Blog Archive


Wednesday, December 23, 2009
If your church is like mine, you've likely noticed a tendency in the oldest generation to sit in a certain spot in the sanctuary, to go to a certain worship service and/or Sunday school, and to generally have different tastes than the younger members. In fact, my church, a rather large one (3000 attendees per Sunday), has an early "traditional" service almost completely devoted to those of a senior citizen age (who all go en masse to a group Sunday school afterward). Meanwhile, on the other end of the age spectrum, it also offers a Sunday night "alternative" (at least for now, eventually "alternative" becomes "traditional") service primarily geared toward 20-somethings.**

As anyone who's been around churches for awhile will tell you, this is nothing new. Ever since Absalom got tired of sitting with his parents David and Maacah at the front of the Tab and wanted to sit with the cool kids up in the balcony while Grandpa Jesse sat two rows beyond the reach of his hearing, people have naturally tended to flock together according to their age. And nothing is inherently wrong with that inclination. But what happens when the Church begins to intentionally divide according to age groups or put old people "out to pasture"... isn't there a likelihood that a form of ageism will set in where youth is treasured more than age and experience? I've been thinking a lot about that recently because my own church struggles a lot with including the elderly in the life of the church. It has a great focus on bringing together different ethnicities and cultures, yet it seems that the unwritten rule when it comes to age is that once you turn 65, you're expected to be seen and not heard.

This ageism is rampant in our society (the size of homes are ever increasing yet no one seems to able to find room to house Grandpa or Grandma... the family on Gran Torino seems less and less a parody of real life) and, in some ways, the Church isn't far behind. This blogger discusses this issue further.
In our efforts to multiculturalize the church -- which is a great effort and a godly one -- let's not forget the need to multigenerationalize the church. Is your church monogenerational? If not, are your seniors second class citizens in your church? If so, what can you do to fix this?

The kingdom of God turns the tables on business as usual, and this includes church business as usual. The countercultural call of the kingdom requires a revolutionary ageism, where we actually honor our elders above ourselves and our youngers, actually honor those we are most tempted to deem having outlived their usefulness.
So how can we be intentionally multigenerational?

**To the credit of the alternative service planners, they did have a worship service a couple months ago where they invited the senior citizens in the church to worship with them.


Bryan C. McWhite said...

This is an excellent question: "So how can we be intentionally multigenerational?" Any ideas on that one?

Also: On what basis are you drawing the conclusion that the primary victims on ageism are older people? That is certainly not a premise I would grant.

Darius said...

First, regarding the question... not entirely sure. It's one of the questions that needs to be asked, but one that also doesn't have easy answers (particularly because it has to do with overcoming people's comfort zones). Doing more of what Fusion did with the Generations service is a great start. Getting feedback and involvement in church ministries from all ages, particularly the oldest among us. Basically what we've talked about before, PB, regarding men's ministries. I don't pretend to have any answers to this question; I just notice that it seems that plenty of Christians don't even notice the problem. And I don't hold the older generation faultless... which leads me to your second question.

I'd say that relative to what they have to offer, older people are generally ignored more than young adults (or teenagers). But I will definitely grant you that youth can also be treated as a negative. But in some cases, it should be. While youth does tend to bring with it passion and energy which age can sometimes diminish, it doesn't bring experience, a life of perseverance, and the marks of suffering that age usually does, which is probably why the Bible seems to put a significant emphasis on the wisdom, honor, and authority that age brings. Of course, that can be taken way too far to the point where all the leadership in a church is elderly and disconnected from the needs of its more youthful congregation.

But even if older people are the primary victims, they are also many times the primary perpetrators in that they choose to disconnect from the younger members of the Body. There's not much a church can do if all of the old people won't consider going to anything but a traditional service and doing things with their peers.

Darius said...

All that being said, I recognize that you probably have seen more ageism directed toward youth. Personally, I think NHC does a pretty decent job of not discriminating against either youth or age (the Elder board is a good example with a mixture of late 30's up to late 60's men). It could just probably do a better job of bringing them together more.

Darius said...

D.J., you got any thoughts on this, since you're in the midst of a church plant?

Bryan C. McWhite said...

Thanks, D. I mostly agree with what you've said. I struggle with this as well. I would love to see more multigenerationalism at NHC. Ideally, ALL our worship gatherings would be multigenerational, in my opinion. This has been discussed, though never seriously considered lately by those who could effect such a move. The number of large churches who make multigenerational services "work" are infinitesimally small, and almost invariably the reason they work is because the preacher is powerfully effective that the multi-generations are able to ignore the things about musical worship that they wouldn't tolerate if they were at any other church (perfect example: Bethlehem).

As to who receives the brunt of ageism. I think your combined comments get at the heart of it. I think older people often separate themselves (often as a result of a sense of neglect) and then become upset that they're being ignored. It's a two-way street. The young people at our church are often treated as second-class citizens as well. The Fusion Community is often treated as "youth group for grown-ups" by those in their 40s-60s and are similarly slighted.

So, even if not much change is possible now without massive paradigm shifts, I think the conversation is worth having: When WE are in our 40s-50s, how are we going to make sure we're integrating our lives into the lives of 20 and 30-somethings and 60 to 80-somethings (and vice versa).

D.J. Williams said...

It's tough, because like you mentioned, people tend to naturally congregate with people their own age. I'm 26, and my two co-planters are a year or two younger, so likely we're going to most naturally relate to young families. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I think a big thing, though, is the way that we seek to foster multigenerational community in our church. I think that best happens through actually worshipping together (age-segregated Sunday School needs to go) and emphasizing mentoring relationships. Intentional discipleship will go a long way in bridging generational divides. Also, I really dislike doing separate services for worship styles. There's nothing wrong with either traditional or contemporary worship or anything in between, but when we intentionally divide our congregations by music style, we are simply asking for generational division.

In the days of the early church, multigenerational churches were more natural since extended family played a far bigger role in the life of the culture. Today, we're so fractured as a society that it's just not normal for 20-somethings to spend much time with 60-somethings, even their own grandparents. There are no easy answers to the question, but it's definitley a question worth answering.

Essay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darius said...

"age-segregated Sunday School needs to go"

I got that Family Driven Faith book that you mentioned on your blog and hope to read it this year. On the face of it, I like this idea, even though I think it unlikely to happen in my church since the children's programs are huge. Maybe Baucham's book will put a bee in my bonnet...

D.J. Williams said...

The Baucham book got me pretty fired up on the whole idea, but I could even see a place for kids programs to stick around. One thing I really like about my current church is the children's structure. There's a 30-minute kids program before the service, and then the kids (up through early elementary) go to their classes/nursery for the first half of the service. After the sermon and communion, the kids - even babies - rejoin their parents for the final worship segment. This emphasizes their part in the church and prepares them to join in regular worship at a young age. It's really cool holding my 18-month old and watching her face as we all sing and worship together.

Chris A said...

Personally I don't like anything being segregated by age. I'm in my 30's, but I have always enjoyed the company of elders.

I think that churches reinforce generational gaps by having "traditional" and "contemporary" worship services. I'm not against churches for trying things like this. I'm hardly "against" anyone, but I can't see myself attending a church that inhibits by design the interaction between various age groups in all services.

Honestly, I don't even really care for "children's church". Our church has one, and I actually oversee it. It has it's benefits, I suppose, and I know some people won't even come to your church unless you can babysit their 8 and 10-year-olds.

Don't get me wrong, I like kids. I like teaching them too. Heck, I even have one. But again, I think we are reinforcing generational gaps and when we classify everyone into some age group, and let them have their own "church". And I can't see how that contributes to unity in the body. In fact, I think it has the opposite effect.

One of my friends (also a minister) wants to start a young married couples class at church. He keeps asking me for ideas, but I don't have any. I think the concept is fundamentally flawed because it discriminates by age, though I won't burst his bubble by telling him so. Yes, young married couples have their unique challenges. But older people can often relate to those challenges.

Of course, if we opened it up to old folks, they may not want to come anyway. But I wouldn't blame them, because I wouldn't want to be there either. I'd much rather be at their house, drinking Folger's and watching Wheel of Fortune or reruns of Matlock. Ah yeah, baby! 8)

brandon.b said...

Interesting discussion guys. I've had quite a few bitter thoughts about ageism in the context of church segregation, too.

I'm a bit torn, because I see a lot of very mutually edifying relationships being fostered through young-married groups that 'grow up' together. For example, I don't think it makes sense to intentially force-segregate a bunch of young moms and dads who really need each other.

On the other hand, being an active member of a "30-something" group with a couple dozen families with preschool-elementary kids, I am concerned that my life has become to monocular. I'm personally dying for lack of diversity in my relationships. I have no older men around me to mentor me. I have no younger men around me to mentor. And I don't have time because I'm too busy keep up with my 30-something group!!

On a practical level, though, I don't see how to make a group gel together without them having something strongly in common. Common age-stage of life is a no-brainer. For Fusion, the common sermon/common hired pastor is a huge demoninator. Thus, Fusion is poised to be able to handle more multi-generational relationships. But most groups do not get this common factor.

I would propose that the age-segrated adult communities meet together intentionally and share common teaching. In a true mentoring model, the older generation needs to reach down to the younger. Everyone would thus be interaction with two different groups (one older, one younger).

Recent Comments


Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

Darius Teichroew's favorite books »