Many congregations have questions about how their church can create intergenerational collaborations. Perhaps we have been told that youth are the church of the future, but sense that our church of today is lacking without the full inclusion of the gifts young people bring. Perhaps we have been told that the older generations should be praised for their hard work in days past, but sense that our senior members are longing to participate in the life of the church. Scripture offers a foundation for how these relationships build and fortify us:
Psalm 71:18 “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
Psalm 145:4 “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.”
Psalm 71:5 “For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.”
1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Intergenerational collaboration is defined as “[increased]cooperation, interaction and exchange between people of different generations, allowing the sharing of their talents and resources, and supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and their community.”
Collaboration between generations fosters learning and growth on both sides of the age spectrum; studies show that:
- 45% of Americans working in retirement say they want to work with youth
- Older adults learn new innovations and technologies from their younger counterparts
- In schools where older adults were a regular fixture, children had more improved reading scores compared to their peers at other schools.
- Older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less reliant on canes, and performed better on memory tests than their peers.
- Interacting with older adults enables youth to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, positive attitudes toward aging, a sense of purpose and community service.
- Youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school.
In our churches, partnerships among generations can also help to close ministerial gaps through cross-generational volunteer opportunities. Seniors in your congregation want to learn how to use a particular computer program? Younger congregants can volunteer to teach the course minimalizing the church’s cost to hire professional help. Is there a need for volunteers to read to students in a local elementary school? Middle aged, working congregants may not have the time, but older, possibly retired members may. The pairing of these two groups can help us reach our ministry goals, and ultimately build the Kin-dom of God, in unprecedented and unique ways.
One of the difficulties congregations have in creating opportunities for intergenerational collaboration is simply a deficit in population. Churches whose congregations are mostly older or significantly younger, do not have enough congregants on the opposite age spectrum to cross-pollinate these efforts. Ministries where intergenerational engagement thrive are cognizant not only of the need for programmatic changes, but also restructuring the use of space, the inclusion of both generations in meetings, and new ministry exploration. Reaching beyond the immediate church context can be an effective way for generations to interact with one another; community schools, senior centers, and mixed-use properties like work/live facilities can be a great place to foster these relationships.
The Body of Christ is intergenerational and our churches should reflect it.
Intergenerational collaboration allows for the full Body of Christ to engage with each other, participate in the building of the Kin-dom of God, and help the church live into institutional equity. For just as each person cannot be who they are called to be without the rest of the Body, so also the Body of Christ cannot be who we are called to be without each person. When intergenerational collaboration is both our goal and our practice, we become the place where generational equity becomes reality.
What steps will you and your church take to build intergenerational collaboration?
This resource is written by Rev. Alisha Gordon
Photo credit: Mike DuBose, UMNS