by adam hayden, youth ministry at presbyterian church of wyoming
Intergenerational Ministries: Why Inter-generational?
I have a 9-year-old daughter. She has been attending church at the Presbyterian Church of Wyoming for about five years now. She absolutely loves it. She can’t wait to go on Sunday. You might think it’s because we have the most advanced, technologically driven Sunday School this world has ever seen. You would be wrong. We don’t. We don’t have an exciting Sunday school experience that attracts a lot of kids. You might think it’s because we have this incredible worship space that has dazzling lights and sound effects and videos flaring up all over the place. We don’t. We have spaces with chairs and pews and people. Pretty boring for your typical 9-year-old. There really isn’t a structural reason why my daughter loves going. It is not the content or the delivery of the content. It is something else entirely.
There are two main reasons. 1. She gets time to play in the gym area downstairs where she lets her creativity fly, especially when her friends attend; and 2. People really like her and show her. That latter point is where I want to spend some time. People really like her. I’m not talking about her peers or some cute friend of hers, although they seem to like her too. I’m referring to the adults. I think my daughter loves walking into a building where multiple people see her and open their arms wide and offer her the biggest smiles. People light up when they see my daughter. And it isn’t just my daughter. Kids of all different ages experience this warmth at PCW.
There is one gentleman who frequently takes out his harmonica and plays it for kids when they look sad. There is a wonderful retired couple that addresses the kids by name and asks about them. How are they doing? How is school coming along? There is the high school leader who can spark up a conversation with any kid at any time anywhere. And he does! And the kids love it. These intergenerational relationships are so important. They are important to the adults showing love and care. They are important to the child receiving love and care. They are important to the sustainability and growth of the community too.
Every year when confirmation rolls around I wrestle. We have to equip the young people with knowledge. We go through various teachings of the Bible, of the Church, and of Jesus. While I’m there in the confirmation classes going over these things with kids who oftentimes look disinterested I can’t help but think, “are we focusing on the wrong things here?” Faith and beliefs are important. They help us steer our lives. However, are they more important than establishing healthy relationships? Relationships can help us grow exponentially. They help us understand faith. They inform our beliefs. How do we follow Jesus? One of the most practical ways is to mimic the people in our lives who are doing just that. Follow Paul as he follows Christ kind of thing. Relationships can also sustain and grow a community.
To me intergenerational ministry is about valuing everyone at the exclusion of no one. It is about thinking through everyone’s needs, wants, and desires. It is about thinking how every single person in the community is loved and cherished by God. It is about how we create experiences whereby we can feel that love together. Sure, there are times when a 9-year-old, like my daughter, needs to spend time with other 9-year-olds and when a 90-year-old needs to be around other 90-year-olds and when parents need time to complain (I mean vent) and when teens need to be around teens, etc… However, a community needs time to intentionally honor and address all its participants together. It needs time to foster intergenerational relationships.
If a community can do this, they definitely ensure a better chance to thrive. A cool video on the screen might excite kids for a few minutes, maybe a few hours. A really cutting edge VBS can hold kids’ attention for an entire week! Playing a game with kids during a church service might make you a hero for a day or two. However, in my view, nothing will retain the participation of young people better than healthy intergenerational relationships. People want to be in a space where they are wanted and loved. Imagine if we create a space where everyone feels both wanted and loved and are then empowered to reciprocate that love and wanting to others? Can you imagine that? I promise you that’s a space where people will want to be.
That’s where my daughter wants to be.