Part two of our look at cross-generational youth ministry offers a variety of suggestions for developing opportunities in your own ministry setting for inviting different age groups to develop a deeper sense of Christian fellowship. You can read part one of this essay here. Update: Read here how youth minister Calvin Park is already trying out some of the ideas below.
What a great morning it had been! Most of our congregation gathered in our Fellowship Room for an intergenerational event we call "Advent Around the Tree," held the last Sunday morning before Christmas day. The room bustled with church members of all ages gathered around tables, engaged in various craft activities, writing greeting cards to our shut-ins, munching on bagels, and exploring various prayer stations. And in the midst of all this, a sight that captured the entire spirit of cross-generational ministry: Over at the side of the room was a low table with little chairs set up for our children to work together coloring in a large drawing of the nativity. But there were no children at the table. Instead, on one side sat two men who are well into their 70's and on the other side two of our teenage boys. And there they were together, two generations, engaging in the childlike ritual of coloring while talking with each and enjoying fellowship.
In many ways, that moment captures what cross-generational or intergenerational ministry can be. It's more than just different age groups inhabiting the same space (as happens often in our worship experiences). Rather, its providing opportunities for Christians of all generations to engage each other in experiences that build relationships and a deeper sense of the Church as one body in Christ. Below you will find several ideas for engaging in cross-generational youth ministry. Not all may work for your setting as each context is different. But perhaps these will inspire you to seek new opportunities to swim against the tide of segregated youth activities and toward a more integrated approach for your ministry.
Talk About It - Before initiating any grand scheme to develop cross-generational ministry, it can be helpful to find opportunities to speak with staff members, church leaders, and groups within your congregation about the rationale for moving away from segregated youth programming. You'll find some helpful information on this subject in our text Missional Youth Ministry.
Ease into It - As the cross-generational approach may be a new idea for many, it might be best to resist the urge to jump in with both feet, tossing out your old approach entirely. Start with a fellowship event or perhaps a short-term joint study opportunity for mixed ages. Let others experiences what this new approach can be and they will hopefully become advocates for the cause.
Adopt-a-grandparent - Call upon your youth to adopt an elder member of your congregation and invite them to show that person special care. This could include sitting with them in worship, inviting them to come to a youth gathering, or sending them a card on their birthday or when they are ill.
Adopt-a-youth - The reverse idea works as well. Invite adults in your congregation to adopt youth and be part of a ministry of nurture to your teens. I'd suggest that these persons not be the same adults who already serve in your youth ministry program. The more adults who are connected in meaningful ways with your teens, the better.
Everyone in Worship - A trend in the last couple of decades has been to develop youth-centric worship experiences which segregate teens into their own worship experiences away from adults. I can think of no greater mistake that we made in the program-centered paradigm of youth ministry than this.
While it's fine to allow youth to have their own worship time, they need to be in worship with the entire congregation, too, in order to gain an understanding of what it is to be part of the whole Church. Does this mean teens may have to sit through some worship moments that are boring and don't "speak" to them, their learning styles or musical tastes? Of course, but Church isn't about meeting our every need and desire as consumers. When we all are gathered for worship, young and old alike, we are enacting a vision of the Kingdom where all God's people, in all their diversity, join together as one.
Art Experiences - Like the guys I mentioned at the top of this post, engaging people of all ages in experiences of art-making is a great way to break down barriers. Group art projects allow everyone to play a part while providing time for conversation and community-building. You can find lots of ideas for group art projects on this site.
Joint Mission Trips - I'm a big proponent for ending the "youth mission trips" that have been such a standard component of youth programming for a long time now and moving toward mission opportunities that invite all ages in the church to participate. Nothing builds community faster between the ages than travelling together and working side-by-side to help those in need.
Combined Classes - Part one of this essay shared about the effort in my own congregation to combine our youth class and our senior adult class. We recently asked everyone involved if they wanted to continue and teens and seniors alike all said "Absolutely." If you are unsure about trying this one, perhaps find an adult class willing to give it "go" for a set period of time -- perhaps just four Sundays and then see what happens.
Cross Generational Camps/Retreats - In the St. Louis area, the Disciples of Christ congregations are planning our second annual cross-generational church camp experience. Last summer we gathered at retreat center for a week of camp for all ages. We had everybody from babies to senior citizens. We ate together, played together, and worshipped together while still providing opportunities for children, teens, and adults to spend time in their separate age groupings. The evaluation of the event was unanimously positive from all ages and for this summer we are developing even more opportunities to help make the event truly cross-generational.
Youth Leadership - One of the best ways for older teens to begin to learn what the real work of the Church is all about is to invite them to be part of your church leadership teams and ministries. Rather than having them sit on the sidelines waiting to same day take part in work of the church, invite youth right now to lend their ideas and voices to your outreach ministry, your worship planning, your church board. In our congregation, one of our oldest senior high youth is co-chair of the Christian education ministry team.
Music Experiences - A great way to cross the generational divide is through music. Create opportunities, perhaps even an old-fashioned hymn sing, in which older generations can share hymns of the past and younger generations can introduce adults to more contemporary Christian songs. In fact, if teens share music they learned at church camp they may be surprised to find that many adults learned those very same songs at camp, too!
Small Groups - Many of our congregations have small groups meeting on and off the church site all the time. Why not create a few groups which are intentionally cross-generational and purposefully recruit both adolescent and adult group participants? Provide opportunities for them to study the Bible, work on a mission project or read together a book such as The Kingdom Experiment that can challenge all ages while inviting lots of conversation and meaningful fellowship.