In the early ’70s, I was an unsaved, nonreligious, 17-year-old who was not even sure if God was real. A year or so earlier, my mother, brother, and sister had accepted Christ at the Cromartie Street Church of God in my hometown of Hazlehurst, Georgia. Many of my friends also accepted Christ during a powerful revival season that swept through our small community. During November 1972, I attended a youth revival and was saved in the ensuing altar service. My life was dramatically changed!
After my conversion and subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit, I attended Lee College (as it was called in the 70s), and prepared to become a Church of God minister. After graduating from seminary, my wife, Amy, and I pastored churches in Georgia, Alaska, and Kentucky. During our 24 years of pastoral ministry, our congregations followed the ministry pattern that we both were familiar with as young people: a departmentalized, program-based ministry focused on the youth of the church. Because the struggles and challenges of teenagers, many churches emphasized the need to reach out to keep them in church and faithful to Christ. This was a legitimate goal, but often other age groups within the church received less attention and support.
Intergenerational Challenges and Missional Ministry
This type of approach to congregational ministries can sometimes produce counterproductive side effects. A ministry to the youth or children may become isolated from the other ministries of the church. In such cases, children seldom experience worship with adults or their parents, and teenagers may not be an integrated part of the main congregation. Sometimes even the senior adult ministry only takes place away from the gathering of the local congregational. Each group within the church needs some specialized ministry approaches, but it is imperative that congregations emphasize intergenerational ministry that fulfills Paul’s call for the church to be “one body” (1 Cor. 12:12-31).
The missional movement is an effort to revitalize the church by reclaiming its biblical purpose. Generally, a missional church emphasizes Jesus Christ and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), focuses on discipleship, seeks to engage those outside of the church, and accepts that all believers are called to minister. Although the movement is still developing and there are many variations, the missional church presents three particular themes that can be readily applied to intergenerational ministry.
1. Discipleship begins with the family.
A missional church sees sees discipleship as a central to the mission of the body of Christ. This is a shift away from an emphasis on just having people converted or “getting saved.” The missional church recognizes that we have lost too many people who were once saved. New converts of all ages need to be discipled so they can grow and become faithful followers of Christ.
A missional approach will see the need for discipleship to be family-focused, because research indicates the home is the most important influence on how children will develop their faith (Kendra Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life). For discipleship to be most effective, it must include guidance and support for families to engage in consistent devotions, discuss faith matters in the home, and worship together at church. The missional church will explore ways for families to grow together, such as incorporating a children’s sermon into the worship service, offering discipleship specific discipleship ministries for each generational group in the congregational.
2. Congregation diversity is celebrated.
The missional church celebrates the wonderful diversity that characterizes most congregations – cultures, appearances, age, gender, and race. The diversity of God’s people is joyfully emphasized in the Bible (Acts 2:7-11, 17-18: Rev. 7:9), and wise leaders will participate in this celebration at their churches. The most important need is that we recognize the uniqueness of each group and they, in turn, recognize their value and place within the church. Set aside specific days or times to highlight each group in positive ways. Testimonies can be shared in person, or through videos that allow other age groups or cultural backgrounds. With a little research and effort, churches can find creative ways to fellowship and learn from one another.
3. Community comes through mission.
A missional church recognizes that the entire congregation is called to engage in the assignment Jesus gave in Acts 1:8 to be His witness, and emphasizes the end need to send people out to minister in the world (Luke 10:2). Every generation is included. As the congregation comes together in a unified purpose, their sense of community will be strengthened, and the church will multiply and increase.
Intergenerational ministry presents challenges that sometimes appear daunting. However, the benefits will be apparent as people come alive to the mission and vision Jesus has given to the church. As true Christ-followers and dedicated disciples emerge, the church will be revitalized and Christ will be glorified.
When I accepted Christ as my Savior, I will never forget how the older generation at my church received me into their fellowship and love. I may have been attracted to the church by the youth revival, but the men and women of the church were the ones who mentored and nurtured me. We need each other – every generation – in the the church!