Whenever there’s a question about why something is happening, there’s almost always a researcher trying to answer it.
Why are young adults leaving religion? Why are older generations suffering from the highest rates of suicide? Why are youth experiencing increasing anxiety and mental illness? Why are children experiencing a lack of socialization? Why are more and more people making money through a gig economy and start-ups rather than joining established corporations?
Over the past two decades, a plethora of research has been done to answer these questions.
But for the questions listed above, research has produced a common thread – age segregation or the separation of people based on their age. An increase in age segregation and a lack of intergenerational relationships has contributed to the rise in every one of these areas.
A quick Google Scholar search of “age segregation” will send you down a dizzying path of articles, abstracts, and analyses that most of us just don’t have time to read let alone study.
But I did.
For the last five years, I’ve spent hours and hours of time pouring over this research and the answers to these questions with one goal in mind – to help the church recognize and identify the structures of age segregation in their faith communities and begin to build bridges between generations.
I asked different questions.
I asked, “What would happen if we took all of the research on age segregation that has been done in society and applied it to the church?”
I questioned, “What impact does age segregation have on young people leaving the church?”
I wondered, “If age segregation is present in the church, are we experiencing the same consequences in the church as the larger society does?”
I considered, “How does separating people based on ages and stages of life affect our great commission to ‘make disciples’ and to pass on our faith?”
And as I asked these questions, a pattern began to emerge in both the research that has been done and the application I was making to the church.
First, I began to see the structures of age segregation in four distinct places, or what we are calling Pillars at ReFocus. These are the things that hold up both age segregation AND age integration in our churches.
- Institutional Pillar – This pillar includes such things as leadership structure, committee membership, programming and services offered by the church. Think of this section as the “bones” of your church body; the skeleton that gives shape and structure to your congregation.
- Spatial Pillar – This pillar looks at all the things that shape your physical experience like building design, worship space design, hallway design and common spaces. Think of this section as the “flesh” of your church body; the appearance that gives context and personal touch to your congregation.
- Technological Pillar – This pillar includes all things tech or media like your website, social media pages, written or print materials, and verbal announcements. Think of this section as the “senses” of your church body; the information that gives sight, sound, smell, and taste to your congregation..
- Relational Pillar – This pillar is the one we tend to think about the most when it comes to community. It includes the age-integrated spaces in your church, Sunday School classes and mid-week opportunities, and church activities outside the building. Think of this section as the “life” of your church body; the actions and activities that bring movement and interaction to your congregation and into your community.