Despite the church’s desire to strengthen the family, spiritual formation activities tend to take place in segregated “silos” in most churches. The children’s ministry, the student ministry, the college ministry, the singles ministry, the young-couples ministry, and the seniors ministry all meet at different times in different places and rarely interact with each other. Most children rarely see their parents engaged in worship, while parents are often unable to observe how their children are processing the spiritual truths they’re learning in the church.
In an attempt to correct this, intentionally cross-generational approaches to ministries, including small groups, are being considered. A growing number of families are finding intergenerational multi-family small groups as one potential solution.
What do intergenerational small groups look like? Typically, small groups form on the basis of life-stage, affinity or felt needs. Family-based intergenerational small groups defy these categories, offering cross-generational insight and strengthening the families’ networking and support systems. Picture a living room where grandparents, parents, singles, teenagers and children are all together studying the Scriptures, praying and experiencing community. Children hear adults being vulnerable and sharing their struggles and their joys, while parents hear surprising insights from their children and the children of others.
The composition of an intergenerational small group will vary widely. This often presents both some unique challenges and worthwhile benefits when groups meet those challenges. Here are just a few:
Authenticity. In any small group, authenticity is essential for spiritual growth to occur. In family-based small groups, parents and children may find it awkward to share their doubts and struggles in front of each other. Both parents and children may seek the approval of their peers rather than share honestly. If leaders can successfully model healthy transparency between generations, authenticity can take root, bringing a new level of vitality to everyone’s spiritual lives.
Relating appropriately. Clearly, some topics or some expressions are inappropriate for mixed company. At times, the group may need to segregate (by gender or age, or both) for the purpose of keeping the discussion appropriate. Some boundaries will need to be set initially to respect the diverse needs and maturities within the group. However, it is healthy for people of all ages to be more sensitive to the needs of their older or younger brothers and sisters in Christ. Learning to show consideration for others who are at different points in the journey is just one positive outcome.
Celebrating diversity. The meaning of “appropriate” itself might even need to be defined, since families often have very different internal boundaries and dynamics. Some parents are more authoritarian, some more permissive. Some parents are more laid-back, while others are more structured. Some give-and-take is necessary for a family small group to work. Expectations should be clearly set and understood up front, and individual members must be willing to sacrifice certain preferences for the good of the whole. If the group can celebrate its diversity, then families and individuals within the group can learn from each other, stretch, and grow.
Telling the Story. Of course, the most worthwhile benefit of family small groups is the opportunity to tell the story of God’s fame and His faithfulness in new and fresh ways that are appropriate for young and old alike. The clear teaching of Scripture is that each generation is obligated to pass down the faith to the succeeding one. Family groups make that happen!
Saddleback Church has a curriculum series for family small groups called Lessons for Families. Check out this video for an example of how this looks in practice.
This article was originally published in smallgroupministry.com.