When you hear the word “cultivate”—what comes to mind? For me, it brings to mind fond memories of gardening with my grandmother. Planting, weeding, and harvesting were strenuous at times, but there was joy in the sowing and reaping. Had I attempted gardening as a child without guidance, our flowers and vegetables would have died. Yet, guided by the wisdom of someone with more experience, my efforts led to something beautiful. As my grandmother aged, it was too difficult for her to garden alone. However, the strength and assistance of her grandchildren were a blessing. As we practiced what she had taught us, we helped her garden not only survive, but also continue to grow.
This childhood memory reminds me of a reality within the church: spiritual cultivation requires intergenerational community. In order for the members of the church to effectively evangelize and bear fruit, saints of all ages should interact. Only in this way will the whole body gain wisdom, grow spiritually, and disciple faithfully.
To many, this may appear to be common sense. However, the reality is that the church is experiencing significant generational division. One way that this divide is evident is through the embrace of “traditional” and “contemporary” Sunday morning services. While likely spurred by a desire to accommodate different worship styles, this division often leads to generational segregation. Another example of generational divide in the church can be seen in the increasingly specific labeling of “small groups” versus “discipleship groups.” While offering groups specific to stages of life or topics can be beneficial, attendees miss out on varying experiences and perspectives when there is little to no generational integration. For example, if a teenager in the church attends an exclusively “teen” Sunday morning service and then a teen bible study each week, it is likely that they are largely alienated from the rest of the church. They do not have the chance to experience profound relationships with church members of different ages. Unfortunately, this would prevent them from experiencing the value of intergenerational dialogue during some of their most formative years. Although teenagers have specific needs that are best addressed in age-specific church groups, limiting consistent contact with older members of the church hinders mentorship, discipleship, and the maturation of the whole body.
While I was in high school, my church hosted a women’s worship night for ladies of all ages in the church. As we sang and prayed, the joy we experienced together was refreshing. Many of the older women shared stories of God’s steadfast love in their lives and gave advice pertaining to biblical womanhood, spiritual growth, and evangelism. Similarly, many of the young women shared what God had placed on their hearts and inspired the older women with stories of God’s faithfulness to younger generations. This event impressed upon me the importance of intergenerational community and worship; God has called us to fellowship with all members of the church, not just those similar to us in age, interests, or input. As Psalms 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” The testimony from members of each generation is distinct and works to demonstrate the many awe-inspiring attributes of God.
In considering these things, there are many different steps that churches and individuals can take. Churches can move to bridge the generational gap by, similarly to my church, hosting events for members of all ages or promoting cross-generational corporate worship through blended services. It is also essential that churches encourage congregates to intentionally engage in relationships with fellow members of various ages. On the individual level, members can personally seek out these relationships by stepping into the role of mentor or mentee, by serving the needs of brothers and sisters of all ages, and by praying for those in various stages of life.
Efforts to foster intergenerational community in the church are crucial to the health and the growth of the whole Body of Christ. Just as my grandmother and I worked together to cultivate our garden, so too can believers of various generations come together to cultivate a diverse and vibrant church body that will flourish for years to come.