Is intergenerational worship only for the brave?

Over the past 15 months, churches across the world have had to 'do church' differently. We have seen a huge amount of creativity, especially in the UK. Now with churches being able to open their doors again, what happens to our spirit of creativity? What about those people who have joined us on our online services but won't join us on a Sunday? What about those people who have connected with our church family but cannot physically get into a building due to illness? What happens to those families who don't return to our regular Sunday congregations? We hear the words hybrid service and intergenerational ministry being used, but do we really know what that means and do we really have the energy to sustain new creativity when we are so tired?

A BBC report in Jan 2021 stated that more than half of the 14,000 parishes in the Church of England will not open their doors again due to clergy shielding or them just not feeling it is safe to open1.  This figure will have undoubtedly have changed as Government restrictions have eased since January 2021.  However, many churches are wrestling with the question of hybrid worship.  Some churches have gained new congregation members who live thousands of miles away.  For them, a hybrid model of Sunday service is good.  But how to you replicate the close fellowship of a gathered church over a screen with people who are scattered far and wide from your own community?  Bishop Philip North, the Bishop for Burnley said "any attempt to rethink the ministry of the Church of England must begin with an attentive listening to the culture that it is our task to transform in Christ".2  What does listening to the culture look like in our context?  What are our children, young people and families saying to us, the church, today?  We know that the pandemic has highlighted that people are still wrestling with big questions and that they have been looking to the church for answers.  Prayer life during the pandemic has increased.  One report suggested that one in four people turned to prayer during the pandemic3.  So people are still hungry for the gospel.  They still need church, but maybe we, the church, need to relook at how we become the church in a new season.  Were we locked in our buildings or locked out of our buildings?

There have been some studies on church attendance, one of these being Barna4.  Although a USA research group, the results show similar trends in the UK.  Barna found that 57% of churched adults (adults attending church at least once a month) and 45% of practicing Christians (people attending at religious festivals) say they know people who are tired of the same old church services.  Many feel that church is becoming irrelevant to their personal lives.  The report also highlighted that 66% of practicing Christian families say the church has a positive impact in the community.  27% of non-Christian families say the church has no significant impact in the community or even say the church has a negative impact in the community.  10% of all families, no matter their age, race or denomination, believe church is irrelevant.  The percentage of practicing Christian Millennials who agree the church is irrelevant today is the same as non-Christians who hold this view at 25%.  Has the pandemic allowed the church to make more of a positive impact in their community? 

So in light of all the above; the way that people are becoming more open to the gospel; the increase in online church attendance; the decrease in physical attendance to our Sunday gatherings; the view of church being irrelevant to Christian millennials and non-Christians; what are our next steps to be as a local church?  Intergenerational worship may be one of the answers. 

Intergenerational worship is the intentional inclusion of all generations, regardless of age, gender, race or stage of faith, to meet together in community to worship, serve one another and the wider community, with the goal of intergenerational discipleship.

Sometimes we can look at what intergenerational worship is and feel like the goals and aspirations are just too hard to achieve.  It can be hard because there is no one way.  There are no ready-made resources that you can use straight off the shelf.  Each intergenerational resource that has been written (including our own Stay Alert to the Spirit) will need contextualising.  That in itself, may feel labour intensive and beyond your skill set.  You may feel a push back from your traditional congregation who just want things to go back to the way that they used to be before the pandemic.  It is like turning a big ship; it takes time and results are not always immediate.  You will need to reimagine the conversation between spiritual and factual learning; discipleship and knowledge gathering.  There is a risk of 'dumbing down'.  In the past, many churches have run all-age services and a lot of the older congregation have stayed away for those weeks as the preaching and worship have not met their spiritual needs.  I know of many families who have stayed away from all-age service weeks for the same reasons.  Intergenerational worship does not mean children's worship songs with actions performed by the children from the front of church, but can be people being released to freely express worship in a way that they feel able.  Finally, it is a letting go of power and control.  This will come from the releasing of lay ministry, which we have seen during the pandemic, and extending our core leadership team to be more inclusive and diverse.

Here are my top five ideas to start thinking about intergenerational ministry.

  1. Pray.  I believe that God is using this time to really change how we 'do church'.  Pray for God's words and wisdom into your own context.  What is He wanting you to do in your community?  Ask Him to highlight people on the fringes of your community; opportunities to connect to different people; new relationships to be forged in the community. 
  2. Read.  There are so many good books that have been written about this subject.  I have highlighted some of those below. 
  3. Pray for a spirit of creativity and for a team of creative people.  Make sure that you include children and young people in this group. 
  4. Have a family centred approach around God not a programme.  A programme or a person centred ministry is never good.  Use a programme for sure, but make sure you are all centred around God.   
  5. Make sure you have the ability to flex and change.  Intergenerational ministry is great, but as you listen to God and your church family, you will need to change.  However, it is important that there is some familiarity to your services.  There is nothing more disconcerting to people who turn up to a church service that looks and feels different every time.  So for example, you may decide that your pattern will be 15 minutes of food at the beginning, 10 minutes worship, 20 minutes of opening up the Bible together, 5 minutes reflection, 10 minutes prayer, celebration and stories.  If those building blocks work keep them in place, but be flexible in changing the content.

We have seen some good examples of intergenerational ministry during this time.  Flipped services where the congregation is given the Bible passage before the service and then discusses the reading during the service; with everyone participating.  Family worship packs sent to homes via doorstep drop-offs, filled with activities centred around a Bible passage.  The families are encouraged to engage within their own family and then join with other families from the church and community during a monthly zoom service.  Messy Church in a bag which continues to engage new families in the community.  Families being encouraged to participate in services by filming sections of worship, word, prayer or testimony which are then put together as part of the service.  Church services happening outside of the traditional Sunday morning at times that better suit families.  There is a lot of creativity in the church at the moment.

I wanted to leave you with some questions for you to ponder.

  • What were you doing before the pandemic to connect?
  • What are you doing now to connect?
  • What would you like to do post pandemic to connect?

Remember the needs of your community.  Talk to families so that you are getting their real not perceived needs.  How can you ‘tweak’ what you are currently doing to make it intentionally intergenerational?  Intergenerational ministry does not have to be hard.  But it does require a team of creative and pioneering people who are willing to listen, flex and change and to make disciples of all people.


Martyn Payne – Messy Togetherness

Jason Gardner – Mend the Gap

Powell & Clark – Sticky Faith

Allen & Ross – Intergenerational Christian Formation