Community usually is defined by the word “common.” What do people hold in common that draws them or binds them together? The way believers “do” or embody the church often is defined in communal terms.
Whether they cross generational lines depends upon the “common” factors on which their specific Christian community is based.
Some faith communities establish church structures along age lines because of interests, values and/or needs members of their age group hold in common. Others draw people from multiple generations because a passion or value binds them.
And many faith groups that begin as an age-targeted community often attract older and/or younger members because of their underlying value, mission or message.
Susan McBride, leader of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s Emerging Leaders team, finds older Christians attracted to church plants targeted to 18- to 30-year-old college students.
Through its Kairos Initiative, the team assists in starting collegiate church plants. While the focus remains on young adults, the team has discovered the new work often attracts people across generational lines.
“We’re finding that even though we are targeting the 18- to 30-year-olds, others want to participate and support it,” she said. “It takes older Christians to get behind it and support it” to get a church plant started.
Many older Christians get involved because they see the new work as “part of their personal ministry or from a desire to be involved with cutting-edge ministry,” she added. Older individuals primarily serve as mentors rather than as church leaders.
For Brad Russell, “there’s a time to be intergenerational and a time to seek community with your peers.” He is senior editor and chief operating officer of FaithVillage, an online community Baptist Standard Publishing officially will launch in October.
“We want to create a compelling place for the 18- to 44-year-old demographic … a youthful and vibrant atmosphere,” he said. The site, already partially active with a blog and a Facebook and Twitter presence, will be set up as a community, even visually. It will be an online “neighborhood” for young evangelicals.
Russell believes the Internet offers “real opportunities” for older adults and could become another way for generations to connect, particularly for mentoring or pairing for spiritual growth. “I think we will be challenged to be more intergenerational,” he said.
“We see church as an extended family,” explained Kyle Childress, pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, and not just as biological connections.
That’s why, although small, averaging about 85 in Sunday morning worship, the congregation centers most activity on a family theme. “For some children, the closest thing they may have to grandparents are older people in the church,” Childress said.
Some studies indicate children need relationships with older adults outside their families, he noted. With the mobility of families today, that connection is even more vital, he believes.
“With a church our size, we tend to be relationally oriented rather than program-oriented. We have lots of fellowship and encourage sitting together across generational lines,” he said.
The congregation even builds its annual Vacation Bible School on relationships, hosting an intergenerational event in which all attendees—from 2-year-olds to those at age 80-plus—participate together. For group activities, participants form as families, with singles shepherding children who attend alone, or everyone mixes to form new groups.
“We concentrate on doing it together,” Childress emphasized.
Family is cultural at The Crossing Baptist Church in Mesquite, a multi-cultural congregation with about 50 percent Anglo, 25 percent Hispanics, 10 percent African and African-American and the balance as mixed-race.
More adults have been asking for family activities, including on Sunday mornings, because the sense of family is strong in Hispanic and African cultures.
Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., connects through community groups. “We are trying to build strong community and help people find a passion,” Associate Pastor Mike Lassiter said.
Members form a group or find one in which to participate from fall through spring. They are encouraged to disband for the summer and form new groups the following fall. Most groups attract participants across the age spectrum.
While all groups are formed around an interest, all are required to include three components — an “upward piece” to connect to God, a “sideways piece” to connect to each other and an “outward piece” to connect to the neighborhood.
Last year, a group formed around a love of gardening and assisted nearby William Jewell College to establish a community garden, a ministry that is being sustained.