ImageThe term, intergenerational is popping up all over the place. It even decorates a public garden in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park, which I cycle through on my way to work. It’s also showing up in sociological and ecclesiological (church) literature.

I’m working my way through an important new book, Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship[1]. The subtitle articulates the thrust of the book well; Christian communities thrive best when there are significant connections across the generations in all aspects of the church’s life.

The scholars, Allen and Ross, have done extensive research on studies that document the weakness of most church life happening in narrow, age specific groupings and illustrate the strength of intergenerational approaches. Here are some of the sociological research findings by Christian Smith which they share. I consider them important enough to share with you:

               Smith says that “new members of any society are always inducted into the group by eldermembers who form them in different ways to become active participants of various sorts. This is done through role modelling, teaching, taking-things-for-granted, sanctioning, training, practising, and internalizing basic categories, assumptions, symbols, habits, values, desires, norms, and practices. This is simply how most [people] learn religion and everything else.”

               Smith says that religious socialization in America takes place in two spheres: individual family households and multigenerational religious congregations. He concludes, “If nothing else, what the findings of the book [Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults] clearly show is that for better or for worse, these are the two crucial contexts of…religious formation in the United States. If formation does not happen here, it will—with rare exceptions—not happen anywhere.”[2]

               If this extended intergenerational interaction is so critical to forming faith and values in the lives of our children and grandchildren, and I share Allen and Ross’s conviction that it is, we need to maximize experiences of Christian community, worship and service across the generations.

               In the process, I’m also convinced that the older generations will receive more than they give. Allen and Ross agree, but that’s grist for another blog.

[1] Holly Chatterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross,  Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship, (2012 , IVPAcademic)

[2] Ibid, page 130, quoting


About Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel

As a young senior whose life could easily have ended in a nasty car crash in 2012 I live with an extra dose of gratitude to God, humanity, and the wonders of our human bodies. I am a passionate advocate for ministry WITH children and seniors in the life and ministry of the church. I started working in Faith Formation with Mennonite Church Canada in 2002. Thinking and writing about faith helps me see God at work in all kinds of surprising places. I'd like to be remembered as one who encourages others to live into God's good dream for our world. My book, Please Pass the Faith: The Spiritual Art of Grandparenting, is one big way I'm trying to share that encouragement with my peers. This blog is another way I'd like to engage people who care about growing in faith across the generations.
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