Intergenerational Church Toolkit

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Welcome to the Intergenerational Church toolkit! The contents of this kit have been selected and designed to encourage and equip congregations to cultivate a culture in which faith in God is nurtured and relationships are fostered as all ages learn and grow, serve, and worship together.

Inside this toolkit you’ll find links to the following:

  • inspiring videos
  • foundational books
  • informative webinars
  • thought-provoking articles
  • easy-to-use assessment tools
  • practical ideas
  • outstanding websites
  • and more!

As new tools become available, we’ll add them. If there’s a tool you need but don’t see here, we’ll try to find it. Contact us at faithformation@crcna.org.

We’re here to help! For a personalized introduction to the resources in this toolkit or for assistance with faith formation challenges in your church, contact one of our Regional Catalyzers.

Belonging

Relationships have a more lasting impact than programs.

—Robert J. Keeley, Helping Our Children Grow in Faith, p. 35

 

Being an intergenerational church isn’t about adding another program or putting an end to segregated ministries. It’s a way of life—being God’s family in a way that values, equips, and includes all ages. It’s about belonging.

People who lived in Old Testament Israel knew what it meant to belong to God’s family. Daphne Kirk describes it like this: When God set his people Israel in order, he placed each individual within a family, each family within a tribe, and each tribe within the nation. No generation was excluded, no child left out, no older person put aside. Within each tribe were the components of family; they were community.

Heirs Together: Establishing Intergenerational Church, p. 17

Given their family history, it’s not surprising that the early Christian church also lived as an intergenerational community, worshiping and praying together, eating in each other’s homes, and sharing belongings (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). Contrast that with North American culture, in which we sort ourselves by how old we are: seniors live in retirement homes with other seniors, middle-aged adults work with other middle-aged adults, young adults attend college and interact with other young adults, and children are segregated by grade.

Our churches—the communities in which God’s family gathers weekly and with whom we grow in faith—are one of the few remaining places where people of all ages have the opportunity to learn and grow, serve, and worship together. We are a faith community in which “one generation commends [God’s] works to another” (Ps. 145:4). We are a family made up of people of all ages who live into and live out of God’s story together.

We’re about belonging. And God planned it that way.

Becoming

Intergenerational is not something churches do—it’s something they become.

—Brad M. Griffin, Intergenerational Ministry: Beyond the Rhetoric

Look around. Are there two or more generations in your congregation? Congratulations—you’re an intergenerational family! (If you are a one-generation church, look around again—this time around your community. With whom might you partner locally to connect with another generation?)

Look in. Just as it’s possible for a family or roommates to share a dwelling but never actually interact in meaningful ways with one another, it’s possible for a multigenerational church family to learn, serve, and worship together without developing meaningful relationships with one another. Becoming an intergenerational church requires intentionality. It involves cultivating a church culture in which faith is nurtured and relationships are fostered as all ages learn and grow, serve, and worship together.

Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross describe an intentionally intergenerational community this way: Truly intergenerational communities welcome children, emerging adults, recovering addicts, single adults, widows, single parents, teens whose parents are not around, the elderly, those in crisis, empty nesters and struggling parents of young children into a safe but challenging place to be formed into the image of Christ.

The Benefits of Intergenerationality, p. 22

Micah, a child from First CRC in Denver, Colorado, describes it like this: “[It’s] when I teach the old people and the old people teach me.”

All Ages Enter God’s Story

Consider the following:

  • At what times and places do two or more generations from your church family already gather together? How might you be more intentional about providing opportunities to interact with each other in ways that build relationships and nurture faith?
  • What small steps might you take toward trying something new?
  • How might you cast a vision within your church for becoming even more intentional about fostering intergenerational faith-building relationships among church family members as you learn and grow, serve, and worship together?

The following resources have been selected to support you in doing all of the above.

Assessment

  • The Intergenerational Ministry Planning Guide from the Evangelical Covenant Church can be used to evaluate and grow intergenerational discipleship practices in your church.
  • GenOn Ministries has designed a Visioning Tool for use in a two-hour Visioning Gathering with adults and youth.
  • In our Building Blocks of Faith toolkit you’ll find an assessment tool that evaluates existing programs and ministries to ensure that the faith formation needs of all ages are being met.
  • The Reimagining Faith Formation tool provides a way for your congregation to examine how it is forming faith through congregational life, family faith formation, group faith formation, and leadership.

Articles

Books

Stories

Videos

Webinars

Websites

  • reimaginefaithformation.com will link you to books, research papers, best practices, and articles from the Lifelong Faith journal and more.
  • vibrantfaith.org includes blogs about what people are learning and sells intergenerational resources (we especially love the Visual Faith project images).
  • stickyfaith.org posts research-based blogs and best practices for families, youth, and those who work with them.
  • At The Network you can sign up to receive fresh posts on faith nurture, intergenerational ministry, and more.
  • For excellent worship-specific websites, check out the Worshiping tab of this toolkit.

 

Learning and Growing

Image by Photo by Peter Dutton/Flickr

At every baptism we vow to love, pray for, instruct, encourage, and sustain another member of our church family. But it takes more than just worshiping together to complete this checklist of baptismal vows. Fulfilling these vows requires relationships. Fulfilling these vows requires us to put ourselves in a position where we can know and be known by the children and youth of [our church].

—Annette Ediger, Casting a Vision for Intergenerational Ministry

In this section you’ll find information and ideas for building on what your congregation is already doing to provide opportunities for people of all ages to “know and be known” by each other, both in small group gatherings and large group settings.

Small Groups

Beautifully chaotic. Simple and sweet. Profoundly moving. When we asked people to describe their intergenerational small groups, these were the phrases they used again and again. Here’s what else they said:

“It would be easier, and maybe I would even learn more intellectually, if I was part of a group that was closer to me demographically. But I don't think I would grow as much spiritually.”

“We see [our children] expressing their faith more openly and honestly and also growing as leaders and disciples of Christ.”

“Even the teens come when they aren't busy doing other things because they know it’s a place where they are loved.”

“We have openly struggled with our faith and testified to God's faithfulness in our lives. This group has been an incredible gift to me.”

Christian faith-based intergenerational small groups are as unique as the people who form them and who are formed within them. But what they have in common is a desire to be God’s family to and with each other. Many also include the following during their time together:

  • a meal or simple refreshments
  • icebreakers (lighthearted questions that all ages can answer)
  • music (adults, teens, children may take turns leading and/or selecting songs)
  • Scripture reading or a Bible story (perhaps using a children’s Bible storybook)
  • discussion/conversation (for which the children may or may not be present)
  • prayer (which often includes praying for each other)

Wondering how a small group can affect the life of its members? Read this heartfelt “thank-you letter to my people” from a young adult to the intergenerational community that surrounded her.

Wondering what an intergenerational small group could look like? Meet eight of them here:

Looking for tools to help cast a vision for intergenerational small groups in your church? Read the post 6 Compelling Reasons for Having Intergenerational Small Groups and check out Effective Intergenerational Small Groups, a bundle of resources available for purchase from SmallGroups.com and which contain introductory articles on intergenerational faith formation.

More Ideas

  • Faith5 is a simple five- step family devotional guide that can easily be adapted for intergenerational small group use. One small group member told us that the “sharing highs and lows” part of Faith5 has been particularly meaningful in their group when children and teens are present, especially at their Christmas gathering when they use it to reflect on the past year.
  • This blog post contains A Simple Format for Including Children in Small Groups.
  • Storypath is a useful site when searching for appropriate children’s picture books to read instead of or in addition to Scripture.
  • The #talkjustice blog features ideas, information, and questions to jump-start conversations with children (and all ages) about issues such as racism, hunger, disabilities, and more.
  • The Faith Storytelling toolkit contains ideas for sharing faith stories with all ages. One of the great tools you’ll find inside is Story Starters, a list of open-ended conversation questions.
  • What’s Old Is New Again: Experiencing Community at Kitchener CRC describes how a church with 800 attendees developed intergenerational geographical communities. 

Large Groups

Church picnics and potlucks. Funerals and weddings. Mid-week ministry programs and worship. These are examples of events in the life of a congregation at which two or more generations gather. In each of these events there are opportunities, both planned and unplanned, for building relationships and nurturing faith.

In this section you’ll find resources you can use to build your own intergenerational large group experiences, including free intergenerational events on the Lord’s Prayer and the Lord’s Supper. You’ll also find stories about the ways in which CRC churches are being intentional about large group learning and growing across generations. We hope their ideas inspire you as they have inspired us.

Articles

  • In addition to describing the benefits of intergenerational learning, the online resource Faith Formation Across the Generations includes a list of eight practical ways to integrate intergenerational learning into what your congregation is already doing.

Books

Curriculum

Ideas

Stories

Webinars

 

Serving

When people of all ages have opportunities to serve together locally and/or globally, helping others, seeking justice, and sharing God’s love, wonderful things start to happen:

  • Faith is formed as people work side by side in shared experiences, praying together and encouraging each other.
  • All ages recognize that as followers of Jesus they are called by God to serve others and seek justice and that they are equipped by God to serve in ways that are valuable and important.
  • Busy families spend quality time living out their faith together.
  • Relationships are built, generation gaps narrow, and a sense of teamwork is fostered.

At a church in Iowa, serving together looks like this:

A group of people spanning nine decades of age met together for six weeks to support Days for Girls, an international ministry that helps girls living in poverty by providing them feminine hygiene kits so that they won’t have to miss school when they’re menstruating. After packing 75 bags with supplies, the group spread the bags around a table, gathered in a circle, and prayed together for the girls in Haiti who would be receiving the kits. The group also gave thanks for the new community they had formed while working together.

At a church in Ontario, serving together looks like this:

Each time there’s a fifth Sunday in the month, all ages meet at the church to divide into smaller groups before heading outside to extend God’s love to their community in different ways: handing out hot chocolate on cold days and frozen treats on hot days, singing with residents at a nursing home, picking up garbage, helping a community member with a painting project, raking leaves for neighbors, going on a prayer walk, distributing socks at a shelter, and more. Afterward the groups return to the church to share a meal and stories.

At other churches, serving together may look like this:

  • two or more generations serving in the church nursery together
  • an intergenerational praise team singing Christmas carols with residents of a retirement community
  • several generations participating together in a community walkathon or a Ride for Refuge
  • teams of two or more generations preparing, serving, and cleaning up coffee after the worship service
  • intergenerational teams providing a meal each month to clients at a local soup kitchen
  • parents and teens participating together in short-term missions in another country

Consider the following:

  • What does serving together look like in your church? How might you build on what you are already doing?
  • What other ways might two or more generations be invited to serve together?
  • With whom might your congregation partner to serve the people in your community and beyond, even internationally? And how might you involve a variety of ages in that work?

Use the resources below to support intergenerational service in your congregation:

Assessment

  • Use the Intergenerational Service Questionnaire to help you identify strengths and weaknesses in terms of an intentionally intergenerational approach to service and community engagement (adapted from Together All God’s People, Faith Alive, 2005, p. 73).

Curriculum

  • Changed for Life is a free online resource designed to help short-term mission teams and their hosts craft a well-organized mission experience that will be meaningful for everyone involved.
  • During the Blanket Exercise, participants of all ages walk through the history of relationships between Native peoples in Canada or the U.S. in a “practical, powerful, experiential way” (Acts of Synod 2015, p. 640).
  • #talkjustice, a series of posts by Lisa VanEngen, contains excellent ideas for engaging children and families and intergenerational small groups in advocating for and learning about justice. The DoJustice website also contains thought-provoking information to jump-start conversations with youth and adults.
  • The LOGOS Users Guide for Intergenerational Mission explains the hows and whys of doing intergenerational ministry. It includes theological foundations, ideas for mission projects, and guidelines for effective mission projects.

Ideas

Stories

Organizations with Opportunities for Intergenerational Groups

  • Visit World Renew for ongoing local and global intergenerational service opportunities.
  • ServiceLink is available to assist you in finding a volunteer opportunity that fits the makeup of your group.
  • Stop Hunger Now gets food and life-saving aid to the world’s most vulnerable people. Contact them to inquire about hosting a meal-packaging event.

Videos

  • In this video conversation on Service and Learning, Eugene Roehlkepartain of the Search Institute speaks about the benefits of having cross-generational groups involved in service together.

 

Worshiping

Intergenerational worship is worship in which people of every age are understood to be equally important. Each generation has the same significance before the face of God and in the worshiping congregation. . . . Each and all are the church of now.

—Howard Vanderwell, The Church of All Ages, p. 11

Weekly worship gatherings are the family reunions of God’s people. We gather as one body to praise God, find rest in God, be reminded of our hope in God, hear our call from God, and leave equipped by God. It is, as Robbie Castleman says, “the only thing we get to do forever.”

Picture your congregation during its weekly worship gathering.

  • Which generations are there?
  • Which generations aren’t there?
  • Which generations are equally important participants?
  • What message do your answers convey to your congregation and to your community?

Worshiping in a way that says to all ages, “You belong here,” and that invites all ages to participate in meaningful ways requires intentionality. It’s ongoing. It’s challenging. But, as Theresa Cho points out, it’s also faith nurturing: Worshiping as an intergenerational community pushes and challenges us to be aware of how all in worship experience God’s presence; opens us up to the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit; give[s] us permission to not claim to know it all; and [encourages us to] exercise grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love to those that we deem different than ourselves.

The What and How of Intergenerational Worship

Historically the CRC has placed a high value on intergenerational worship. As a result, congregations already have many resources at their fingertips from

This section of the toolkit focuses on ideas for worship planners and suggestions for parents, and we hope you’ll pass these along to the families in your congregation. To start off, download this list of Ten Way to Strengthen Intergenerational Worship. 

Assessment

Articles

Books

Ideas

Celebrating Milestones

  • Learn how celebrating milestones can transform a congregation and shape a vital partnership between home and church in Passing on Faith—Milestone to Milestone.
  • Does your congregation bless people with the gift of a Bible as a way to celebrate a milestone? How might that gift become a way to remind the recipient that their church is also their family? The Cookbook Bible provides a few ideas.

Engaging Multiple Senses

Including Children and Youth

Including People with a Variety of Abilities

  • Read about the theology of inclusion here.
  • Use these Inclusive Language Suggestions during worship.
  • This list of Role Based Tips provides ideas for including worship leaders, Lord’s Supper servers, praise band members, Scripture readers, and more to help you “widen the welcome.”

Preaching

  • The Preaching Tag-Team Challenge describes how two generations might work together to prepare a message for all generations.
  • Is providing a children’s sermon a practice in your congregation? Provide presenters with this resource: How to Deliver an Effective Children’s Sermon.
  • Daunted by the thought of preaching with all ages in mind? Before you try “family-friendly” gimmicks like balloons or clowns, read this.
  • Bless the whole church with the three preaching ideas in this post.
  • Visit our Faith Storytelling toolkit for ideas on how to incorporate storytelling into the service.

Videos

  • When children were noisy during worship at Rev. Barry Kelk’s church, he would stop and say, “Can you hear the children? The day we can’t hear them we will have died, because they are our heartbeat.” Find out what happened next in this delightful Conversation about Intergenerational Ministry.
  • Forest City North Church in London, Ontario, created a Love Is video with people spanning seven decades in age; The Easter Story features children and adults retelling the account from Mark 16:1-8; and in these videos people of varying ages who have intellectual and developmental disabilities recite Psalm 139. How might your church make or use an intergenerational video to begin a worship service or to lead into a message?
  • Worship as One: Disability in Community and its accompanying resource will support your congregation in ensuring that your intergenerational worship is inclusive worship.

Websites

Webinars

  • “Worship for All Ages: Ideas for Lent and Easter” and “Intergenerational Worship 101” are just two of the recorded webinars offered by Practical Resources for Churches.