Bringing the Generations Back Together

Bringing the Generations Back Together

Ministry leaders in community churches, emerging churches, evangelical churches, mainline churches, missional churches, charismatic churches, Catholic churches—all types of Christian communities—are deep in conversation about bringing the generations back together.

Early in any conversation about intergenerationality, someone usually asks what the word intergenerational actually means. I am currently using the following definition:

Intergenerational ministry occurs when a congregation intentionally combines the generations together in mutual serving, sharing, or learning within the core activities of the church in order to live out being the body of Christ to each other and the greater community. [1]

Another good definition comes from James White:

Two or more different age groups of people in a religious community together learning/growing/living in faith through in-common-experiences, parallel learning, contributive occasions, and interactive sharing. [2]

An emphasis on mutuality and reciprocity across the generations is key to understanding the concept.

For the last couple of decades, the words multigenerational and intergenerational have often been used interchangeably. However, churches that describe themselves as multigenerational have typically created specific programs for children, youth, young adults, middle adults, and older adults while offering few opportunities for cross-generational contact. The word intergenerational captures that essential reciprocity and mutuality I mentioned earlier—the engaged interaction across the generations that is diminished in siloed and multigenerational congregations.

Eventually a rich conversation about intergenerationality will settle on the why question—that is, why should we bring the generations together? What are the benefits? What are we seeking? Some would say we need to do it for the benefit of the children and youth. Others say it will address generational fragmentation in our congregations.

Both of these explanations connect to the real—the crucial—reason for bringing the generations together, which is that intergenerational Christian experiences especially and uniquely nurture faith formation across all ages. There is good biblical, theological, empirical, sociological, and theoretical support for the idea that intentionally intergenerational environments encourage and sustain lifelong discipleship for everyone. [3] Intergenerational Christian experiences are not just about (and of benefit to) children and youth; they are about (and of benefit to) people of all generations.

And all along the way, conversations about intergenerationality visit and revisit the practical questions: How do we bring the generations together? How can we lead our churches toward change that embraces a winning, balanced, holistic intergenerational outlook?

In the past few years, a variety of resources have become available for ministry leaders who are asking these key questions, and I’m including a brief list of these resources below. As conversations about intergenerational ministry flourish, these resources can equip and inspire senior pastors, small group leaders, youth ministers, children’s ministers, curriculum writers, and other Christian leaders to envision and create fresh opportunities for intergenerational experiences marked by mutuality and reciprocity. Ultimately these experiences will foster long-term spiritual transformation of children, youth, emerging adults, young adults, middle adults, and senior adults—that is, everyone in the body of Christ.


  • Allen, Holly C. (Ed.), InterGenerate: Transforming Churches through Intergenerational Ministry. Abilene Christian University Press, 2018.

  • Allen, Holly C., and Christine L. Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012.

  • Amidei, Kathy, Jim Merhaut, and John Roberto. Generations Together: Learning, Praying, and Serving Faithfully. Cheshire, CT: Lifelong Faith Associates, 2014.

  • Martineau, Mariette, Joan Weber, and Leif Kehrwald, Intergenerational Faith Formation: All Ages Learning Together. New London, CT: Twenty‐Third Publications, 2008.

  • Vanderwell, Howard A. (Ed.), The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2008.

  • Westerhoff, John. Will Our Children Have Faith? (3rd rev. ed.). Toronto: Morehouse, 2012.

Organizations that promote intentional intergenerational approaches to ministry

Events and resources that focus on intergenerational ministry, formation, worship, and ecclesiology:

[1] Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), p. 17.

[2] James W. White, Intergenerational Religious Education: Models, Theories and Prescription for Interage Life and Learning in the Faith Community (Birmingham: Religious Education Press, 1988), 18.

[3] Authors, thinkers, and researchers who are highlighting the importance of intergenerational connections to sustain faithful discipleship include David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church…and Re-thinking Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011); Kara E. Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011); John Roberto, Kathie Amidei and Jim Merhaut, Generations Together: Caring, Praying, Learning, Celebrating and Serving Faithfully (Naugatuck: Lifelong Faith Associates, 2014); and Christian Smith and Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Beyond the North American context, movements like Here2Stay in Australia and Faithfull Generation in the United Kingdom are also identifying and responding to similar conclusions.

Holly Catterton Allen is co-leading the Bringing the Generations Back Together: Forging an Intergenerational Ecclesiology pathway at ACU Summit 2019. Visit to explore this pathway and many others.

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