By Will Southard, a pastor in Lynden, Washington
Even before COVID, Gen Z was the loneliest generation on record. But now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the need for connection and belonging is greater than ever. This is especially true for the emerging adults in our churches. We have a tremendous opportunity before us, to speak to that need. In Christ, we belong; we are fully known and fully loved. And we experience that belonging that we have in him as we gather with his people.
One of the ways that my church, Third CRC Lynden, has been seeking to further embrace our emerging adults is through a renewed focus on intergenerational gatherings. We’ve found that, especially after COVID, that’s what our church craves. We’re hungering to be in community together, so we’ve made space for that to happen through regular events, called “Family Fun Nights,” that the entire church is invited to. We’ve had pumpkin carving contests, trivia nights, and talent shows. At each of these events, we’ve experienced the beauty of fellowship.
Our emerging adults in particular have expressed how these events have helped integrate them into the life of the church and helped them get to know members of their faith family better. That has encouraged us as we continue moving forward with our long-term goal: cultivating deeper, more intentional relationships between generations. We’re seeking to do that in two new ways this year – through Faith Forward, and through Generation Spark.
Faith Forward was an idea that our Family Ministry Team developed while participating in a mentorship network last year, led by ThereforeGo Ministries and Faith Formation Ministries. We surveyed our church to see what some of our common interests are and created small groups to help gather them around those interests. We started with four – reading, cooking and baking, worship, and games – and have invited anyone who is interested, regardless of their age, to come and participate. Our hope is that, as we gather in these smaller groups, relationships will continue to develop and deepen in an organic way.
Faith Forward is helping us build a bridge to Generation Spark which is a collaboration between the CRC and RCA that is focused on cultivating intergenerational mentoring in churches. When we begin Generation Spark later this year, our emerging adults will have the opportunity to meet regularly with members of our faith family they’ve already gotten to know through Faith Forward or other intergenerational gatherings. They’ll spend time working on spiritual formation and continue to share and experience life together.
Ultimately these are the kinds of relationships that we want to see formed in our church. We want our emerging adults to experience what it’s like to be named and known, loved, and embraced. We want them to experience what it’s like to belong, as members of our faith family, learning and growing together. In many ways, we’re already doing that. We want to recognize that and encourage people to lean into what they’re already doing and invest in the next generation.
Stepping into intergenerational ministry can be uncomfortable – even scary. But, as my church has experienced, the best way to do it is by simply trying something. Create an opportunity for all ages to gather around something they enjoy. It will look different based on your context, and that’s the point! The more you know your people, the more you’ll know what will bring them together. Find that thing, and use it as your starting point. The desire for belonging is there. So try something together and, as you do that, you’ll begin building a foundation for lasting, intergenerational relationships to form.
Will is the Pastor of Family and Youth at Third Christian Reformed Church in Lynden, WA. He first got connected with ThereforeGo Ministries through their mentorship network, which he and a team from Third participated in last year and would highly recommend (especially if you can get Rick Zomer to be your coach).