GenOn Ministries (GenOn) has partnered with churches to grow intergenerational Christ-centered community for over 55 years. We continue to be excited and inspired about this direction for the Christian church. GenOn asked 11 experts in intergenerational faith formation to help evaluate what is currently being done and what the future direction may be for intergenerational culture in the church.
These experts formed the GenOn Ministries Advisory Council (GMAC) and met by video conferencing to explore, research, discuss, discern, and then propose recommendations for GenOn’s Strategic Planning and Vision Committee to consider.
The advisors launched their work in the spring of 2018 with Beth Thompson, GenOn board member and chair of the Strategic Planning and Vision Committee sharing, “The experts who accepted this call to serve on this advisory council are as passionate about intergenerational ministry as we are at GenOn. They believe that this kind of ministry is critical to healthy, thriving churches.”
The council consisted of two teams:
Local Church Team
- Melissa Cooper, Associate, Vibrant Faith; Minister of Worship and Arts, Luke’s United Methodist Church
- Lisa McPherson, Youth Ministry Director, Elim Lutheran Church
- Jim Merhaut, Director, Coaching to Connect
- John Roberto, Vibrant Faith Leadership Team; Coordinator of Vibrant Faith Institute; Founder, Lifelong Faith Associates
- Linda Staats, Founder, HomeGrown Faith
- Jessica Stollings, President, ReGenerations
Seminaries Connection Team
- Michael Droege, Director of Youth and Family Ministries, Wilson Memorial Union Church; Founder, GrowTogether; Trainer and Coach, Vibrant Faith
- Dawn Rundman, Director of Faith Formation Resource Development, Augsburg Fortress
- Jason Santos, Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Coordinator for Christian Formation, PC(USA)
- Cory Seibel, Pastor of Lifelong Faith Formation, Central Baptist Church; Affiliate Professor at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton
- Tori Smit: Regional Minister for Faith Formation, The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Several representatives from both teams attended GenOn’s Leader Retreat in Kansas City, Missouri in November 2018 to report on their findings and engage in deeper conversation with GenOn’s board of directors about recommendations for what their findings can mean for the direction of the organization and the future of the intergenerational church.
What follows is a summary of those findings—of interest to GenOn and to others dedicated to furthering the impact of intergenerational culture in and through the church.
A link is provided at the end for the full Study of Faith Formation in Christian Churches from over 1,000 surveyed respondents.
The Seminaries Connection Team drew from their individual experiences, knowledge, and connections with seminaries and graduate schools. Though they recognized there is a challenge in impacting what is taught at the graduate level, being part of the conversation as practitioners offers real world realities and provides for future conversations and involvement.
The academic work on intergenerationality is in its infancy, so the timing is such to be ready for resourcing the seminary field later. A shared understanding of the definition of “intergenerational” is critical and, they suggested, resources are needed for the intergenerational movement accepting the following definition:
Churches seeking to grow as a community with every member and age cohort having agency and communal growth being the goal.
The Seminaries Connection Team shared that there is great need for support of seminarians. Exposure to training on foundational teachings and practical approaches, for instance, will not only benefit the seminarian for the long term, but will also serve to bring the conversation about intergenerationality in front of the seminary body. Staying fully informed on current research, current needs, trends, and language of the field is critical.
Further insight included:
- Understanding that most mainline churches are 100 people or fewer, a trend that will remain through the current generation.
- Resources are needed for the very small church.
- Resources and models need to work without children present.
- Resources connected to the lectionary are a needed approach.
The Local Church Team conducted a national survey, “A Study of Faith Formation in Christian Churches.” Using a variety of denominational contacts, the survey was distributed across multiple denominations and to the GenOn and Vibrant Faith mailing lists. A total of 1,059 churches representing 20 denominations responded.
Based on the results of the survey, church leaders are interested in resources that address the following:
- Intergenerational summer programming (Vacation Bible School and camp)
- Intergenerational service and mission trips
- Intergenerational worship service planning, retreats, prayer experiences
- Intergenerational Bible studies (small group models and other Bible study resources)
- Intergenerational storytelling and Godly Play approaches
- Intergenerational mentoring
The survey suggested that the following will be helpful for church leaders:
- Variety of formats
- Digital downloads
- Easy to implement, inexpensive, engaging, not overly juvenile
- Church year or lectionary based
- Ecumenical resources with denominational content “drop ins”
- For small churches and for large churches
There was a great deal of interest (and concern) about how to train leadership for intergenerational ministry.
The survey results indicated that there is interest in:
- Training and resources geared to the church’s needs and leaders’ busy lives
- How to change the culture of the church (to be more intergenerational)
- How to do intergenerational ministry, to lead intergenerational programming, and learn best practices
- Help in finding and supporting leaders
The survey results showed a need for research that demonstrates the significance and impact of intergenerational ministry and faith formation, and easy-to-use promotional materials about this impact. Churches are seeking examples of intergenerational principles in action and examples of models in churches.
Half of all churches surveyed conduct family large group programs at church (monthly or seasonal); 45 percent provide at-home family activities (Bible reading, prayers, devotions, rituals, service); and one-third have family service projects and/or mission trips. Family faith and parents were the most cited concern of church leaders, and family faith formation was the most cited area for resources. The following ideas were cited throughout the 2,500 responses to the final question on resources.
Family Programming and Resources interest
- Family-centered programming for the whole family
- Online “plug and play” resources for families that are theologically mainline Christian
- Digital and online resources churches can use to equip families
- Family faith building activity kits
- Short, easy-to use, at-home activities that fit the busy lives of families and parents
- Family-based Bible experiences and activities
- Ideas/models for family-centered programs, projects, and groups
Parent Resources needs
- Online resources for parents
- Programs, classes, and workshops (in-person, online) that emphasize the role of parents
- Relevant video-based programming for parents on family life, parenting, and children/teen issues and life tasks (with small group facilitator guides)
- Understanding the importance of teaching their children about faith
One of the significant issues/trends cited in the survey was aging congregations and meeting the needs of older adults (60+). Commonly cited needs were how to incorporate mature and older adults in intergenerational programming, how to connect mature and older adults with children and teens, and how to design programming that addresses adult learning styles and approaches.
We are grateful for the hard work and discernment of our advisory council and appreciate new relationships that have grown from our conversations and time together.
We also anticipate the need and interest in partnering with other organizations to fully resource and support churches interested in living into intergenerational Christ-centered community.
What excites you most about this direction for the church?