In our last blog post – ‘Why Intergenerational Ministry’?, EM proposed 8 core suggestions on how a church might begin to rethink and redress this important but neglected area of church life, growth and health, and begin to re-strategise this area of ministry to the greater spiritual health and benefit of all believers, both young and old. The following is core suggestion 1: Carefully Manage Age Segregation:
“There are many forces in our society and within our congregations that make the (re) establishment of intergenerational faith formation and relationship-building countercultural. We live in a society defined by age-segregation, in which adults and children have minimal contact and activities. On a daily basis children and young people experience very few settings that are truly intergenerational; and this is also true for older adults in our society.
The architecture and design of communities and neighborhoods tend to isolate individuals and families, and virtually every program and institution is organized to meet age-specific needs at the expense of the richness of intergenerational community” 
Research suggests that although there are both important and necessary benefits in targeted age segregation for the nurture and discipleship of children and youth (without in any way suggesting its disbandment), that just as partnering with parents is critical for optimal growth and spiritual maturity of children and youth, so too is the vital necessity for some kind of regular, consistent and intentional intergenerational engagement with other mature Christian adults.
The problem for the church today is we’ve neglected to recognise and implement a ‘complementary balance’ of age-specific ministry with the critical need for intergenerational engagement in the faith formation process (of all ages):
“Age-specific and intergenerational faith formation are not either-or choices; they are complementary. Lifelong faith formation balances age-specific and intergenerational programes, activities and strategies. Throughout the lifecycle there is a need for age groups (and interest-centred groups) to gather because of age-related differences in development and age-related learning needs. Each congregation needs to determine the balance that is appropriate” 
Research found that entire dependence on a ‘silo’ children’s and youth ministry to do the job of discipleship and maturation, resulting in a disconnect from the broader spiritual community, means that children’s, youth and young adult ministries are far less likely to be healthy or effective.
“The assumption that only the young can reach the young must be questioned…The popular concept is that young people are best served by enjoying virtually exclusive contact with their peers while at church needs rethinking. The effective isolation of children and young people into peer groups means that their identity ends up being significantly shaped by the peer group…by encouraging minimal or insignificant contact with mature adults, there is the distinct possibility that young people will not grow up as quickly as they could or should…exposure to the life and gatherings of the rest of the church is essential, not optional” 
“We have to be sure that we don’t segregate the youth for our sake and theirs. They are part of the body of Christ too, and no part of the body can remain healthy if one of its members is cut off and put to the side. If we segregate the youth, not only do we lose all they have to teach us, but we also inadvertently teach them that the church is really only for adults – those who are married and have families of their own. And then we wonder why they don’t get involved in church as college students or young singles, when in reality, we’ve been telling them all along that the church isn’t yet for them” 
Likewise, Joiner notes:
“A mother and father are not the only adult influences my children need” 
And Clark and Powell:
“Other adults are often able to speak into your kids’ lives in a way that you cannot as their parent” 
Joiner firmly believes in the importance and significance of ‘Christian community’ in shaping the lives and investing in the growth of believers of all ages and stages. Joiner believes children (and especially teenagers) need adult voices, coaches, leaders, and mentors in their lives who will say things a Christian parent would say. That it takes multiple influences to guard the faith of a generation. Therefore it’s imperative that parents and churches widen the circle of influence for the sake children’s spiritual, relational and emotional growth.
Interestingly, Gunhild Hagestad, in her United Nations report, raises similar concerns regarding the regretful impact and loss of intergenerational contact currently prevalent at all levels of society today:
“Solidarity between generations at all levels—in families, communities and nations—is fundamental for the achievement of a society for all ages” 
Hagestad warns that the implications of our modern age segregated lifestyle, reflected in both living arrangements and in production/education settings, “may breed ageism and rob all age groups of valuable socialization experiences and support.” 
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas echoes this belief with a rebuke:
“…providing ways for senior adults to build meaningful relationships with teenagers allows those seniors to reach their full kingdom potential….when people age they cannot move to Florida and leave the church to survive on its own. For Christians, there is no ‘Florida’- even if they happen to live in Florida. That is, we must continue to be present to those who have made us what we are so we can make future generations what they are called to be ” 
“Flourishing intergenerational relationships should distinguish the church from all other cultural institutions…many churches and parishes segregate by age-group and, in doing so, unintentionally contribute to the rising tide of alienation that defines our times. As a by-product of this approach, the next generation’s enthusiasm and vitality have been separated from the wisdom and experience of their elders” 
In the article: ‘Moving Beyond the Shock Absorber: The Place of Youth Ministry – Past, Present and Future’, Stuart Crawshaw suggests part of the answer is a movement away from the ‘homogeneous unit principle’ of the past, to the development of a much more ‘congregationally integrated model’ of ministry in the future: 
“The next revolution needs to discover ways to include the whole congregation in the bringing up of young people, giving them continuity, helping them to read the Bible for themselves, but also encouraging them to live it out more interdependently as servants in mission together (not as consumers of targeted ministry) as they reach out to non-church youth. It may look a bit more like what we lost over the last few hundred years while trying keep up with secularism” 
Crawshaw is not a lone voice in calling for greater integration and interaction by specialized ministries within the life and ministry of the broader congregation, as well as an increased need for strategic and intentional intergenerational engagement. 
As indicated in the Francis and Richter, Fuller Institute and Barna studies, researchers and practitioners all agree, an important factor in mitigating youth drop out rates and attending to faith concerns, is not continually segregating kids from adults in the life of the church, but intentionally creating opportunities that allow them to see adults ‘practising their faith’.
* To download a full copy of E.M’s research go to the Intergenerational Ministry page on this website.
Our next post will be on the importance of building social capital to create greater intergenerational engagement.
 John Roberto: ‘The Importance of Intergenerational Community For Faith Formation’: (Lifelong Faith: Spring 2012) p. 27-28.
 Roberto: The Importance of Intergenerational Community For Faith Formation’. p. 28.
 ‘Asking The Unasked Questions: Examining How Local Churches and Youth Leaders can Create Environments for Retaining Youth Leaders and Facilitating Enduring and Mission-Shaped Youth Ministries’ (Published by Churches of Christ in Australia in Partnership with Youth Vision Australia, 2009) p.8.
 FAQ’s: ‘Biblical Answers to Youth and Children’s Leader’s Questions’: Alison Mitchell (Surry: The Good Book Company, 2006) p.19.
 Mark Howard: ‘Youth Need the Church and the Church Need Youth’ (Gospel Coalition Website: April 30th, 2012).
 Reggie Joiner: ‘Think Orange: Imagine the Impact when Church and Family Collide…’(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publisher, 2009) p.44.
 Dr. K. E. Powell & Dr. C. Clark: Sticky Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) p. 105.
 ‘Young People in a Globalizing World’: (United Nations World Youth Report, 2003) Chapter 15, p. 397.
 Ibid. p. 402.
 Sticky Faith: p. 121.
 D. Kinnaman: You Lost Me (‘Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and RethinkingFaith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011) p. 203.
 S. Crawshaw: ‘Moving Beyond the Shock Absorber: The place of Youth Ministry – Past, Present and Future’: (The Briefing: Sept 2008).
 Beyond the Shock Absorber: p.15.
 For example: The likes of Timothy P Jones, Reggie Joiner, Graham Stanton, David Kinnaman, George Barna, Chap Clark, K.E Powell and others, all challenge the traditional ‘programmatic ministry model’ where children or youth ministries are almost exclusively organized around separate ‘silos’ with little consistent intergenerational interaction, genuine parental partnership, or broader congregational engagement. While the homogeneous unit principle is attractive and can lead to numerical (quantitative) growth, it is restricted and even prohibitive of qualitative growth. Without cross-generational fellowship and discipling it is harder to foster life long discipling, mentoring and growth in Christian maturity.