficult one. Intergenerational ministry and relationships can be sparked through intentional programming: connecting church members with shared interests, celebrating shared birthdates in the congregation, organizing mission projects or classes with diverse age groups. But, beyond programming, intergenerational church work is also about power sharing. How do we give ownership and control of the local congregation to people of all generations? How do we model egalitarian living in a culture of ageism and ableism? How do we value the gifts, struggles, and needs of parishioners of all ages?
Congregations that have made the commitment say intergenerational ministry is worth the effort. Churches report a greater use of all congregants’ gifts in the work of the church, increased buy-in by parishioners, a greater connection to the diversity of their local congregation and their surrounding community, and a new creativity from new and strengthened relationships across age groups.
At Seabury, we know that intergenerational ministry is especially beneficial to older adult congregants. Intergenerational work allows older parishioners to share their gifts and wisdom with the congregation at large, provides meaningful social connections and interaction, and offers greater connection to congregational and pastoral care supports for older members.
What is working in your congregation? What inspires your intergenerational work? Share your community of faith’s story with Seabury! Contact Seabury Congregational Resources Coordinator, Elizabeth Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Billy Kluttz, New Media Coordinator, oversees Seabury's blog, social media, and email marketing. Also a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Billy is passionate about intergenerational congregational work and creative parish ministry.
NEXT Church is a network of church and non-profit leaders, largely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, who meet together to provide hopeful space for robust conversations about the theology, culture, and the practice of ministry, as well as support strong, faithful leadership in a time of adaptive change, and encourage collaboration and creativity across congregations and geographies.
GenOn Ministries works with churches as they develop intentionally intergenerational ministries in their contexts. They also provide an online intergenerational ministry toolkit.