There is a lot of concern today about youth leaving the church. How do we get the next generation to embrace faith? How do we keep our kids invested in the life of the church? Too often the churches' answers have been to try new programs and activities when what is really missing are much needed multi-generational relationships.
In an effort to be relevant, churches frequently adopt programs that appeal to various age groups and needs. A church with an active youth group is thought to be vibrant and healthy. Having an active children’s ministry, a couple’s club, or a seniors group all have a compelling draw because we love fellowship with our peers. These same-age friendships are great, but when we segregate the church by generations we lose a lot. Interaction between generations is important because faith is passed on at the intersection of young and old.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives instructions to ensure that faith is transferred from one generation to the next. In chapter 6, he says that we should begin by loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and by living in obedience to him. But it doesn't end there. Moses goes on to explain that we can help the next generation to know God by letting that love overflow to everyone around us.
Moses says that our faith should seep out in our life and conversations—in our coming and going, in our rising and laying down to rest, and even when we are sitting at home. Moses' teaching assumes that there will be regular interaction between generations and that through these multi-generational conversations, one generation's love for God and commitment to follow his Word will spill over into the lives of another generation.
The book, Sticky Faith, by Chap Clark and Kara Powell argues that having adults of consequential faith involved in the life of a child is essential for faith to take root. Their research found that faith does not develop well outside of the context of relationships and according to their research kids need at least five faith mentors involved in their life. Mom and dad remain the most influential figures in a child’s faith formation, but they also need the support of the wider community.
In our work producing a marriage and family ministry, we see mentoring as the crucial element needed for guiding the next generation to embrace faith. Faith tends to be more caught than taught, so we need to see people publicly living out their faith. Children are passion detectors. They instinctively recognize what we care about and they are eager for mentors who get excited about God.
When relationships between generations are fostered, the entire congregation benefits. The older generation discovers that it still has a valuable role to play in the life of the church. Children discover that there are people who care enough to guide them in faith. Parents get the joy of seeing their children find a sense of belonging within the church, as well as, gain allies in the struggle to raise their children well.
No matter what generation we are a part of, we are called to God's kingdom work. We never retire from the ministry of God’s kingdom. But breaking out of our peer groups can be difficult. So, how do we inspire our congregational members to move out of their comfort zone and engage across generational lines? How do we equip the older generation to cross barriers and reach out to the youth in the church? Do our seniors see their age and experience as a gift to bless others?
Here are 9 tangible ways that adults can invest in nurturing faith:
We all have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness. Don’t wait too long before you step into the role of mentoring others. We will never feel fully adequate or prepared since we are all a work-in-progress. But being honest about your failures is an important part of mentoring. We grow through our mistakes and our genuineness will always be more attractive than hypocrisy. As Christians we need to encourage one another to invest in sharing our story of how God is at work in our lives. If our congregations can learn to do this, not only will we nurture faith in the next generation, but we will grow stronger as a diverse and multi-generational community of believers.