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Blending generations builds a church for the ages

Bucking societal trends is a challenging proposition. The task can prove even more daunting within the culture of churches, where traditions run deep.
Yet that is precisely what Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross courageously and convincingly undertake in their book, “Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship.”
Allen, professor of Christian ministries at John Brown University, is a member of the Siloam Church of Christ in Arkansas. She and Ross, professor of Christian education at Concordia University Irvine in California, present a biblically based and thoroughly researched case for greater intergenerational involvement in the body of Christ. The authors draw deeply from a growing body of scholarly literature on the subject and supplement their data with anecdotes and experiences from their own lives of faith.
Why should one advocate so passionately for intergenerational Christian life and ministry? Because it’s intrinsically biblical, the authors maintain.
“Scripture presumes that faith formation occurs within intergenerational, familial and community settings,” they write. Whether describing the congregational assemblies of ancient Israel or first century churches that received apostolic epistles, the Bible is clear that these communities of faith interactively involved the very young, the very old and everyone in between.
In response to what can be described as the dismemberment of Christ’s body and the fracturing of God’s spiritual family through perpetual age-segregated programming, Allen and Ross seek to infuse these biblical metaphors with their fullest and most authentic meaning through intergenerational interaction. Jesus’ prayerful desire for his followers was that “all of them may be one” (John 17:20). This oneness is not merely mystical, but experiential and relational, extending across generational lines.
The authors see the church as a uniquely and divinely designed context where these generational distinctions “are to be transcended rather than reinforced.” Instead, churches should seek to establish “intergenerational faith communities (that) bring together the young, fresh thinkers with the older, wiser veterans, creating an integrated profusion of resources.”
Beyond biblical and theological foundations, the authors appeal to extensive research within a wide range of other fields, including learning theory, gerontology and other social sciences. The cumulative weight of this evidence affirms that “interage connections across all the generations foster development cognitively, morally, psychosocially and spiritually,” they write. While this material provides additional validation of the authors’ assertions, these particular sections of the book may prove to be rather technical and tedious for some readers.
Among the greatest strengths of the book is the authors’ fluid movement from the theoretical to the practical. Concepts are translated into concrete suggestions to assist churches in achieving greater cross-generational interaction through worship, learning experiences, story sharing, service projects and missions.
Their most comprehensive recommendation involves the formation of intergenerational small groups. The authors include helpful appendices detailing “Forty Intergenerational Ideas” and resources for curricula and activities.
Not all of the particulars of their suggestions will find a ready reception or easy implementation in Churches of Christ. However, adaptations can be made that would still embrace and endorse the authors’ premise that “intergenerational faith experiences uniquely nurture spiritual growth and development in both adults and children.” The fact that most congregations of Churches of Christ are relatively small makes them ideal settings for intergenerational models of ministry.
The key to becoming “intergenerational” is intentionality, the authors write. Churches already are made up of multiple generations. They simply need to be brought together, “not just occasionally or sporadically, but often.”
Allen and Ross urge a balanced “both/and” approach, preserving some traditional divisions based on “age, stage and interest,” but working toward the intentional integration of various generations in 50 to 80 percent of congregational activities.
Though many churches may have missed out on the first wave of this growing movement, ample opportunity remains to join the rising tide of restoring God’s intention for intergenerational spiritual formation. This is “not something that churches do — it is something they become,” the authors write.
“Intergenerational Christian Formation” provides church leaders with a solid biblical rationale and a reasoned roadmap for cultivating such a culture of intergenerational life, blessings and community in Christ.
TIM PYLES is preaching minister for the Broken Arrow Church of Christ in Oklahoma. He blogs at www.timpyles.com and may be contacted at [email protected].

  • Feedback
    I am an Evangelist for church of Christ since 30 doing with many great works here in India.
    I would like to receive your news letter from time to time.
    Brother V
    Church of Christ
    Church of Christ
    Kovvur, Andhra Pradesh
    February, 19 2013

    I’m interested in reading this book and in learning more about the Bibilical emphasis on what the authors call Intergenerational Christian Formation. This has been my focused ministry effort over the past 10 years as I have built and directed an intergenerational women’s ministry. I have been blessed to share it with many congregations also. Heart to Home’s mission (www.hearttohomeministry.org) is to connect the generations in order to fulfill the teachings found in Titus 2:3-5, where the older women in the church were instructed to teach the younger women. Thanks for reviewing this important book about a vital subject to the church.
    Joneal S. Kirby,
    Director, Heart to Home Ministry
    West Monroe, Louisiana
    Joneal Kirby
    Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ
    West Monroe, Louisiana
    February, 13 2013

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