Cross Generational Youth Ministry

I’m a little late to the game on this one, but Brian, over at Rethinking Youth Ministry, put up a list of ten ideas for doing cross-generational youth ministry last week. They’re all excellent, and I really don’t have anything to add. In addition to encouraging you to read them, however, I thought it might be interesting to hear how one youth ministry is currently working on implementing some of those ideas.

Talk about it – I’m extremely thankful to be involved in a church where the entire staff is completely on board with the idea of intergenerational ministry. That’s not to say we all have exactly the same idea of what that means, or the same vision for what it looks like on the other end–we’re still fleshing those things out–but we do agree that intergenerational ministry is needed and without it our youth ministry will be little more than a holding tank. Over the past year, the Nurture Ministry (the broad designation under which falls children’s ministry, youth ministry, young adults and young families–as an side, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot already by the age segregation inherent in this system) has been discussing intergenerational ministry with just about anyone who will listen.

Everyone in Worship – The trend here had certainly been towards a youth kind of worship experience on Sunday mornings as a replacement for attending all-church worship. I’m happy to say we are changing that direction. It’s obvious to me that helping adults welcome students into an all-church worship service, encouraging students to attend an all-church worship service, and designing a worship service that truly is “all-church,” will be some of the major challenges facing youth pastors and larger church staffs who want to do strong intergenerational ministry. We are–slowly–beginning to see students attend our mid-morning Sunday worship. But we have a long way to go before we can really call that service “intergenerational.” We’ve gotten to this place by constantly encouraging students to come to the 9:30 service, by helping parents understand the importance of this (sharing some of Fuller’s Sticky Faith Research), and by asking our confirmands to attend this service as part of their confirmation activities and expectations.

Joint Mission Trips – We’re actually trying a joint mission trip this year. Over spring break we’ll be taking a group of students and adults on a trip to Tuscaloosa, AL. Deciding what a successful trip looks like is somewhat difficult. I would have liked more students to come on this trip. But I think the important thing is that we realize this is not like changing your midweek program where you plan it, talk about it, and then change it. The kind of systemic change we’re talking about will take years as students who are used to being segregated at church–like they are everywhere else–learn that they won’t be left alone any more. Students will have to process through that, and adults will have to learn that things look different when teens join them as co-participants. It’s a whole, big, messy situation. But it’s needed, and we expect to do other mission trips jointly in the future.

All in all, I think we’ve made some good–if small–strides over the past year. I sometimes have to remind myself that this is a process that will take years. I’ve noticed that we often think long term means three years in youth ministry. In fairness, that’s enough for a middle school ministry to completely change and for a high school ministry to almost completely change. But in the case of intergenerational ministry, I think we need to accept that it is a very long road that we need to walk slowly and strategically. It also helps if you’re willing to fail and still keep trying.