Herbert H. Tsang, PEng, PhD, DWS, Professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, President of Church Music Ministry Canada.
We live in a society that has increasingly separated families according to age groups. Senior homes for older persons and age-graded school systems seldom intersect. Young and old people are commonly segregated.
As a result, the intergenerational ministry is rare in contemporary North American churches. Congregants from different generations are rarely together in ministry settings. If there is no opportunity for them to get together, how can there be any intergenerational ministry?
Churches come in various sizes, ranging from the mega-multi-campus churches to small group fellowship types. Of course, the demographics of these churches change according to their location, history, and congregation composition. A segregation of the congregation according to age can also be observed. Sometimes these separations started with separate worship styles or preferences, i.e., with the “contemporary” vs. “traditional” worship discussion. Often the result is a sub-group of congregants separated according to age.
Many years ago, families, toddlers, couples, children, seniors, singles, grandparents, parents, etc., commonly worshipped together. Unfortunately, the societal trend toward separation has crept into the church. Most churches have a separate service for the children, the seniors, the teens, and the adults. It is not unusual for children growing up in a church to reach adulthood before they join the adult worship. They do not experience worship an intergenerational setting regularly throughout the years.
Churches should encourage all ages within its community to worship together. Through corporate worship, faith communities welcome persons from different life situations, different experiences, and varied abilities. They benefit from each other’s gifts, care for each other’s needs, and worship the Triune God together. When the intergeneration congregation worships together, the church has opportunities to minister to its children.
Sometimes children cannot stay still or fully comprehend everything that is happening. However, worshiping God is not about a musical performance with flawless execution or an eloquent sermon. Instead, the “full, conscious, and active” participation of each congregational member should be the goal. When we welcome children into our worship, we are welcoming God as well. As Jesus himself said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me” (Mk 9:37). To welcome everyone to the service, we might have to adjust our planning so that everyone can participate. If we can do that, we send a message of the importance of inclusion and participation in worship.
Although some have parents abdicated the role of faith formation of their children to the Sunday school teachers or children’s ministry leaders, the pandemic provides parents with an opportunity to take responsibility for their children’s faith formation. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to press the reset button in this segregation phenomenon. Six months ago, we were thrust into a “new normal” where worship in the church’s physical space was suspended indefinitely. Families now have to worship online under the same roof and, perhaps, even the same living room. This is a very rare opportunity for children to see their parents worship.
Parents, let us use this opportunity to see if we can incorporate our children into the next Sunday’s worship. Welcome them to sit with us and allow them to participate. For worship leaders, some adjustments may have to be made to ensure all ages will feel welcome to the worship service. Each congregation needs to find its own balance centered around the need of the intergenerational congregation. Then everyone will receive the message: “all welcomed!”