Today, we have Part 2 of my four-week series on Cross+Generational Ministry. Last week, I shared my belief that every single person in our congregations has something to learn from every other person, and, as a corollary, each person has something valuable to share. This leads to a pattern or culture of mutuality where there is no “us vs. them” or “superior vs. inferior.” (Of course, you would be hard-pressed to hear someone use those terms in church, but often actions speak louder than words.) This mutuality is the beginning of a true community.
What Is Community?
A community is more than a group of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time. Community is about relationships. In fact, a community is a web of relationships. A strong and resilient community has many connections between individuals. Not only does a high number of connections strengthen the community, but so do high quality, growing relationships. The strongest community has growing relationships between each member. A weak community has superficial relationships among only a few members.
Community, Fellowship, and Faith Formation
Being in a relationship changes a person. This can be for the better or the worse (thus the concern parents have for their children falling into the “wrong crowd”). The greater the number of beneficial relationships a person has, the better their growth. This is especially important for youth as they grow into adulthood. It is easy, then, to see that if an individual has solid relationships with people of faith, that individual will grow in faith. That’s why relationships, along with actions and experiences, are the foundation of faith formation.
The word “fellowship” is a synonym of “community,” though I see the term best used to describe a faith practice: fellowship is the work of building up the community, strengthening those relationships. The actions in this practice of fellowship are numerous, as are the ways relationships are formed and strengthened in general. We establish and strengthen relationships through:
- Presence- Simply spending time together.
- Interactions- Conversations and physical interactions.
- Experiences- Shared experiences, whether good or bad, create bonds.
- Cooperation- When we work toward a common goal, we cannot help but build relationships with those we are working alongside.
A Community of All Ages
Too often, the opportunities we have to build relationships (in whatever context) are with people our own age and with those who have had similar experiences as we have. These commonalities make it easy to form connections. And, this can be valuable and life-giving. But, there’s a couple of problems if the relationship-building stops there. First, we miss out on the growth and life that comes from learning from those who have had different experiences than us. We only get to see a small slice of life. Second, if this takes place in a multi-generational gathering, we don’t have one community, but a grouping of mini-communities (perhaps cliques). A strong community combines relationships with those who are like us with relationships with those who are different than we are.
This means, in order to create a strong community, we need to foster and deepen relationships with each community member, across generational (and other) lines. We can unite the wisdom of the most experienced among us, the energy of the youngest, the new perspectives of the young and young of heart, and the endurance of those in the middle (though wisdom, energy, perspective, and endurance can be found in every generation). In this dynamic community, individuals discover a sense of belonging, something necessary but all too rare.
Inside the Church
As a local church, we gather together for a single purpose, to worship God and follow Jesus. But, so often we do this as individuals. We arrive as singles, pairs, and families and then leave as singles, pairs, and families. In fact, we often then leave the congregation if we don’t have the worship experience we want. But, that’s not the way things are supposed to be. The congregation should be the local expression of the Body of Christ, the Community. God calls us to use our gifts to build each other up, to build this community. A congregation that can encourage relationships between as many people in as many generations as possible is a strong community. People will feel that they belong because they do. Faith formation will naturally occur.
An important note: a strong, healthy, and Spirit-filled congregation will not have fixed borders but open ones. All must be welcome and anyone who wishes should be invited into this beautiful web of relationships.
Outside These Walls
A faith-forming, intergenerational community should not just exist inside the church’s walls or even with those who gather in that’s congregation’s name. The Body of Christ defies all borders. In addition to encouraging others (and ourselves) to build intergenerational relationships within the church, we also should do this work outside of the church.
Imagine a world that is defined by strong, positive relationships between people that are different from each other. To me, this is a partial glimpse of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is often described in terms of relationships. You cannot have love, justice, or shalom (which is more than a peaceful feeling) by yourself.
What If We Don’t Have It?
If your congregation is not a web of positive relationships across generational lines, then you have work to do (and you are not alone by any means, everyone has work to do). To start, look to see where relationships are vibrant and growing, and then acknowledge these. Identify where relationships between generations are weak or nonexistent and brainstorm ideas on how to foster connections within your own context. Start small, create experiments, analyze the results, and try again!
Another important thing to focus on: cross+generational ministry is not one of many ministries. It is not something you can do between services or on Wednesday nights. Cross+generality (?), like faith formation, should describe how a congregation functions. It should be part of the ethos of the church. Programming is a great place to start, but it should only be the beginning of a greater change.
May the God of all generations bless your faith-forming work!
Gregory Rawn, Publisher
High-quality tools make faith formation easier! Check out our resources for all ages on the Narrative Lectionary, as well as elementary-age worship education, cross+generational confirmation, and even special orders.
Note: While my focus is on community/relationships between people of different generations (cross+generational), the importance of creating community between people of any difference that divides us is critical and timely. All divisions hurt the Body of Christ as well as our world in general.