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Age Specific or Intergenerational Ministries? Why Not Both!

Peggy Horine never dreamed that her willingness to pray for a high school student from her church would one day result in her flying across the country to attend this young girl’s wedding.  The relationship between these two women began when Peggy picked up a picture of Sara at a church gathering and called her to express she was praying for her.  Peggy recalls, “We bonded instantly.  She was so happy to have me in her life and in turn she made me feel like I was truly making a difference.”

There is no question that intergenerational relationships within the Church are valuable and yet so are relationships with our peers.  Some churches build their ministries to reach specific age groups while others emphasize the need for all ages to intermingle.  Dave McElheran, older adult ministries pastor at Cedar Mills Bible Church in Portland, OR, has found that a balanced ministry includes both.  He says, “As people in the same season of life begin to meaningfully connect with one another they are more prepared to engage in relationships that cross generational lines.”

Age-Specific Ministries

Ambassadors is the age-specific ministry for older adults at Cedar Mills.  Monthly luncheons, book clubs and prayer groups are just a few of the ways older adults connect with their peers and begin to see the needs of those around them.  These ministries give people a sense of identity and belonging.

But Dave says there are some drawbacks to specific age targeted programs.  “You can become ingrown and exclusionary.  Finding connection with those who are in a similar life stage is a great starting point but it should not be where people stop.”

When Peggy and her husband first started attending the church, they were looking for a place to meet friends and found themselves involved in a Suppers 8 group with other people who were 50-plus in age.  This led them to participate in an Ambassadors luncheon where the pictures of high school students were displayed.  “This luncheon was the starting point of my relationship with Sara.  From that experience, God began to open my eyes to the needs of young people in our society.  I’ve now become involved as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster children and my husband and I regularly give our time to ministries that support and encourage disadvantaged young people.”  Peggy laughs, “Today we do more things with young people then with those our own age.”

Multi-Generational Ministries

According to Dave, for intergenerational relationships to happen the church has to be intentional.  One successful event has been an annual miniature golf night in which 2 teenagers are matched with 1 older adult to form a team.  Dave says, “We put a lot of care into how we pair the people up as we want to create the best environment we can for on-going relationships to occur.”  The night of the event the teams have a meal together and are given various questions to use to get to know each other. 75% of the teams maintain at least an acquaintance relationship and about 25% develop a lasting relationship that continues on and goes deeper.

Intergenerational events provide a great way for breaking down negative stereotypes.  High school students find out that older adults are real people and actually like to have fun.  In turn, older adults learn that not all young people are irresponsible and reckless.

Dave admits that intergenerational ministry can be hard to do.  “Most people are more comfortable with their peers and it takes work to encourage both the young and the old to open their lives to each other.  But it’s worth it.”  When you hear a story like that of Sara and Peggy, you know it’s worth it.

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2 comments

  • August 10, 2010 12:30 pmPosted 7 years ago
    Layne Rolofson

    Great articles Amy. Glad to see that you are writing on behalf of this very important generation. I find that being 53 and now the oldest staff member, whose other ministry partners are not too far behind, leaves me contemplating what my ministry will be heading into the 60’s and 70’s of my life. I look forward to reading your book to learn how to help the “seniors” (sorry) in our congregation know God’s worth in them. And, continuing their connected lifestyle of service and discipleship to the younger generations of life and spiritual growth.

    Reply
    • August 10, 2010 10:53 pmPosted 7 years ago
      Amy Hanson (Author)

      Layne,

      Thank you for your comment. I think that ministry opportunities with the current ‘seniors’ as well as ministry with the new-old abound. Let me know how you see things unfolding at Capitol City in the coming months and how I might help. Blessings to you.

      Reply

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