By Amy Hanson
On Sunday mornings, 15-year-old Caleb Fenn wakes himself up and gets to church at First Baptist West Monroe (West Monroe, LA) by 7:15 a.m.
While many teenagers would grumble about getting up so early, Caleb looks forward to the ministry that awaits him. Week after week, he sacrifices his sleep because he helps teach the 8:00 a.m. Sunday School class for three-year olds, along with an 81-year-old man affectionately known as Mr. Charlie.
Charlie Bedgood has been teaching the same class for over 15 years, and 12 years ago he actually had Caleb as one of his three-year-old students. Now as a helper to Mr. Charlie, Caleb and this older man enjoy a relationship that goes beyond the one hour they serve together on Sunday. Charlie calls Caleb regularly and celebrates his school achievements. The two of them exchange Christmas presents and enjoy a rich friendship.
Not only does this teenager love Charlie, so do the three year olds. Charlie has taught these young children about God’s love and what it means to follow God. He has helped each of the children learn to bring their offering envelopes to church and give a tithe. His example of loving children is being passed on to Caleb and other young people who help in the class.
The melding of generations as described in this story used to be more common in churches. In fact, the concept of intergenerational ministry can be traced back to the Old Testament. More than once, God commanded his people to tell future descendants about his works (Deuteronomy 11:19; Joshua 4:21). There was an assumption that this teaching should happen in the normal occurrences of daily life as young and old were often together.
While there is a time and place for dividing people by age in some ministry settings, leading churches today are creating environments where age barriers are broken down. Offering service opportunities where young and old work together, and hosting strategic intergenerational events are just two of the methods that churches are utilizing to encourage meaningful interaction between the generations.
Generations Serving Together
As Mike Martin, Boomer Plus pastor at Calvary Assembly Church (Winter Park, FL), sought out methods for developing a ministry with Boomer-age adults, the concept of rallying around a mission that served the community kept coming back to him.
Following a model used by First United Methodist Church (Tulsa, OK), Mike and his team asked themselves the question, “If Jesus was walking through your neighborhood, what would he do?”
What resulted was a list of 25 different ministry projects such as Habitat for Humanity and sending cards to the sick and homebound. The 50-plus ministry team called the ministry A.R.K. (Acts of Random Kindness) and hosted “Community Fest,” an evening where church members would be introduced to these 25 ministries and choose one in which to invest their time. As a result of that event, 60 people began regularly serving in the community.
Mike says intergenerational connections have been a great byproduct of A.R.K. “In this ministry, it is natural for a teenager to be working on a Habitat for Humanity house alongside a 55-year old,” he says. “Multi-generational relationships are being built, and we want to find ways to encourage those relationships to go deeper.”
Strategic Intergenerational Events
First Evangelical Free Church (Fullerton, CA) hosts an event called Back to the Future where a group of 10 junior-high or high-school students are matched with an older adult. The older adult talks about what it was like to be a 12 year old, what their first car was like, and even how they came to know Christ.
Often the older adults will bring their yearbooks, letter jackets, and report cards for the younger people to see. The students are encouraged to ask questions and simply talk with the older person about dating, family issues and other areas of concern.
Rosalyn Encarnacion, director of senior adult programs at the Fullerton church, says many benefits come from these events. “Our older adults realize that their lives are significant and valuable as they pass on the lessons learned from their own life experiences,” she says. “In turn, the youth have a broader worldview as they hear the wisdom of the older adults.”
Amy Hanson is a speaker, teacher, writer and consultant who is passionate about helping older adults discover a life of Christ-centered meaning and purpose. She formerly led the active adult (50+) ministries at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Today, she unites her doctorate in gerontology with her ministry experience to educate and equip leaders, students, health care professionals and older adults on the unique opportunities of an aging America. Find out more about Amy’s ministry at amyhanson.org.