The Benefits of Multigenerational Churches

When my neighbors celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, our cul-de-sac was full with their guests’ cars who had come to celebrate with them. The generations of their family that came to visit represented the legacy of love that they are passing down through their covenant of marriage. 

            Several times a year, my church gets together for what we call our Faith Family Meeting. We are brought together by our covenant to our church and one another to discuss matters that belong in the family. Although we don’t share genes, my church’s membership looks an awful lot like my neighbors’ family.

            With a span of about 70 years, we have people who remember life before their family had a television and people who don’t know life without smart devices. Generational gaps mean we approach many aspects of life with different perspectives and sometimes don’t understand each other. But our membership in the same family is for our good and God’s glory. 

The Blessing of Experience            

            In TheMerry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare wrote that ”experience is a jewel and had need be so, for it is often purchased at an infinite rate.” The older saints of our church have faith that has often come to them at a great cost. God has worked in them and through life’s circumstances to teach them why we can “glory in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope” (Romans 5:3). Their experience in life has led to wisdom that the whole church can benefit from. They also often provide stability to the church because of their stage of life. 

            My older friends from our church have become great treasures to my family. Just like the children’s grandparents, they delight in my children and help point them to Christ. They love on my whole family as spiritual parents. They understand how to correct in love. 

            Older church members sometimes have a reputation for wanting to control the church over issues like carpet color, but I have seen how that doesn’t have to be the case. Years of loving Christ has produced a deep love and loyalty in our older members’ hearts for their church. Even in the second half of their life, they are running the race well, looking to Christ as the founder of faith (Hebrews 12:2). They continue to serve faithfully and work to advance the gospel. 

The Bounty of Energy

            Our younger church members don’t bring the same wisdom that comes from experience, but they bring their own blessing: a deep well of passion and energy. Young adults have a bad rap for putting off adult responsibilities. But I am so encouraged to see the young people of my church excited about the work that God is doing in their lives and spreading the gospel in our community and beyond. They are eager to learn and delve deep into God’s word. They have the energy and free time to serve and fellowship. Even in the past six months, two people have come to Christ through the ministry of young adults in my church.

            These are young adults showing what a difference the gospel makes in our lives. They have an eternal perspective and are bucking against the cultural norm of choosing to delay adulthood and instead are pursuing the advancement of the gospel in their communities and across the world. These young people are also giving the children of our church a vision for what it looks like to serve God faithfully while in college and grad school and first starting their careers. 

Born with Eternal Souls

            When Jesus’s disciples tried to keep the children away from him, Christ was indignant. Children were not excluded from Jesus’s ministry; they were important to it. He welcomed, blessed, healed, and loved children. The smallest and youngest of us are image bearers with spiritual needs that only the work of Jesus on the cross can satisfy. 

            Caring for babies and small children reminds me of our position before God. Just like young children are helpless and dependent upon their parents for everything, our sin leaves us dependent upon the work of Christ on the cross.

            Last week during a meeting, children of our church were acting as children do – the older children were laughing and playing, and some of the babies were fussing for their mothers. Children can create logistical challenges when planning for their needs, but they also bring with them joy and wonder that is contagious. We do well to invest our time and energy into the lives of children for, though they can be loud and messy, they are precious eternal souls made in the image of God. In serving and loving children, we are helping spread the gospel to the generations to come. David spoke of this intergenerational ministry in Psalm 145:4: One generation shall commend your works to another.

Being Intentional with Relationships

            My friend Ben joined our community group because he wanted to be around more people outside of his peer group. He’s about to graduate from college and recognized how much he could learn from people in different life stages than him.

            What Ben did – at least in one sense – isn’t the most natural thing. It’s easy to be in homogenous groups where we feel understood, and we tend to gravitate towards those relationships. In another sense though, Ben sought out relationships that are very natural because they mirror the generations of our physical families.

            Opportunities to form inter-generational relationships within the church are plentiful; sometimes we have to be the one to initiate. To help foster these relationships, consider the following:

  • sharing meals across multiple generations
  • inviting those outside of your family to participate in family activities (birthdays, your kids’ sporting events, holidays, etc.)
  • opening your home for someone in need of housing
  • babysit someone’s children
  • form a mentor relationship
  • offer help/ask for help with tasks around the house 

            Any way that you might share life with someone is an opportunity to build relationships outside of your generation. As these relationships are fostered within the church, others are encouraged to seek them out as well, hopefully creating a multigenerational church that urges one another to walk in faith and holiness.             

Respect and Appreciation for All Image Bearers 

            In Psalm 71, David penned, 

“O God, from my youth you have taught me,

    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

So even to old age and gray hairs,

    O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might to another generation,

    your power to all those to come.”

            What a beautiful vision of the people that our churches should be full of! Older saints proclaiming the faithfulness of God after a lifetime of experience; younger people being encouraged by the testimonies of those ahead of them. From the smallest baby to the oldest member, the church family is covenanted to encourage one another in their faith. This multi-generational model of helping each other grow in love and faith promotes the sanctity of life. It is saying that God ordains all ages and stages of life and that image bearers do not gain or lose value as they grow and age. 

            God is working in people of every generation. We might not always understand each other, but our churches must strive to be families that love and value all ages. A family made up of people from only one generation would be a sad family indeed. 

Written by Jessica Burke

Jessica is a member of the 2019 ERLC Leadership Council and a free-lance writer who previously served as a missionary and teacher.  She currently spends her days as a homemaker and educator to her 4 children.  She is married to her high school sweetheart, BT Burke, who is involved in jail ministry and church planting in a multicultural context.  In her spare time, Jessica loves to read books, write, or to go for a jog around the neighborhood.