One of my favorite memories as a child is spending time at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother lives a few hours away and at Christmas time our whole family went to visit. The house was filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I loved listening to the adults tell stories from times before my birth, of relatives I never met, and places I never visited. It made me feel part of something bigger than myself and my small world.
For many cultures, it’s the norm to have multiple generations living under one roof. This way of living was even popular in America until the mid-twentieth century. According to the US Census, this number is on the rise again in America, with four million households being multigenerational. Due to the fledgling economy, we’re starting to see adult children come back home, grandparents moving in, and even multiple families under one roof.
A few years ago, our church recognized that instead of being one multigenerational church family, we were operating as three separate churches under one roof—a children’s church, youth church, and adult church. We knew that continuing in that way would be detrimental to the lifespan of our church. According to Margaret Mead’s 1970 book, Culture and Commitment, a Study of the Generation Gap, “the continuity of all cultures depends on the living presence of at least three generations.” If the older generation does not pass on their knowledge, wisdom, and traditions, a church culture will cease to exist. Unfortunately, we see this across America today, as church after church must merge with other congregations or shut their doors because they have failed to pass on the mantle to the next generation.
The idea of multigenerational families is designed by God and evident in His Word. The inclusion of genealogies shows just how important the family tree is to God and His plans. Through the Bible, God is identified not only as the God of Abraham, but of his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob. The Bible is also filled with commands to pass on one’s faith to the next generation. We use verses like Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78 to define children’s ministry, but they’re not only for parents but grandparents and the children themselves—that one day they too will tell the generation to come the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.
Once we recognize the segregation in our churches, we can work to bridge generational gaps. It’s something we must be intentional about in church services and events. It can’t just come from the children’s or youth ministry but needs to be a collective effort from every ministry in the church.
The first step is to cast vision. It’s only when every ministry in a church is working towards the same purpose that we begin to move forward. If each ministry has its own vision and is moving in separate directions, the church will never go anywhere. Each ministry should be aligned with the senior pastor’s vision. He is the one setting the course, and every other leader is using their ministry to accomplish that goal.
Your senior pastor’s vision should be the number one priority, but needs to give consideration to how all church members, young and old, fit into that vision. We also need to look at how to include all ages in the church, in order for a church’s culture to survive by being passed on to coming generations.
Worshipping as a Family
With family ministry becoming more popular, many churches are changing the way they do worship, offering a family service once a month or at one service. Family worship has always been a weekly event in our church. Children are included in the worship service every week and then dismissed to their classes following offering. Children need to learn from their parents how to worship God. When children witness other adults worshipping, they get to experience firsthand the Spirit moving among His people, all while getting instruction from their parents. They also get to see the senior pastor, and know that he is not just the adult’s pastor but their pastor, too.
We designed our preschool class and nurseries to open from the start of service, as we thought young kids would have a hard time sitting through the worship service. However, we see more of our early childhood kids wanting to participate in the worship service rather than be in class. We’ve had to adjust our early childhood classes to have learning stations for the first 30 minutes and wait to start the lesson until the kids have been dismissed from worship.
Serving as a Family
Children shouldn’t just attend the worship service but should be included in its running. Our youth band started playing once a month, to give the adults a taste of our youth group. Now, many of our youth musicians are being asked to play on a weekly basis with the adult worship bands. Many churches have student leadership clubs where older kids can serve in the children’s ministry. Our student leadership team participates in the adult service by ushering. They stand at the door with the adult ushers, greeting the other children and passing out the children’s bulletins. On communion Sunday, we call the deacons and elders forward and have prayer lines to lay hands on the sick. Our children’s prayer team also comes forward to pray.
Grandparents serving in children’s ministry is a great first step, but what about going even further? Children can also learn how to serve those who are younger. Every service we have one or two children, sixth grade or younger, serving in our nurseries and preschool class. They don’t just play with the kids, but help set up, clean up, and teach the lesson. Not only does this help our staffing issues, it has also been a great
way to get adults to serve. Children in fifth and sixth grades have to serve with an adult, but children fourth grade and younger must serve with a parent. We’ve had many parents sign up to serve in our nurseries because their child wanted to volunteer.
When we first started allowing children to serve, some were concerned about the lessons the kids would be missing in their class. What we’ve found is that the lessons they’re learning while volunteering sometimes outweigh the ones they are missing. Our children are learning how to put others first, serve God with all they have, and how to articulate their faith to others. Not to mention, they’re learning practical skills like responsibility, scheduling, cleaning up after themselves, and how to interact with the other (typically older) volunteers. When they start serving at a young age, they develop habits that last through their teen years and into adulthood, continuing the cycle of multigenerational ministry.
Learning as a Family
Titus 2 commands older men and women to teach the younger generations. One way our adult members are doing this is through our men’s and women’s ministries. Throughout the year, the men’s ministry has dodgeball games for the men and boys age 12 and up. During the night, one of the older men gives a short teaching on how to be a man, sharing lost arts like opening the door for women or how to properly shake a hand. In the same way, our women’s ministry has had cooking nights, where they teach younger girls basic household skills like how to cook a meal or properly set a table.
The old teaching the young isn’t confined just to the adults though. We’ve synchronized our youth and children’s ministries so that the teenagers are teaching the next generation. Our junior high Sunday school is taught by our tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders. This allows our sixth graders to meet the older students and form bonds before even entering the youth group. In turn, it teaches our older students responsibility and how to pass on their faith. When the sixth graders are promoted to the youth group, we partner them with a high schooler. It is the older student’s responsibility to sit by the younger student in service and invite them to events. Since starting this program, we’ve seen a tremendous decrease in the number of kids lost during the transition from children’s ministry to youth ministry.
Becoming a Family
Families are meant to be multigenerational—that’s God’s design. If we’re going to pursue family ministry, we need to first be a church family. That means closing gaps and integrating our ministries. Sometimes that means putting another ministry first, so that we’re not competing for the family’s time and money.
Be an example of what it means to close the gaps. Build relationships with people of all ages in your congregation. As children’s pastors, we’re always spending time with those younger than us, but maybe it’s time to be more intentional. Spend time with people outside of your ministry. Seek out someone older who will encourage you and teach you from their experiences. Find a teenager or young adult who you can build a relationship with and mentor. By closing the gaps between our ministries, we can more effectively accomplish our church vision and ensure that it will have a lasting impact for years to come.
Emily Snider is a children’s pastor in Roseville, MI. She loves serving with her youth pastor husband, as they minister to children from cradle through college. radicalobedience.com