An older man and a young boy sit by a pond, fishing
Federico Giampieri / Unsplash

Keeping up with the nicknames for different generations can be difficult. After the Greatest Generation we have the baby boomers. The boomers are followed by Gen X. Next, we have the millennials, a.k.a. Gen Y, and Gen Z. Bringing up the rear, Gen Alpha is the first generation born entirely in the 21st century.

How can the church intentionally build community and make disciples among such diverse groups of people?

Unlike corporations, congregations don’t typically have a sales and marketing department to conduct segmentation research, helping the ministry tailor its message to different demographics. So how are we supposed to preach a single sermon that connects with people who have vastly different cultural memories and religious perspectives?

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” suggests, community is crucial to our Christian formation, but it is also messy at times. We do not accomplish very much in ministry without some degree of tension between the old and the new. Doing intergenerational ministry well requires that those with power and positions, who today are often among the Greatest Generation and the boomers, practice radical hospitality to make room for the voices and visions that are not being heard or acknowledged. Also, younger disciples would do well to listen and learn from folks who’ve made incredible sacrifices to support our institutions.

In a culture where generational difference is often the basis for “doing our own thing,” intergenerational ministry is a counter-cultural expression of human flourishing. It’s also an opportunity for pastoral care. Extended families often do not live in close proximity to one another. Loneliness has been called an epidemic. Through well-designed intergenerational connections and worship, children and teenagers benefit from the affirmation of their elders, and elders can discover new purpose in sharing their wisdom and learning from the next generation. How amazing is that?


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Before you go…

Fads come and go in the church. Every few years, a new approach to preaching or worship promises to cure the ills that cause plateaued and declining membership. But I don’t see intergenerational ministry as just another trend. Rather, it is a return to the biblical roots of community and discipleship. By fostering intergenerational connections, we build a more vibrant, resilient and inclusive church. Some of my earliest church memories are of the times that I was asked to participate in worship, which gave me a sense of full participation in the life of the church.

Here’s a question for you to discuss with your leaders: What’s working well and what are the opportunities for intergenerational ministry in your context? Intergenerational ministry is beautiful and difficult, and I am convinced it is worth all the effort it requires.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity