Flipping the script on how we do church

Simply desiring an engaged and intentional community isn’t enough; there needs to be a tangible movement toward creating spaces of connection. 

The original blog post by Christina Embree of ReFocus Ministry dated September 16, 2021 can be found here. It is replicated here in its entirety.

If you have been around ReFocus Ministry and this blog for long, you know that one of our greatest passions is to see the body of Christ connected in community across ages and life experiences. Our stated mission is to “connect generations at church and at home.” This vision includes all ages and generations, married and single people, old and young, in meaningful relationships together.

In order for this to happen, the focus on programs and activities that are age or life experience specific often needs to shift towards offering opportunities that involve all members of the body such as service projects and Service Sundays, book studies that are not topical to certain ages or life experiences, exploring a book of the Bible together, and love feasts/family meals.

In other words, simply desiring an engaged and intentional community isn’t enough; there needs to be a tangible movement toward creating spaces of connection. And that seems difficult for a lot of congregations to embrace even if they agree that a connected, intergenerational community is what they desire.

So, why is that? Well, part of the answer is because of the current cultural experience we expect when we go to church. Most churches are designed to highlight and offer age-specific ministries and opportunities aimed at people in certain life experiences. Examples include but are not limited to Sunday school classes (by age or life experience), Singles and/or Marriage ministry, Senior Bible Study, Empty Nesters or Young Moms, Traditional and Contemporary services, etc.

To be clear, there is tremendous value in age-specific or life-experience specific curriculum and opportunities, but in most churches these types of experiences dominate the church programming and intergenerational opportunities tend to be a side option.

What if it was reversed?

What if the majority of what we offered would be open to all ages and life experiences while age-specific options would be offered but for limited times and focuses? What if we crafted most congregational experiences with a focus on building community and working, learning and growing together, and offered special times and events focused on particular life experiences or age-specific topics?

It is in relationships forged in community that such things as older married couples mentoring newlyweds and single people learning from married people and married people learning from single people can take place. It is in serving with one another that we realized our strengths, call out gifts, find places of commonality, and the chance to face and overcome challenges together. It is in studying Scripture together that we can look to the child as Christ tells us to and for the child to look to us as we impress of them the commandments of the Lord as God calls us to do.

As with most things, the either/or argument is not a good one; we need both/and.

We need space for both types of experiences. And for the most part, I find that people tend to agree with me on that statement. However, where we start to construct that both/and matters. If 90% of our programming remains age-segregated with only 10% of our programming accessible as an optional add-on for creating intergenerational community, we’ve not really created space for relationships to grow.

But if we flip that script, if we build the relationships first and then offer the age-sensitive and life-experience specific options needs for optimum growth and development, those relationships will actually help to bolster and facilitate those programs.
It’s a lot easier for new parents to find a babysitter for a church event when they know and
have relationships with everyone in the church.

It’s a lot simpler for an elderly person to find a ride to and from a senior church event when they have a wide group of relationships with youth and young people.

It’s a lot more straightforward to find volunteers to work a Vacation Bible School when the people being asked know the kids, have relationships with them, and personally desire to see them grow.

When the community IS a community, the ability to offer age-specific opportunities becomes less about programming and volunteers and staffing and curriculum and more about the body looking out for one another and desiring the best for each other.

Throughout the Bible the importance of gathering together is emphasized (Ps. 133: 1, Heb. 10:24-25, Mt. 18:20, Col. 3:16, I Cor. 14:26). The church has always come together to worship Christ, recognizing that each person plays a role. It is clear that God did not intend for believers to live a solitary life but to be part of something bigger; the Church. How can our churches find ways to ensure that no one in our faith communities is living a solitary life?

We need to flip the script, build relationships first, and serve one another as a result. This is not a pipe dream; I have seen churches embrace this and their whole culture changed; it takes time, it takes a willingness to embrace change, but the results are what we all desire – a community of faith growing, learning, and worshiping together.