In my blog entry last month, I discussed how to assess when we should aim for "siloed" approaches to our ministerial (especially educational) activities, and when it makes sense to take a more intergenerational and inter-ministerial approach.
Now that we've covered when it makes sense to offer content that brings together people from across the age span and with a huge variety of gifts and interests, the question becomes how do we go about it? Doing ministry with the needs of multiple affinity groups in mind can be a daunting enterprise, so let's start by looking at how we might plan a lesson for such a mixed group.
The first thing to remember is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel! Sparkhouse has a large selection of materials that are designed specifically for use with a wide variety of learners that can then be customized to meet the needs of your specific community/learning time. The All Kids Sunday school curricula are designed for multi-age classrooms, for instance.
When you're writing lesson plans yourself or customizing a plan to meet your community's needs, remember that you don't actually need to prepare multiple lessons at once. In a one-room schoolhouse, you wouldn't attempt to teach math, science, history, music, etc. all in the same moment. Rather, you would teach, say, geography, and some students would learn what maps are while others would compare types of maps, and others would apply all that knowledge to make their own maps, etc.
Another key to doing effective intergenerational and inter-ministerial planning is making clear agendas. What is the goal for your time together and how much time do you have? What steps need to happen to get to the stated goal? Once we have an agenda in place, then we can start to think about specific needs. A few guiding principles:
- Get bodies moving (nobody likes sitting at a desk all the time!).
- Also plan for time for quiet/stillness and to discuss and reflect.
- Engage multiple senses.
- Engage multiple types of gifts/talents.
- Use humor and vulnerability to unite the group.
- Overlap activities (e.g. three-year-olds are only going to be able to stay present in a conversation on a single topic for around 6-15 minutes, so if you aren't going to be transitioning to a new thing at that time, plan to continue talking with older folks while the preschoolers drift away to do coloring sheets or use blocks to build a scene from the applicable Bible story, etc.).
Lastly, start by planning for the needs of the youngest people you'll have in the room. If you expect preschoolers, plan activities to meet their developmental needs (this means we need to equip folks who are doing the planning with basic information about developmental stages and milestones!); then add to them to provide for the needs of older learners as well. For example, we might use a skit where we're applying the beatitudes to life on the playground, and then in our discussion time, we'd ask questions that extrapolate from the playground to the high school cafeteria and the boardroom, etc.
As you're getting started, it can be incredibly helpful to check in with people from the groups that you expect to be present. Run your lesson plan by a three-year-old, a 13-year-old, and a 103-year-old to see how it lands. Does it make sense? Seem fun? Is it boring? This is feedback that can be incredibly useful as you're getting into the habit of planning in a way that starts from a position of "everyone is invited."