The youth are the church of _______.

How did you finish the sentence?

It is often said that the youth are the church of the future. And that’s true.

But it’s only partially true. The youth are not only the church of the future; they are the church of the present too. They are part of the body of Christ as St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 12.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

If I may paraphrase St. Paul here: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—young or old.

Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said that 11 AM on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America in terms of race. However, the church hour might just be the least segregated hour in America in terms of age. In worship, young and old gather together around the Word and Sacraments to receive God’s gifts and respond with prayer and praise.

Dr. Dagmar Grefe noted, “Life in modern society is often divided into three parts: children and youth spend much of their time in daycare and school, adults make up the workforce, and older persons are expected to life a retired life of leisure.” [1] But it ought not be so in the church!

The gathering and sharing of life together of young and old is one of the blessings and beauties of the church. But are there ways in which life together can extend beyond being together for worship? And why is it important that young and old share life together?

A Few of the Benefits of Intergenerational Ministry (There are SO many more!)

A Changed Perspective

Dr. Holly Allen shares a story of an encounter with a young man at a funeral for a much loved, elderly matriarch of her congregation. [2]

“I didn’t know you knew Mrs. Ellison” she said to the young man. He responded, “Oh, I didn’t. I just wanted to come to a funeral. I’ve never been to one before. I’ve been coming to this church for a few months, and they have been praying for Mrs. Ellison ever since I’ve been coming, so I wanted to come.”

She responded, “We’re glad you came.”

What he said next is important. “You know, I’ve never been part of a church where there are old people who die. It changes the way you see life.”

My children and the children of my congregation know many of the older members. It hurts when those older members die. But the children also learn from those members the reality of hope in the resurrection of the body and the hope of the world to come.


What does it look like to live as a Christian? Reading the Bible teaches us, but so too do interactions with others.

For instance, Paul writes to Pastor Titus, Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)

Interacting with older men and women will help our youth to learn what it looks like to be mature in Christ. In much the same way that children learn how to be a mom or dad by watching their mom and dad, so too our youth can learn how to live as mature Christians by learning from those older members God has put around them.

The wisdom that can be passed down is incalculable.

We’re Good For Each Other

One of the best aspects of intergenerational ministry is that young people and older people are so good for each other.

I think of a widow who spends many of her hours alone, coming through the door and enthusiastically greeted by a child who is excited to see her. I think of the teen who feels awkward much of the time, but especially around other teens, who is engaged in a mature conversation with a middle aged man; both are enjoying the conversation and being built up by the interaction.

I think of the older men in the church choir that I was a part of when I was in late grade school and High School. I gave them a chance to feel young and they gave me the chance to feel more like a mature man.

God has given us to each other to be a blessing, so let’s make sure not to short circuit such blessings.

In the next part of this article, we will give some practical ways you can engage youth in intergenerational ministry across your church.

Read Part II of this Article Here.

[1] Grefe, Dagmar Combating Ageism with Narrative and Intergroup Contact

[2] Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship