"Intergenerational." Because it's a word that doesn't appear verbatim in Scripture, we might view it as a passing fad in American churches.
But a closer look at Scripture shows kingdom principles, relationships, stories, legacy and disciple-making flowing freely from generation to generation, not just within generations.
Over the past year we have been privileged to partner in a significant way with the CASA Network (Christian Association Serving Adult Ministries) and the Fuller Youth Institute, champions of the Sticky Faith movement.
Dr. Kara Powell, author of Sticky Faith and Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, has with her team highlighted key factors contributing to faith that sticks as young people transition to adulthood. With a research grant from the Lilly Foundation, they probed deeply into why a disturbing number of young adults are walking away from their faith.
One of the primary keys to stickier faith is helping churches commit more deliberately to intergenerational ministry. Many churches have great programs for every age group, but silo approaches have limitations when it comes to long-term impact, particularly when high school students transition to college and beyond.
Allow me to share a recent example of a church with whom we were privileged to share in meaningful, transformational impact.
A Collaborative Crossroads Convergence
Robin Garvin, a Southern California Children’s Ministries leader, put out a plea for children’s pastors to read Sticky Faith, to be followed by a discussion session at her home. Laurie Hanks, the children’s pastor at Crossroads Church in Temecula, California, was one of the children’s pastors at that meeting.
Laurie returned to her church and met with other children and youth leaders at Crossroads and asked them to read Sticky Faith as well. She also shared the book with the leadership of the Classics group, the name of their ministry for 50+ adults.
“It was at that point Judy (Wick) gave me information regarding the CASA Network/Fuller Youth Institute’s Influence the Generations conference coming to our community,” Laurie disclosed. The Saturday conference was hosted in January by Gateway Church of the Nazarene, and YES! Young Enough to Serve was privileged to be among the sponsors. “Pastor Jim Grams, our Senior Associate Pastor, was then inspired to attend the conference and to get the Classics more involved.”
I was privileged to hear ideas and passion already percolating in Pastor Jim’s heart as we met over lunch at the CASA Conference. Judy was invited to share at Crossroads the following day, which according to Laurie “really helped seal the deal with our congregation.”
“We had talked before about intergenerational ministry and had some movement in that direction, but we never so fully put our feet to the idea. This time, leaders from the children, youth and classics got together to plot out how it would come together.” The women’s ministry leader also read Sticky Faith, and the men’s ministry leader is participating in a life group going through the book, chapter by chapter.
It’s now a very collaborative effort of the youth pastor, senior associate, children’s pastor, evangelism team, and men’s/women’s ministry leaders. Their strategy is to take existing ministries and make them more intergenerational. “We’re not just adding a layer of intergenerational events on top of our already busy schedule; we’re integrating,” Laurie explained.
Senior Adults Adopting High School Seniors
Pastor Jim capitalized on the momentum and got going right away. Thirty members of the Classics group braved a Friday night winter storm to meet and review profiles of each high school senior thoughtfully prepared by the youth pastors, Adam and Amanda Sullivan. While the high school seniors were not present that night, Pastors Adam and Amanda introduced the students' profiles and shared their hearts for these teens.
Pastor Adam made it clear why he and Amanda believe intergenerational ministry is so vital and strategic:
“For a long time, churches have treated teenagers like they live in their own world. They have their own music, their own service, and their own culture. The only person with a passport to go between the teenage and adult world is the youth pastor.
As youth pastors, we know that we can have a greater impact if more adults have passports to go between worlds. We want to see adults draw nearer to the younger generation and mentor them in a life with Christ.”
Fervent prayers were expressed on behalf of these soon-to-be-graduating high school seniors. And then one by one, twelve seniors were adopted. Some from the Classics group knew right away who they wanted to adopt, and others were joyfully selected after further deliberation.
One ‘adopted’ young man was relatively new to the youth group, new to faith in Christ, and new to healthy Christian family involvement. Before turning eighteen, he was an ‘emancipated adult’ who moved in with a family from Crossroads Church. He plans to go into the military when he is older, so it was very fitting when a retired Navy veteran adopted him. A new relationship is forming, and this retiree is now engaged, along with others, in helping to disciple this young man in his new walk with Christ.
That same weekend, members of the Classics brought gifts to the high school seniors on Sunday morning and introduced themselves to their new adoptees. Basic instruction given to the adopters and the adoptees is to pray, communicate and simply shower each other with the love of Christ.
Pastor Jim shared, "It has been very exciting to watch the Classics jump at the opportunity to come alongside our high school seniors. Surely the Lord is pleased watching the 'older folks' loving on the 'youngsters'! It's just as it should be."
Some Plant, Some Water, While God Gives the Increase
Amanda (youth pastor) shared more about their recent winter camp. Their goal was to have a diversity in ages speak into the lives of the students. So they had Adam (youth pastor), Manny Galvan (college/career pastor), Jake Evangelist (lead pastor from their Bishop campus), and Pastor Jim (senior associate) each share at the winter camp.
Pastor Jim, the most senior among them, dove in and participated with the youth in a hilarious YouTube clip of the ‘Harlem Shake’, which instantly helped create a special bond and rapport. “Pastor Jim is everyone’s favorite part of the video. The kids are still talking about it,” Amanda shared with a smile. “And it really helped him connect with the youth later at a deeper level. He was one of us.”
A combined talent night has now been planned for both the youth and Classics. These used to be separate events.
A survey will be presented to the Classics so they can provide their profiles for the benefit of the children and youth pastors, identifying special expertise they can offer in children’s or youth ministry.
The women’s ministry leader is shaping one of their Bible studies to provide direct mentorship to children.
As another exciting expression of intergenerational ministry, Lead Pastor Scott Anderson asked each of his staff pastors to share a part of the Easter story, with each pastor telling a part of the story to their own age-specific ministry group. The worship leader is attempting to tailor a piece of music to every generation. They are also talking as a staff about creating a special family service quarterly in those months with a fifth Sunday.
Pastor Scott underscored his belief that "intergenerational ministry within the framework of the local church is the exact model of a healthy church."
Crossroads’ evangelism team reached out to the nearby senior adult community of Fountain Glen and helped pave the way for new intergenerational relationships. Kids with Purpose is a summer ministry of Crossroads where the children engage in acts of service within the surrounding community, including Fountain Glen. Among other serving tasks, the kids help the adults create centerpieces for Fountain Glen’s summer luau, with help flowing freely in both directions between the generations.
Because of the evangelism team’s efforts, many adults at that facility are now riding a bus to Crossroads on Sunday. Included in this group of adults is a blind man who for obvious reasons needed more help while working together with the kids on the centerpiece projects. He is someone the kids naturally gravitated to when he began attending Crossroads. How special and inviting for this older adult without sight to be greeted by name by children in the church!
Grandparents Day, September 8, is a major event in the planning stages. Kids are going to be honoring senior adults, and they will be integrated into the children’s services.
Laurie is in her eleventh year as children’s pastor at Crossroads. She has become increasingly aware of her need to connect long term with ‘kids’ formerly in her children’s church---offering encouragement as many of her students transition into adulthood.
She has recently had a special burden for a young college freshman who God keeps bringing to her mind. She texts him occasionally to let him know she’s praying for him. The timing of the encouragement has been God-ordained. “You have no idea. I was having such a hard time, and your text came at just the right time,” he told Laurie while wiping tears from his eyes. It helped him know he was not alone. “Knowing the Lord put me on your heart is powerful.”
“Intergenerational momentum is now here and will be at the forefront of how we plan. Our perspective has matured. Our Classics group will never be the same again---after Judy’s challenge to them.”
From her perspective, Laurie shared that engagement of adults over fifty at their church was pretty typical, with many adults thoroughly committed to serving through Royal Family Kids Camp and other vital ministries. But many 50+ church activities had defaulted to retirement stereotypes depicted in YES!’s Ted video. And while many good things were happening, some attitudes of complacency needed to be challenged. “It wasn’t necessarily a new revelation, but YES! helped provide a strong nudge for us to become much more intentional."
Sticky Faith Becoming Stickier
Pastor Adam is excited. “I believe our efforts at Crossroads Church are doing more than I imagined. We are working hard to remove the barriers that develop between teenagers and adults."
"Instead of an adult visiting the teenage world, the two worlds can unite. Relationships between the age groups naturally push one another to grow closer to our Lord. And we know for the teenager that can make the difference in their faith sticking.”
Pastor Laurie shared further:
“We were able to identify many things already in place that are helping to create faith that sticks among our young people, so fortunately we weren’t starting from scratch. It was good soil that needed to be cultivated. And now we’re planting more seeds and watching them take root and grow.
Judy’s heart in sharing with the entire congregation the importance of loving and supporting each other as a church family had a profound impact. The people were impressed by the passion with which she shared.
Most people in our congregation would have already agreed that we need intergenerational ministry. YES! helped us realize how important and urgent this calling is, and that now is the time to make it happen. The YES! Young Enough to Serve message helped our Classics feel more valued and strategically vital in ministry. It helped them know that their life experience and longevity of faith has current value to every generation.
An outsider’s perspective is so helpful---along with the fresh emphasis on relationships, the kingdom of God, and God’s call for all of us to make an impact, no matter what our age.
These are real needs that people need to grab a hold of.
Lead pastor buy-in from our Pastor Scott Anderson has been so critical. He has always had an interest in intergenerational ministry, but we hadn’t really tooled it out in such practical ways.
We were ripe for the message, and it solidified what we needed to do. YES! put an umbrella over it and helped everybody grip the handle of the umbrella. YES! helped our whole church connect to this passion and to become more deliberate in reaching outside our peer groups.
The seed has fallen on good soil. It is well integrated and spreading.”
To God be the glory for allowing us to be co-laborers in healthy transformation happening in the lives of individuals, groups, churches and communities!
Wes and his wife, Judy (Popineau) Wick, are founders and directors of YES! Young Enough to Serve. They would be honored to help your church move to a stronger, more intentional platform of serving, intergenerational ministry and disciple-making. Please connect with them.
PLEASE CLICK HERE IF YOUR CHURCH MIGHT BE READY FOR AN INTERGENERATIONAL TUNE-UP.