Home renovation shows are all the rage these days. If I were to be completely honest, I do enjoy some HGTV when I get the chance. We don’t have cable at our house, so when we are on vacation we spend a good amount of time observing the latest trends in home decoration and design.
Recently, while I was binge watching copious amounts of this mind-numbing goodness, I began noticing some commonalities between various episodes and even totally different shows. In every episode I watched, without fail, one of the first things the designers did to the house was remove a wall. They all wanted to “give the house a more open feel.” The intent in removing the wall was to eliminate a barrier between people in different rooms. This “open floorplan” would allow for better interaction and clearer communication between friends and family in the house.
The church is rightly understood to be the family of God.
The church is rightly understood to be the family of God. And, while there are many unhealthy attitudes and actions that come from understanding the church building as a house, it does serve that purpose in many ways. In the western context, local church buildings continue to be a place to which believers come to be educated, equipped, and engaged in Christian life and ministry. Like any other house, our churches have many rooms. Those rooms serve a variety of functions. We have family rooms (sanctuary), dining rooms (fellowship hall), bedrooms (classrooms for various ages), etc. Much like our own homes, those various rooms generally have walls that separate one room from another and often one generation from another. Our buildings have a “closed floorplan” and often those physical barriers between the generations create relational barriers as well.
This generational segregation and separation isn’t unique to the local church, though. Think for a moment about the daily routines of children, youth, and adults around the world. During most week days, where are each of these age groups? Children are sent to elementary schools where most of their interactions are with other children. Youth are sent to middle schools or high schools, where once again, they are interacting with their peers. Adults head off to work, and while this certainly results in greater generational diversity, it is still a fairly narrow range. Most of American life is divided by age.
The same segregation and separation does exist in most of our churches. Other than Sunday morning worship, many of the ministries offered by most churches are divided by age. There is without question benefit to peer-based ministry. Children need space in which to be children. Youth need space in which to be youth. And, adults need to interact with others that are facing similar issues. However, there is also a great need to create time and space where the various generations interact with one another. Understanding and mutual appreciation are best developed through doing life together.
Understanding and mutual appreciation are best developed through doing life together.
There is a significant difference between the generational separation in daily life and generational separation in the church. The church is unique in that, while the generations might be separated, they are often still in the same building at the same time. Dr. Peter Menconi notes, “The local church is one of the last places in our society where all the generations can come together in a meaningful way.” The church already draws people from across the generational spectrum to the same place, at the same time, for the same purpose. At this point, all that is separating them are walls. We need to open up the floorplan of our churches. We need to remove the dividers that prevent communication and interaction between family and friends in the church.
Before you grab your hammers and hardhats and start going all Chip Gaines on your church building, I am not suggesting massive renovations to the edifice of your church building (although that could make for an awesome TV show). Here are three suggestions of ways you can remove walls and open up avenues for relational development.
- Look for events and activities that your church already does that could be restructured to include and engage various generations.
As my previous post on intergenerational ministry noted, there are often activities that are done separately that could very well be done together. People of all ages enjoy eating. People of all ages enjoy playing games. Perhaps, your church could host a game night. Provide food and board games and invite the church to come play together. Be intentional about mixing the groups up when they arrive, because they generally won’t do it on their own. And, then see what happens. Or, perhaps you could have a day of service at the church. Invite the whole congregation. Rather than dividing up based upon age and ability, put some with experience and expertise with younger folks who would benefit from some education in that area. It’s amazing how playing and serving together fosters relational development.
- Create intentional worship experiences that engage and involve all ages.
This is not the same as simply having youth and children present in your worship service, actually involve them in the proceedings. Children are capable of passing offering plates or serving as ushers. Youth are often capable of preaching or leading worship. Perhaps you could create time for celebrating milestones of a senior adult in the congregation. Or, have members of multiple generations do a reading together. I understand that many churches do some of these things already. If that’s you, then good for you. But, there’s always more that can be done. There is always another level of engagement and involvement that we can pursue. A lot of times we underestimate the abilities of our people, regardless of age. What would happen if we removed some of the walls that divide who does what on Sunday mornings? I’ve watched enough HGTV to know that just because you tear a wall down, doesn’t mean you can’t put it back up if you don’t like the look of things.
- Encourage your congregation to be intentional about engaging those who are outside of their circle.
It always starts with the individual. Patterns of living don’t change on their own. We have to make an effort to act differently. Encourage your older adults to ask a youth how they are doing and then actually take the time to listen to their answer. Encourage your youth to open doors for senior adults as they enter the church and welcome them with a high five and a smile. Have the children’s ministry write notes and take them to an adult Sunday school class. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and your willingness to do what isn’t done.