Messy Church has been particularly inspiring, as long as it is seen not as a technique for getting more people into ‘Sunday church’ but rather as a place where people can experience faith and be creative together in a congregation in its own right. It is not uncommon for example in congregations who have adopted the Messy Church approach to find that older adult participants become, at least for the two hours of the service, honorary grandparents to the young children they encounter, who both give and receive around the activity tables, during the celebration and over the meal together.
As Kaye Lewis explains Messy Church “brings people from the fringe and people who don’t normally come to Church. It gets the people who may have been involved peripherally through play group and other activities.”
“It gets them to come together and own Messy Church as theirs.”
“The older people from the core traditional Church at Freshwater Uniting Church volunteer on tables. Older people in the congregation realise the value of the interactions and sharing conversations and relationships with families that come. In some ways it is more enriching for me than actually going to Sunday Church services sometimes. We share a meal together and the whole two hours will be designed around a theme.”
Creative ways of mixing generations
Thinking outside the ‘Sunday church’ model offers some creative ways to mix generations. Many of the creative forms of worship in recent decades have been pioneered by youth workers in churches, but there is an increasing need to include all age groups in worship and the church community. Godly Play, which was initially developed in the USA to accompany children on their spiritual journey, and is now being extended to explore how all ages can benefit from this reflective storytelling approach to the Bible. Faith at home or in an atmosphere akin to a home, is another expression of generational connection in which the church has for far too long neglected to invest.
“We don’t do faith at home or at work so those primary aspects of discipling adults are almost completely missing except maybe in the Sunday sermon if you’re lucky they may take something home,” explains Ian in relation to the way family units connect about faith.
“All you have to do is address the issue and the context, which is not necessarily anthropological. The challenge is that pretty much all of us at home and at work are facing the same issues. We need to empower people more effectively for family ministry or workplace ministry.”
Generational connections of the sort described so far are vital not just for our fractured society but for the health of our churches who are called to be salt and light in this world. The much quoted proverb ‘It takes a village to raise the child’ can be applied more widely, since there is no doubting that ‘it takes the whole church to raise any one of us in the faith’. Too many churches see the hour they are together on Sunday as their primary worship space but as Emma Parr says with Engage Together they are working on what can happen outside of this time together.
“So now we have looked at the first 20 minutes of a church service, we are moving into developing resources that look more broadly at what is intergenerational Church and how communities can begin to adapt what they have using these resources,” says Emma.
“We are working on some fact sheets for churches to outline just what and how to do intergenerational worship and trying to nutshell a few things and some ‘have a go’ tips and hints. And the other piece we are working on is looking at intergenerational ministry beyond worship. And these resources will be looking at ministry beyond Sunday worship. The resource is helping people out with tools and building them up to ministry rather than chucking them in the deep end.
“When I am doing consultations with churches I think it is important to look beyond the one hour on Sunday to see how the Church community can reach more effectively into things like young adult ministry.”
A healthy church community is one that embraces all-age diversity and celebrates God-given differences; is one where there is the dynamic of encounter of like and unlike which is the recipe for healthy Christian growth.
“We need to be instilling publically and in our homes the values of the Kingdom of God and standing up for them,” explains Ian. “The more we share our faith, the more we have to live up to it so it’s a win-win. Where you spend your money, how you sacrifice for others and how you have people in your home – these are all great educational opportunities. Great lessons come out of our hospitality with others. If we all do it together it makes it easier. We don’t have to be clever we just have to be courageous about it.
“In Deuteronomy 1:3 Moses is about to depart the earth and he tells the people how they are going to endure in the Promised Land. He says firstly, not to take it for granted and most importantly to talk to your children about what God has done and do it as you walk in the way.”
The perspectives of someone who has lived through war in the past century compared with that of a young person who is a 21st century digital native may be vastly different, but each undoubtedly needs the other to enrich both lives for each to transform as fruitful disciples of Jesus.