Richie is a preschool child at my church. As he walked into the church building with his family last Sunday morning, I called out, “Hi Richie, great to see you!” Richie immediately hid his face and pretended that the tall man with the scruffy beard wasn’t in the room.
Richie’s dad gave an apologetic smile as he walked over to me at the coffee machine. I smiled at Richie. “Hey Richie, I reckon I might get a ‘Hi’ from you by July. What do you reckon?” Richie’s eyes looked over his hands at me, paused, and then ran off to sit and eat breakfast with three teenage girls, who happened to already be surrounded by adoring, primary-aged fans, including my own daughter.
On one level, this scenario is not unique, and (with minor revisions) is replicated in hundreds of churches throughout Sydney every Sunday morning. However, the interaction between me, Richie, his dad, the teenage girls, my own and the other children are not accidental. Each movement, each individual relationship, is part of an intentional decision to act out intergenerational church.
And as you can see, it’s also not that difficult. Which is why I’m encouraging you to be intentional about intergenerational ministry in your church as well.
Raising children to follow Christ is a partnership
The Bible affirms parents as the primary spiritual caretakers of their children (Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 6).And yet, parents are not the only relationship that children need for spiritual development. As Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof state in their book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity:
“Your present family will never be enough for your children. Even the best parenting in the best family will never alone be enough to develop relationally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy children.”
Intergenerational ministry encourages churches to take this corporate discipleship of children seriously. As a result, the intergenerational church will be one where ministries are characterised by the purposeful interaction of children, youth, adults, seniors and every demographic in between. And that means...
- I want my children to foster safe relationships* with many of the teenagers and adults in my church.
- I want to intentionally engage in safe relationships with all the kids at church for whom I’m not the parent. This way, my children become enmeshed in a larger community of Christians who love, care and value them and are genuinely concerned for their spiritual wellbeing.
- I become just one part of that enmeshed community for the other children in the church.
Here's three practical ways to encourage intergenerational ministry in your church.
Encourage adults and children to know each other’s names
This one is really simple. I want to learn as many names of the children and teenagers in my church as possible. Like Richie, I want to be able to greet them at the door by name, yell out encouragement at the basketball hoop and ask how their week was around the craft or meal table. And I want this for my kids. “Hey Tim’s kid” is fine I guess, but the more adults who know and greet my children by name, the more they are going to feel welcomed, connected and have a sense of belonging in the church.
Facilitate intentional relationships with safe adults
I thank God for those Children’s Ministry leaders who have the competency, character and conviction to lead my kids each week with age-appropriate, engaging, biblical teaching. I want to affirm this gift and encourage more people in the church, particularly more adult males, to take up this leadership role.
But just because a safe adult doesn’t have the particular gifting to take on leadership in children’s ministry, doesn’t exclude them from forming intentional relationships with the children in the church. One of the ways in which my local church has facilitated these relationships is by encouraging the formation of “Kids Chill Teams” which are made up of safe adults who, four times a year, spend their church service time in with the children, rather than the regular service. The result has been that my children have had meaningful interaction with over 70% of the adults in the church community.
Promote intentional relationships between parents and leaders
Parents and leaders are working towards the same aim; growing children in knowledge and love of Christ. With that in mind, parents should be having regular conversations with their child’s leaders. We should know who is leading them, what they are learning, how they have expressed faith in the group, how they are integrating with their peers, how their relationships are going, what concerns they have, what joys and challenges come from leading my child in Christ. The conversation is not just one way. We should also want to share with our child’s leaders how we’re leading our children to follow Christ at home.
It is an amazing, and often daunting, privilege to know that my wife and I have primary responsibility for our children. And it’s equally amazing that God has blessed us with the church, the local faith community, to assist us in this process. The best thing I can do for my children’s spiritual development is help grow these intentional, intergenerational relationships. And likewise, I can offer that reciprocal relationship with other children like Richie.
* I have used the phrases “safe relationships” and “safe adults” throughout this piece. We must never compromise on Safe Ministry practices in our churches. For this reason, our church not only requires Safe Ministry training for those in leadership, helper, or “Chill Team” positions, but strongly encourages all adults to do SM training. The more adults who are trained, the more eyes are consciously aware of potential dangers, and the more people are able to take action if an incident ever arises.
Growing Faith Conference will be the perfect opportunity for you to explore and discuss these things with other adults and parents in your church.