Relationships that Matter
Sam is now in his 90's and he lives in Virginia Beach, but most of his life he spent in Portsmouth. Whether he was teaching auto shop or Sunday School at West End United Methodist Church, Sam has dedicated his life to building warm relationships with new generations of people. Sam began teaching Sunday School for high school aged students in the 1950's to the 1980's, teaching multiple generations of families. He taught my grandparents in some of his first years, and then taught my parents when they were in high school. However, about twenty years after Sam taught my parents class, there were not enough people in my small congregation of 70, who signed to be confirmation mentors. It was Sam who stepped up once again to become my confirmation mentor. This is when I really got to know Sam and he got to know me. He then returned to the Sunday School classroom as my teacher when my class needed a leader. I would confidently say that Sam invested his time and energy in me and that had made a pointed difference in my life.
Age Specific Ministry Models and Trends
For generations, churches across the country have engaged in what I would call age specific ministry, i.e. children's ministry, children's church, youth group, etc. People of the same age predominantly and sometimes exclusively spend time with one another (under appropriate supervision, of course). This gives children and students opportunities to build deep relationships with each other; but once they graduate high school statistics show that less than 50% of all former youth remain active in their church. The young adults go off to college or start life in the working world, however, many churches (including Community) do not offer successful age specific programming for young adults, as well as there has not been any effort in establishing ongoing intergenerational relationships with other adults in the congregation. Without these relationships and connections and some natural transitions for people in this stage of their lives, young people naturally drift away.
Personally, I find this to be tragic that at least half of all youth currently involved in congregations around the country will walk away from communities. It is devastating for everyone: both the individuals walking away and for the communities they will leave. It is tragic for young adults who are walking away, because they are missing out on a supportive community as well as they are missing the story of Jesus, and His presence in their lives. It is tragic for communities, because the community can never be the same without every person. In the United Methodist Church, congregations affirm that they will support all who are baptized through the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. Are we faithfully participating in promise that we made every time someone was baptized, if we are indifferent about our young people walking or drifting away from the church?
What can we do to reduce the number of youth and young adults leaving the church, and loosing the community that is supposed to support them as they grow into the image of God? There is no silver bullet, meaning a simple answer(s) that we could simply do with a minimal invest of time and effort. A real difference will require changing our mindsets and approaches to our ministries. One of the things we can do is focus on building intergenerational ministries at Community. Intergeneral Ministries are built and nurtured through people like Sam, who are willing to invest young people, outside of their own family.
Committing ourselves as a congregation to investing in intergenerational ministries means that as our youth emerge into adulthood, whether going to college or establishing themselves in the workforce, they would have already established meaningful connections to other adults at Community. This greatly increases the likelihood that our youth will remain among our supportive and loving community for years to come.
List of Opportunities for Intergeneration Ministry at CUMC
Children's Ministry (click for more info)
Teach Children's Sunday School - Sunday School is one of the greatest opportunities we have to help our children to know Jesus and God's story. If you are thinking that you could never prepare a lesson to teach children or I do not he lessons are already planned. You could be the reason that a person, learns about Jesus. If you are interested in being a Children's Sunday School teacher, please email the program director.
Vacation Bible School - Each Summer, Community host a week long program with games, activities, bible stories and lessons called Vacation Bible School (VBS). Each year well over 100 children, including many of whom who are not otherwise connected with CUMC, attend VBS. From helping to prepare snacks to doing skits to being group leaders, there are many different ways to be involved in this vital ministry that helps children learn about Jesus. If you can help, even if only for one day, I can promise it will be a rewarding experience. If your would like more information or would like to volunteer for VBS, please email the program director.
Confirmation (click for more info)
Confirmation is the process and season of a young persons life in when we help them to decided, if they want to affirm the beliefs of the Christian faith for themselves and becoming professing members of the church. This usually happens during a students time in Middle School (6-8th grade) but could be at any point after 6th grade. Here are some ways in which you could build intergenerational relationships in Confirmation.
Confirmation Mentors - Most students have not intentionally reflected on the beliefs of our faith before Confirmation, so we have found it helpful for students to have a mentor during Confirmation. This is not you teaching the faith, but walking along side the student during the weeks of confirmation activities. Pastors and the program director will do the teaching portions. Your relationship with a student, beginning or further developing in confirmation, could be the beginning of a significant relationship for our youth and investing your time in their faith could mean more than you realize. I will always credit my mentor, Sam, as one of the most important people along my faith journey. If you would like more information or wish to be placed on a list of confirmation mentors, please email the program director.
Youth Group (click for more info)
Prepare Dinner and Stay for Program/Game - Each week during the academic year, our students come together for a meal, a lesson and a game. There is always a need for people to prepare meals and our child protection policy mandates that two adults (over the age of 21 that passed a background check) be in attendance whenever a child is present. If you are willing to serve in this capacity or would like more information, please email me.
Go on a Retreat - Several times during the year, our youth group attends retreats. They are always a lot of fun and a great opportunity to build relationship with our youth. As always, adult drivers (over 25) and adults (over the age of 21 that passed a background check) are need. Adults that are active throughout the year will get first dibs in the who gets to be the adults of the retreat.
Almost Anything Else (click for more info)
Almost every activity that occurs among our congregations can be an intergenerational ministry, but those activities must be communicated and scheduled with both young adults and to families in mind, in order for them to reach new generations of people. Here is just a short list: Church Volley Ball Games, Church Softball Games, Kempsville Greens Golf Women's Faith Focus, UMM @ the Tides Game, etc.
Intentionality Will Matter
No matter how many activities various groups plan, if younger individuals are not intentionally invited and included in the decision-making of the church, intergenerational relationships will continue to be a struggle and growing older will remain the norm. I cannot say it enough that your intentionality will matter. Be persistent in your efforts and always gracious in words of invention and welcome. Do not invite young people to an event that is inappropriate for them (i.e. a dinner with a program on Social Security) or invite them to something that may be of interest to them and then not engage or listen to them. I can guarantee that either of these failures of intentionality would be self defeating in building intergenerational relationships. Engage young people in conversation, listen to listen, wait to reply. Consider their schedules, keep in mind whether or not the activity is scheduled at time when a young person might be able to come: this will mean that weekdays during work/school hours are out and week nights and weekends will be highly valued and sometimes guarded time. Final words of advise about intentionality, if young people are not coming to your events, someone should begin to question what events are being offered and then strategize how young people can be included.
You can make the difference in our congregations, but it will require effort, time, persistence, and intentionality in order for intergenerational relationships and ministries to become a norm in our congregation. You may question, whether you are capable of building relationships with new generations of people, but attempting to to build intergenerational relationships will enable more people to come to know Jesus Christ through the ministries of Community United Methodist Church.
Grace and Peace be with you,