By: Karen DeBoer
I have three vivid memories from a church picnic I attended as a child—hearing the adults laugh, seeing the minister wearing shorts, and watching my normally no-nonsense Sunday school teacher compete in a sack race. It was a stark contrast to the somber Sunday morning mode in which I usually saw the members of my congregation. After the picnic I thought of them differently. They weren’t just the people in the pews; they were part of my extended family.
Today my own family attends a church where the mood on Sunday mornings is upbeat, the clothing is casual, and authenticity is encouraged. Efforts are made to make everyone feel welcome during worship and to demonstrate that we’re all one big family. Still, during the service the children leave for their own worship time, and after the service most folks seek out and speak only with those in their own age bracket and gender. Our church is multigenerational (all ages together), but we’re still working on becoming intergenerational (all ages in relationship together).
Maybe your own church is the same.
In Shaped by God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults, editor Robert J. Keeley writes:
We were created to live in community. Our faith is nurtured and grows as we interact with others. Hearing about and seeing the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ encourages us and helps us. We need to be with each other, young and old, and we need to talk about how we see God working in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Our faith is nurtured when we share experiences and learn together. In doing so, we become more like the family God intended us to be. Problem is, with everyone so busy working in their various silo ministries, it’s challenging for churches to create those opportunities for interaction between all the ages. Believing in the importance of intergenerational ministry, inspired by the work of John Roberto and of Holly Catterton Allen, and desiring to provide churches with easy ways to live into and out of God’s story as a community, the editors at Faith Alive Resources began looking at meaningful ways that churches could bring all ages together. The result was WE, an out of the box (literally!) series of intergenerational events described as a “faith nurture adventure for the entire church family.”
WE events are designed to work with all ages—from 5 to 105—and each one lasts about 1.5 to 2 hours, including a meal. A typical WE event unfolds like this:
1. Welcome, Gathering and Building Community
In order to create an informal, welcoming, family atmosphere, WE events begin with food. (A prepared meal is also a wonderful draw for busy families.) As people arrive, they are greeted by a host and seated at tables in a way that invites them to mingle. During the meal the table groups answer questions found on a Conversation Tent placed on their table. Open-ended questions such as, “What is your very favorite part of God’s creation?” or “Tell about a time you were scared or in trouble and someone helped you” invite conversation and connect to the event theme.
2. Learning Experiences
A story from Scripture is presented using a dramatic or responsive reading, a short skit or play, a series of visual images, or a variety of other options. Afterwards each table group lives into the story through a hands-on activity. For example, they might work together to create a tableau (living picture) of some part of the story, make a paper Jesse Tree banner that includes leaves on which they have printed their names, pack snack bags for an after-school program, or discuss what surprised them in the story. The activities are designed to encourage interaction and relationship building while ensuring that introverts will also feel comfortable.
3. Reflect and Praise
During this time each table group may have the opportunity to share with the others what they learned or created. Attendees are also introduced to the item(s) they will be taking home. In addition to a daily devotional that is appropriate for all ages and all sizes of families (including single adult households) participants may also be given a reminder of the experience, such as a seed to plant, a bookmark, a recipe, an ornament, etc. The event concludes with a time of prayer and musical praise.
WE events offer a wonderful way for a congregation to learn together as God’s family. In fact, WE events are designed for the whole family to such a degree that churches who use them with only adults report that something was missing—and what was missing were the voices and viewpoints of children and teens. They truly are for the whole family of God.
But perhaps the best part is what comes afterwards. Margaret Wiersma, a senior member of Talbot CRC in London, Ontario, says that she made two new friends at the WE event she attended at her church. One was a teenage girl who she’d seen up front during worship in the past but to whom she had never spoken until eating a meal together during WE. The other new friend is a five-year-old boy. Now when they pass each other in the halls at church they greet each by name and stop to say hello. They no longer see each other as simply “people in the pew” but as part of an extended family, learning together.
Karen DeBoer lives in Kitchener, Ontario, and attends The Journey, a CRCNA church plant. She is an editor with Faith Alive Resources.