Intergenerational Community and the Rule of Three
It is April, and that means I am celebrating another year of serving in ministry. For the past NINE years I have been the children/youth/student director at Hope. My title has evolved over time, but my heart remains committed to serving those younger (ahem, much younger) than me. Over the last nine years, I’ve realized just how much I enjoy teaching, getting to know, and learning from our students. I am a big advocate for getting people, regardless of age, to connect, worship, and serve together. I believe everyone can benefit from gathering to build relationships grounded in faith. In fact, the Barna Group completed a study that found relationships were essential to spiritual formation. Students who built relationships with adults in the church were twice as likely to have an ongoing relationship with the church, were twice as likely to say church matters, and were three times as likely to read their Bible on their own. While this is very encouraging, the study found only 40% of students build these essential relationships.
Many churches fall into age-segregated routines. The small group curriculums, church events, and building designs often keep various age groups apart and disconnected. We tend to stay with people who look like us, have similar life experiences, and are roughly the same age. And while these relationships are important, we should also be encouraged to build relationships with other generations as well. This is where the “rule of three” comes into play. When planning an event or worshipping on Sunday morning, we should look to include three generations. The presence of three generations provides the opportunity for passing on our faith and learning from one another. With three generations you have three perspectives: one representing the past, one representing the present, and one representing the future. Each of us has something to teach someone of another generation, and each of us has something to learn from someone of another generation.
Spending time together building relationships has many benefits. Over the past 70 years, research has shown that intergenerational relationships benefit not only our spiritual health, but our physical, emotional, and mental health as well. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Older adults burned more calories, performed better on memory tests, and had decreased feelings of isolation and depression when they spent time developing relationships with younger generations.
- Middle-aged adults saw better relationships with their parents and children, a more positive outlook, and a lower mortality rate when spending time with other generations.
- Teens and young adults had better social skills, more stability and enjoyment, higher academic achievement, and increased interest in serving when they developed relationships with older adults.
- Children had a greater willingness to help, greater empathy and social acceptance, and had decreased violence, drug and alcohol use when they had relationships with adults in the church.
There are many benefits of being a part of an intergenerational church community. We need to continue to create spaces and opportunities for generations to come together in worship, prayer, and service—to engage all generations in the mission of the church “so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they will put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.” Psalm 78.