I’ve been a pastor for almost 6 years and I love what I do. Since I’ve become a Christian 10 years ago I’ve spent most of my time reading theology, hundreds of books, having countless conversations with un-churched and de-churched people, and everything in between. But nothing, and I literally mean nothing has been more compelling to me than what I experienced two years ago.
FYI recently studied 500 high school seniors directly connected to youth ministries in their churches and followed them throughout their four years of college. Their full research will be released in a series of three works due out on August 15th. You can pre-order their books by clicking on the links below.
In a nutshell, they found that the faith retention of students once they left high school is something to be concerned about. They estimate that 40-50% of students ditched their faith within a short time of leaving for college. Their full findings are fascinating, but one thing in particular has stuck out to me since I first heard about their research.
Although they didn’t necessarily find a “silver bullet” for what provides faith retention in students, a theme started to emerge in their research. For students connected in an intergenerational capacity in their church, those students had a higher faith retention than other students. When I use the word “intergenerational”, I define it by saying “adults mentoring students and students mentoring adults.”
When I decided to follow Jesus 10 years ago, two of the very first relationships I developed in a church context were a couple named George and Norma Bates. They were soft-spoken, humble, caring, and, very, very old. I can confidently say that I am who I am today as a follower of Jesus because of George and Norma Bates. For those of us who are still following Jesus after high school, I’m sure we can all think of a “George and Norma Bates” in our lives.
However, due to changes in church culture, building these intergenerational relationships is becoming harder to do. I work at a large church. It has multiple ministries: Children’s Ministries, Adult Small Groups, Sunday Morning Services, Missions, Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and so on.
There are specific entrances for some ministries as well. The student ministry room, for example, has a separate entrance where a student can come to our building, walk into a separated youth ministry area, spend 7 years coming to our student program, and never walk into the sanctuary of our church. Ever.
This isn’t uncommon as it relates to other churches, either. Churches are becoming more segregated than ever before. This is incredibly discouraging from an intergenerational perspective. At Frontline Community Church, where I work, we refer to this as “ministry silo’s.” After we read Fuller’s research we started intentionally making sure we were creating one silo – an intergenerational silo. We want to make sure we’re providing opportunities for adults and students to work together on a regular basis.
This meant enormous change in our context.
For example, we eliminated student programming on Sunday mornings. If faith retention has its roots within intergenerational ministry, we had to ask why we were running separate programs for students when they could be spending time around people who weren’t their own age.
Another change we made related to student vs. adult mission trips. Was it effective for us to be taking separate student and missions trips, or would it be more effective to serve intergenerationally? As a result, we decided to allow adults and students to attend mission trips together, not separately. The list of changes could go on and on.
During the time of our transition, we thought it would be prudent to write something explaining why we were making the changes we were making. We knew people would be asking questions, so we knew we needed to have answers.
As a result, we spent a few months writing a short book that would allow people the opportunity to process this new way of thinking. In the end, we ended up with a 50 page “manifesto” about why we are the way we are. You can download “Why We’re Unashamedly Intergenerational” by clicking Here.
We had two rules: 1. It needed to be free, and 2. It should be read in less than an hour. We put the book in print, made it a PDF, put it in Kindle format, and gave it away at our church. A year later, and thousands of downloads later, we realized that this is more applicable than just our local context. Many people are interested in how this plays its way out.
The reality is, our world is divided by age. In business, leadership, church, and so on. At the risk of being an alarmist, in the Western world, it’s unintentionally assumed that you become more and more meaningless as you get older.
For decades, churches have talked about how to bridge the gap between the younger generation and the older generation. For most churches it’s been a fruitless debate that ends with no productivity, and the conversation ends up being shelved.
But if faith retention is highly dependent upon intergenerational ministry, this is a conversation that can’t be shelved. We need to take this more seriously than ever before. This is why I’ve given the past two years of my life obsessing over how to make this happen. And I implore you to take this seriously as well.
Discussion Question: What would it take for your context to mix generations? How have you seen it work? How have you seen it fail? Do you agree with this? Disagree?