Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders The Generation Game (and How to Do Intergenerational Ministry)

The Generation Game (and How to Do Intergenerational Ministry)

Do Intergenerational Ministry)

The Generation Game helps us do intergenerational ministry.

My oldest daughter recently (jokingly!) said to me, “Okay Boomer…” when I was doing what she considered to be an “old person” thing (taking a selfie the wrong way…who knew?). I gave her my sternest “mom” glare and said, “Just to be clear, I’m not a Boomer, ‘kay? I am an X-er.” Her amused glance back at me had a “Whatever…” feel to it, but it did lead her to ask the question, “Who came up with the generations anyway?”

Now that’s a great question! Just where did the rules of the Generation Game originate? And how do they apply to how we do intergenerational ministry in the church?

Let’s start with the latter for how to do intergenerational ministry: What Is Intergenerational Ministry?

Sometimes it is easier to describe what something is by exploring what it is not. Many people associate this term with children’s ministry or family ministry within the church. While those ministries may be partners in intergenerational ministry, the scope of these ministries are not broad enough. Intergenerational ministry encompasses the whole church, all generations, in a communal and corporate context.

As the term implies, intergenerational ministry is an intentional approach to ministry that both allows for and encourages interaction between multiple generations in such ways as corporate worship, relational mentorship and lifelong community.

In order for a church to recognize the need for this generational connectivity within their faith community, the following question must be answered: What does each generation need from the church and what can each generation contribute to the church?

So, we have to ask, where did the generational labels originate?

Generational theory, the grouping of individuals into particular social groups with a shared identity predicated on the year of their birth and life experiences, began in the early 20th century and gained steam in the mid to late 20th century. Why? Marketing firms began to explore how to best market to specific groups, coining nicknames for them in order to create a collective conscious. In other words, they wanted to sell us stuff that they thought we wanted to buy.

Currently, the most likely generations that would be found in a given faith community would be the Silent Generation (born 1924-1942), Baby Boomers (1943-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-2000), and Gen Z (2001-current). These five generations offer unique experiences in both spiritual and communal practices for the church (see chart below). And that is how the generations fit into intergenerational ministry.

  • The older generations bring a wealth of faithful testimonies, historical worship practices, and community-sustaining disciplines.
  • The middle generations offer a bridge between past experience and current ones through experience with a vast array of communication tools from rotary phones to high-speed internet conferencing and the latest social media trends.
  • The youngest generation offer the heartbeat of current culture and the application of spiritual truths in a dynamic cultural environment.

Likewise, each generation brings its unique needs to the church. The chart below uses Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial stages to outline these needs in a church setting.

  • The older generations need to be needed; the desire for generativity and legacy-leaving are uniquely found in these generations and to be left isolated from those to whom their legacy can be left (the younger generations) is stifling and leads to stagnation.
  • The middle generations are those seeking intimacy in deeper relationships with others, such as mentorship and discipleship, but if those opportunities are found lacking, will retreat into a placed of isolation.
  • The youngest generations are looking for a place to be industrious (an important part of the community) and find identity (a role to play in the community); thus faith communities need to be intentional not just with providing safe and fun environments like Kid’s Church and youth group but integral participatory environments that allow for identity and industry to be rooted in the church.

Generational delineations derived from https://www.cnn.com/2013/11/06/us/baby-boomer-generation-fast-facts/index.html
Erikson’s stages derived from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html

What does this all mean for how to do intergenerational ministry?

Simply this: As ministers in the local church, as members of the larger Body of Christ, we need to be aware that in our churches are multiple generations that bring multiple gifts and have multiple needs. Many of the ways to engage cannot be “programed” into the church experience but require us to creatively find space to relationships to be cultured and meaningful communication to take place. For ideas on how this can start to become a reality in your faith community, check out the links below.

There is a richness to be found in connecting the generations; let’s discover it together. Okay Boomer? 😉

This article about how to do intergenerational ministry originally appeared here.

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Christina is wife of Pastor Luke and mom to Hannah, Naomi, and Caleb. She has been serving in ministry since 2010, first as a director of children's ministry and now as a family minister near Lexington, KY.