Frequently, I am asked to teach Sunday School or a workshop after church services in the Iowa Conference UCC where I serve as associate conference minister for youth and young adult ministries. When I first began to get those requests, I brainstormed ways to make it most effective. I know that I could teach a Bible study or provide some other educational program. But, I wanted to use the time to really help people think differently about youth ministry.
So, I thought of this – Why don’t I invite people to share their best experiences of church in order to think differently about youth ministry? The idea turned out to be a good one and has yielded results that I didn’t even imagine.
When I ask people to tell the story of their best experience of church/youth ministry, most often they don’t talk about the stellar programs that they attended, but rather they talk about the person who went out of their way to get to know them and affirm them. I’m not surprised by this. Looking back at my own life, the people who were most significant in forming my faith were the ones who took the time to get to know me.
But, I learned something recently about inviting people to tell these stories. Instead of the small groups for whom I usually lead these workshops, I lead this discussion for an entire worshipping congregation of about 75 people. I asked that the children be left in the sanctuary during this discussion. Then, I asked them to pair up with an adult and tell their story.
The results were amazing. Not only did children as young as 7 or 8 talk to and share their story with an adult in that congregation, they worked up the courage to take the microphone and share their stories with everyone there. No small feat for a young child to stand up and speak in front of a room full of adults!
I observed many things happening in that moment. Adults were taking seriously what young people had to say about their hopes and dreams for the church. Young people were listening to the stories their elders told of their experiences of church. I can only hope that if we draw out these stories from people of all ages, we wouldn’t have the stark generation gap that appears to grow larger everyday.
What is your experience with intergenerational dialogue in your church? How does it affect relationships of the people who participate?