Intergenerational Church

I applaud congregations who are called to be racially and ethnically diverse. One of my brothers is a pastor of one such congregation, and when done well, experiencing worship with others with different backgrounds and pigment tones is a foretaste of the Kingdom to come. It’s beautiful, and it’s a value I hold near and dear.

Today I simply want to reflect on another version of diversity, namely, ‘intergenerational’ diversity. Over the years in ministry, I have become aware that this type of diversity quite often does not hold enough value within the church planting world. One can only experience unity with diversity and that unity must include everyone, ‘young’ and ‘old’ alike.

The current trend of churches closing their doors across North America is largely due to the fact that they are no longer intergenerational. Maintaining and investing in all relationships across generational divides is crucial for long-term survival. It is relatively easier to connect with people our own age, but what we need is the insight, wisdom, and experience from those who are older. We need one another for the long haul. In order to be a church that will last multiple generations you have to have multiple generations worshipping together.

There are challenges as a church planter to attract people from different ages, but I think it is a necessary challenge to pick up. Intergenerational churches enjoy a perspective of the church that is rich and healthy. Young people can have elderly people mentor them. They may not be their grandparents, but how sweet it is to ‘hang’ with someone their grandparent’s age. Seeing faith in people of all ages renews the soul. It reminds us of our differences, and though it may lead to ‘worship style’ preferential fighting (which occurs all too often), it can also lead to beautiful illustrations of sacrifice. For example, consider the following statements: “I love the organ because Mrs. Betty does” or “I’ll listen to that guitar as long as Little Sally can worship that way.” In its purist form, the dance of accommodation between generations for the purpose of worshipping our God is a glorious, one that can last for generations.

When I pastored at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, Hamilton, Ontario, we would often times invite members of our congregation to speak at our youth group. I remember one evening we were going through a small group study on Dating and Relationships. We invited three couples from our church to speak more directly about marriage. All three couples were of different ages, one of whom was in their 70s. It is difficult to describe how meaningful it was for these Christian couples to share their thoughts about marriage. Some of the questions the teens asked were ones they probably would not ask their parents or grandparents.

Churches which are intergenerational are robust. They will last longer by definition. Yes, they have their challenges, but all forms of diversity do.

Just look at the challenge Jesus embraced to open the floodgates of salvation for people from all tribes, languages, nations, and epidermis colors. Intergenerational diversity may not get the same amount of publicity as other forms of diversity. Perhaps because many churches that do not consider themselves to be diverse may not realize they have a ‘hidden gem’ deserving of celebration.

One final pastoral thought: all diversity is risky because often times there is an imbalance of power that exists within the group. Intergenerational churches are good, but it would not be fair to ignore the fact that generational bullying can happen. One can point to the sin of ‘worship wars’ within generations, something that misrepresents the true witness of the Gospel. Further along the sin spectrum is the multiple forms of abuse that can happen due to corruption in the hearts of power hungry sinners. The pattern of corrupting what God has made good remains a struggle, and in many stories is hidden and silent. For the ways in which intergenerational sins have caused God’s children, both young and old, to go astray, we must cry out for mercy and forgiveness.

As our church plant continues to meet, and as we continue to bear witness of the Gospel in southwest Wake County, we do so taking up the charge to be diverse, to do so with wisdom, to do so with prudence and due-diligence, and to do so seeking reconciliation and justice for all.

So, do you feel inclusive and affirmed because of your age within your church family? If not, reach out, become vulnerable and begin a discussion within your church.

Trendy Attracts?

Is it okay to be a church plant and not be cool?

The reason I ask is because it seems to me that there’s pressure to be cool in the church planting world. When we considered names for this church, for example, we considered plenty of cool trendy names. The thought was that trendy attracts. Some church planting material actually suggest to attract ‘cool’ people in order to attract a larger number of people. If the cool factor is there, then others will feel cooler if they associate with those cooler than they are. Did that last statement even make sense?

When I look around other churches and church plants, there are a strong number of churches striving to be cool. Cool speakers. Cool logos. Cool mottoes. Cool speaking series. Cool rock band. I’m not sure if ‘cool’ is cutting it though. Can the church really pull ‘cool’ off well? I guess there are some. I know that I’m not one of them.

The deeper question for me is whether the cool factor is even Biblical. The church isn’t a business in this sense. How would Jesus plant a church in 2015? Would he put together a profile of the person to reach in SW Wake County? Would he put together the coolest graphic? Would he get a tattoo? Would he buy skinny jeans, or cut his jeans, or whatever makes you cool? (I’d give you a longer list, but the older I get the more oblivious I am to what is cool- and I’m not trying to sound self-righteously uncool by saying this)

Parts of me wants to plant this church for the uncool just to go against the grain. But then we’d cut off others who are actually cool thereby doing the very thing I’m concerned about with the whole cool factor agenda. Jesus certainly connected to many uncool untouchables in his culture, and I do believe that his ministry remains a guide for us today. Cool is only cool until the next cool thing comes along. Trendy attracts for the short term. Trendy is, by definition, trendy. They will be uncool soon enough.

Much can be written about how important it is to be sensitive to context. Contextualization is extremely important! But I’m not addressing that particular issue. My concern is that we don’t trust the Gospel enough to transform lives, and we rather depend on technique and gimmicks. As tough as it is not to be gimmicky, the challenge really is to keep the circle as wide as possible in order for all types to feel at home as a family of God.

Do some feel isolated in your church? What would it take for you to buck that trend?