At the ABC-USA Biennial/Mission Summit in June, I had the privilege of being a facilitator of a Mission Summit Conversation. American Baptists from across the country gathered to discuss issues important to us, and my assignment was to listen in on those who wanted to discuss the topic of generation gaps in our churches – particularly the dearth of youth and young adults in many of our congregations. Because this is a conversation Lakeshore can benefit from participating in, I want to share the insights I collected. To learn more about this and other conversations, visit www.missionsummitconversations.com.
Conversation # 1 Summary – It’s all about relationships. Generational gaps are real and manifested in multiple ways. They should be approached by getting to know others and allowing relationships to shape our congregational life.
Conversation # 2 Summary – It all starts with relationships, but if the structures are not welcoming or meaningful for youth or young adults, God will meet their needs outside the church rather than within its walls. We need to create/cultivate an arena for mutual mentoring and opportunities for worship and service, both within and beyond the church walls.
Conversation # 3 Summary – Intergenerational activities and relationships are essential to a healthy congregation. While there are times to separate out the generations, it is not helpful to do this all the time. Societal pressure separates the generations, and the church must act in a counter-cultural way to foster intergenerational relationships. This will only happen if the church is intentional about building bridges across generations, recognizing this journey is accomplished through a multitude of small steps. Setbacks and failures are as likely as successes; both can ultimately help move a church forward on the journey. Here are some tips to building and strengthening intergenerational relationships:
- There are values of our faith that transcend time and space. Worship of God and service to others can often function to unite the generations – if care is taken to include differences of worship needs and service emphases. Including all generations in worship leadership and service planning is important.
- Building relationships takes time, energy, intentionality and patience.
- When developing relationships with others different from you, seek to understand the other before seeking to be understood.
- Seek out specific people who relate well to different generations and utilize their skills. There is a need for bridge-builders, or strategically appointed interpreters/ buffers, to facilitate meaningful communication among the generations.
- Intergenerational relationships can be cultivated both within and beyond the church walls.
- Allow each generation to bring themselves to the table – all they are and all they are not – their unique gifts and their unique limitations – the goal is to connect with others and ultimately empower each other, not control one another.
May Lakeshore continue to become a community where all generations are welcomed, respected, and needed.