Holly Allen, Professor of Family Science and Christian Ministry at Lipscomb University addresses the question, “Why bring the generations back together?” following her participation in “The Future of Intergenerational Christian Faith Formation: A National Symposium” in Connecticut in October 2014. I also attended the symposium and left more convinced than ever about the need for intergenerational ministry. Holly writes:
"The comprehensive and extensive recent research from Kara Powell, Christian Smith, and David Kinnaman offers strong support for the spiritual benefits of intergenerational Christian experiences and relationships.
The findings from Kara Powell’s study of youth group graduates revealed that involvement in all-church worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith in both high school and college than any other form of church participation; and the more students serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick. Both of these findings relate directly to cross-generational practice (Powell & Clark, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, Zondervan, 2011).
David Kinnaman’s current research focuses on faith development and faith loss among emerging adults. In You Lost Me (2011), Kinnaman says that he has learned three things from these years of research; the first thing is that “intergenerational relationships in faith communities are crucial” (p. 203).
For the past twelve years, Christian Smith has been collecting data from a cohort of about 2,500 young people, seeking to understand their spiritual and religious lives; the participants were 13-17 when the research began, and are now 25-29. Smith highlights the important and positive influence of intergenerational faith communities:
The empirical evidence tells us that it does in fact matter for emerging adult religious outcomes whether or not [the participants] have had non-parental adults in their religious congregation to whom they could turn for help and support. Adult engagement with, role modeling for, and formation of youth simply matters a great deal for how they turn out after they leave the teenage years (Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, 2009, p. 285).
Of course, the problem is that adults can have no influence with youth if they don’t know them and if they are never together. Age segregation has been a serious problem for decades.
The Connecticut symposium brought together Christians who are intentionally bringing the generations back together for ministry, worship, service, learning, missions, and spiritual formation. They blessed each other and they blessed me. During the various small group sessions, the participants surfaced about a dozen recommendations to promote and encourage successful intergenerational Christian experiences; among them are the following:
- Become generationally literate: recognize generational values; be respectful of differing values and ways of thinking; honor each generation’s contributions and gifts
- Use Scripture and research to explain and support intergenerational approaches
- Create and share resources and best practices with others interested and practicing intergenerationality
- Seek ways to promote intergenerational ideas in seminaries."
Holly Catterton Allen is Professor of Family Science and Christian Ministries at Lipscomb University where she holds a joint appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Bible and Ministry. Her most recent book is Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship (InterVarsity Press, 2012).