People these days live busy lives and families are pulled in several directions between work, school, sports, volunteer and other activities.
Many congregations are seeing the effect of this pull and stress on families through dwindling attendance in traditional Sunday School. This has led congregations and leaders to imagine new ways of passing on the faith that fit in with today’s schedules and routines.Many congregations have found success in moving their educational time to another time, often Wednesday evenings. Others are keeping Sunday times, but taking a different approach than the traditional age segregated classes.
If families are being fragmented during the week, perhaps the last thing they need on Sunday morning is to be split up.
If families are where the faith is passed on, perhaps the best way to do Christian Education is do it together as a family.This is the idea behind intergenerational Christian education models, where the whole congregation is invited to engage in Christian learning and dialogue and the different generations learn from one another.
Here are two congregations in the Northeastern Iowa Synod who are trying out intergenerational education in different ways.Director of Youth and Family at St. Petri Lutheran in Story City, Kristin Johnson describes their program in her own words:
In the fall of 2013, we decided to introduce a new
cross generational ministry into our traditional, age segregated Sunday school model.
Why cross generational?
It is our belief that the church can best serve families by bringing them together in faith, rather than separating them according to age. And we believe that our new cross generational ministry has been helping families grow closer to each other and to God.
This new ministry is called G.I.F.T. (Growing in Faith Together).
What does this new ministry look like?
Twice a month on Sunday mornings during the Sunday school
hour, children, parents, grandparents, friends and anyone interested in
participating meet together in the fellowship hall to learn about key Bible stories.
The 45 minutes together are spent as both a large group and then small groups.
The time starts as a large group and has the feel of Vacation Bible
School but with a lot more adults involved.
The Bible stories are prayed, sung, signed using American Sign Language, shared through readings and puppet shows, and expressed through other creative fine arts and media.
G.I.F.T. is designed to be very multi-sensory and while all ages may not be engaged by the same element, we believe every age will learn and grasp at their own level.
During the small group time, these small groups form anew with people choosing which group to be with that particular Sunday morning, we go through the “Faith Five”.
The “Faith Five” practices of sharing highs and lows, engaging scripture, connecting scripture with what’s going on in one’s life, praying for one another and sharing a word of blessing, is done as a way to model family faith practices on a Sunday morning so that they could be shared daily in the families’ homes.
During this small group time there is also some form of creative response to that morning’s lesson; either through a craft or project that is done together at the table. These projects are then shared with the larger group at the end of our time together.
The beauty of G.I.F.T. has been watching parents, grandparents, teens, and young adults all come together to sing, play and pray together
The other beauty has been seeing more fathers participate in their children’s faith formation. In the past, we usually saw just the mothers bringing their children to worship and/or dropping them off at Sunday school. But since we began G.I.F.T. we have seen nearly 100%
of fathers in attendance.
This is a blessing for both now and the future for our children and their families.
While this ministry is still new, we believe that it has been a positive addition to our congregation and how we do faith formation for our children and adults.
Because we live in a culture where we are segregated by age throughout most of our lives, and because North American Protestant churches have been doing Sunday School the same way for more than a century, the idea of mixing everyone up and getting out of classrooms is a big change for a lot of people.
Bethlehem Lutheran in Cedar Falls has found a way to introduce intergenerational faith formation without interrupting their traditional Sunday School Program.
Several times during the year, they hold special events in which the
whole congregation is encouraged to participate together in educational activities.
One of the biggest days for intergenerational activities at Bethlehem is Earth Day, where everyone is invited to take part in activities that teach ways to conserve the earth’s resources.
One year they cooked an egg outdoors with solar power. Being so close to the University of Northern Iowa is an advantage where they can bring in resources from the campus, like the time they had a bicycle that generated energy from pedaling.
Bethlehem holds once a month pot-luck meal after worship and on special occasions, these become opportunities for all ages to share faith insights with one another.
On Pentecost, members who spoke other languages led the table prayers in different languages. Everyone worked together to plant flowers in pots and many of the children made pots for those who could not attend.
On Epiphany, they mixed up families and generations around the table, and all were encouraged to discuss questions about where they see the light of God.
Then everyone sang “This Little Light of Mine”, a song beloved by older folks and well known by the little ones as well.
Robin Souhrada, director of Faith Formation is convinced these intergenerational events are vital to developing mature faith.
“I believe very strongly that faith is passed on by generation to generation. I have seen this in my own
life and I see it in my children’s lives”.
By the Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson,
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA