4 Things I Learned about Intergenerational Ministry from a Family Resort

Today, a friend asked me how my family’s vacation last week was.

I replied, “It was awesome!” to which he replied, “Tell me more about this place you went to.”

He knew we’d gone to an all-inclusive family-friendly resort in New York State – a concept most people have a hard time wrapping their heads around, myself included. So I proceeded to tell him that there were basically two types of people at this place:

1. Families with kids and
2. Senior Citizens participating in a bus trip.

Here’s what’s amazing though. This place worked for BOTH groups.

At multiple points during our time on the ranch, I thought, “The church could learn a few things from this place about what it means to do intergenerational ministry.” In particular, here are four things the church can learn from family resorts in order to do more effective intergenerational ministry:

1. Successful intergenerational ministry requires a shared space that works for everyone. Our resort featured a great outdoor pool that included a toddler pool (complete with its own water slide) along with a larger pool suitable for everyone. It also included space for non-swimmers under a large tent that featured food and drinks. This meant that Grandma and Grandpa could sit happily by the pool watching their grandkids play. In the same way, churches that are serious about intergenerational ministry need to work hard to create spaces – including their worship space – that work for everyone. Will a toddler be as comfortable in your sanctuary as a 50-year-old or as an 80-year-old? If not, what minor tweaks – like including children’s Bibles and large print Bibles in the pews – could you make to ensure that your shared spaces work for people of all ages?

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2. Effective intergenerational ministry gives people of all ages the opportunity to share experiences and make memories together. Our resort featured outdoor lunch BBQ’s with live musicians that riveted the old and young alike. The BBQ’s included games like Bingo and bags that people of all ages and physical abilities could enjoy together. Similarly, evenings featured wagon rides and campfires where you could roast marshmallows, something that’s fun for everyone. In the same way, when churches do intergenerational ministry, they have to offer meaningful activities that both a 3-year old and an 83-year-old will enjoy.

3. Effective intergenerational ministry includes, rather than excludes, age-specific ministries. Our resort offered a free kids club for children so that parents could have some time to themselves. While my husband and I initially felt a tad guilty for utilizing this service, after one day, we were sold. We both commented how much better parents we were throughout our vacation when we had a two-hour break to simply be with each other. In the same way, being intergenerational doesn’t mean eliminating all age-specific programming from your church’s calendar. Instead, it means recognizing the developmental needs that such programming fulfills and then working to augment it with additional opportunities to connect people through shared experiences that yield lasting memories.

4. Successful intergenerational ministry necessitates opportunities for processing. Each day at our resort, I loved walking into the dining room at dinner. There, it was common to see multi-generational families seated around the same table, enjoying one another’s company as they shared their day’s experiences with one another. People told stories and laughed as they reflected on all they’d seen and done – together and apart. At dinner, all of their experiences became integrated into their family’s story. That's how it should be with churches, where shared meals can become opportunities for family’s to integrate everyone’s experiences into their shared story. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that when we borrow these four practices from family resorts, we’ll create richer, more effective intergenerational experiences in our churches that will leave families eager to return to them again and again, in much the same way they’re eager to return to their favorite resorts time and time again.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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