Moving Intergenerational Ministry Outdoors

Posted by Liz Perraud at

Church leaders are pondering a different kind of spring and summer in 2021. Restrictions, vaccine limitations (especially for younger people), and comfort levels are still impacting “ministry as usual” even as our lives seem to be emerging from COVID-19 and hope is springing forth. Holding intergenerational ministry outside allows for safe gatherings and more movement after a very long winter. But what? And how?

We surveyed some church leaders we know about their plans and thoughts, and what they were still wondering about—particularly concerning the “norm” of Vacation Bible School. We received some great feedback. They shared a variety of direction, but some trends emerged, too.

Most will be meeting outdoors, rather than predominantly indoors.
They’re leaning toward family and intergenerational, over drop off.
Some are planning to serve food, and some are not, with more providing food.
Predominantly a combination of small groups plus all-group time.
Most are holding gatherings 3-5 days in a row, but many one day each week for a month.
More will meet in the evening, but a good many during the day too.

Other ideas shared were:
Holding family outings in small groups.
Making VBS both in-person and at-home ready, but not virtual.
Virtual VBS with an in-person family picnic kick-off.
Planning for every-other-day over two weeks.
Going low key with invitations directly to church families rather than bring-a-friend oriented.
Joining with another church for a day camp, staffed by counselors from a Bible camp well trained in doing ministry during the pandemic.

When asked, “What are you still thinking or wondering about?” we heard:
“I am super anxious about the summer with the church moving toward Sunday morning nursery and face-to-face classes beginning this spring, even without the volunteer base to do it well.”
“I’m concerned that everyone is so anxious to get back to normal. Are we going to jump in before things are actually safe?”

In reading through the “How are you doing VBS this summer?” questions on the Hope4CE and Forma Network Facebook Groups, ideas include:
Waiting until later in the summer to make decisions.
Smaller than usual (limiting attendance).
Intentionally involving parents and grandparents.
In-person but not drop-off.
Indoors with windows open.
Utilizing local parks, hiking trails, creeks.
One main activity a day rather than multiple stations.
Providing take-home kits for at-home extension activities or for those who miss that day.
Some activities done at home (at any time), with an hour together in the evening at the church.
Food trucks or grilling dinner.
Resting up over the summer and planning for fall ministry.

GenOn has lots of resources for moving intergenerational ministry outdoors. Use them for a VBS-like week, stand-alone gatherings, a series of events, and even a retreat. We define intergenerational ministry as that which nurtures Christ-centered community by bringing together two or more generations in planned and purposeful settings, where all are mutually invested. This can be for all generations or two, or anything in between. With or without children.

outdoor church ministry

God's World in Community: Interactive devotionals align with the Revised Common Lectionary following Easter through Pentecost (Acts passages, Year B) but can be used at any time. Response activities include taking a walk, toasting marshmallows, chalk drawings, examining a small grassy area closely, taking a “holy pause” outside, observing nature, and watering plants. Use with a single household or with the church community together. For stand-alone, multi-day sessions or use as stations set up for households/pods to visit for a one-day event.

LIFT outdoor ministry

LIFT (Living in Faith Together): Move your hour together (with any LIFT session) from tables inside to clusters of chairs or on blankets outside. Summer Year 1 (Summer Water Stories of Old Testament Scriptures) especially applies to warm-weather gatherings outside with lots of water fun in the Playing Together segment.

All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for Summer: 5 sessions each designed for about 2 hours and include a meal. Each session stands alone and can also be used as a series. Titles include “Faith & Fireworks,” “Let’s Go Camping,” and “Storm Stories.”

All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for a Very Blessed Summer (VBS):
5 sessions intended for 2.5-3 hours each, especially if a meal is included. Take-It-Home Blessings keep the day’s conversation going at home, and ideas are included for Blessing Others for service projects as part of your gatherings. Each unit stands alone but all are part of an overall theme of Summer Blessings.

All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for Retreat: 5 sessions to use for multiple mini-retreats over extended time -- one-day, two-day, or a full weekend retreat. Hold your gathering(s) at the church or at a retreat center. All sessions tie to the “Every Day with God’s Word in My Heart” theme. Draw all generations together for everything or hold “parallel learning” for Bible study by broad age groups.

outdoor ministry pandemic

Great Fun (and More Great Fun): Recreation for Children and Youth: Though children and youth focused, ideas are non-competitive and seek to be inclusive of all ages with a variety of mobility expectations. Playing together is a pivotal moment in intergenerational ministry—creating significant bonding opportunities.

GenOn Table Games: A collection of fun things to do around the table with a meal or Bible study, building relationships among peers and generations. Take these outside to the picnic table, a circle of chairs, or on a big blanket.

Samples of most resources are available.

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