Intergenerational Sunday school: Cross-generational is cross-cultural

Expand your definition of intergenerational Sunday school to recognize cross-generational diversity | Sparkhouse BlogUsually when we think about “intergenerational” church programming, the image we have in our mind is of children and youth sitting around tables or participating in faith forming activities with adults. It’s a beautiful image of intergenerational relationship-building, and it’s an important one.

And yet, looking at “young people” and “adults” as two monolithic groups is missing out on some of the most significant diversity in God’s people.

We know there are many considerations to make when we bring different age groups together due to developmental or age/stage differences. There are also considerations to make related to generation, which essentially is a combination of age and stage characteristics combined with historical time and place.

Our landscape of generations is more complex than many of us realize. We know some generational names, but few of us consider the unique needs of each generation when we are developing intergenerational experiences; we generally treat adults as one large group when, in reality, we have at least four unique generations of adults in most of our churches.

While a complete exploration of each generation is more than one blog post can handle, here’s a quick breakdown of our generations, with estimated birth year ranges for each.

Greatest Generation: born before 1927
Silent Generation: born 1928-1945
Baby Boomer Generation: born 1946-1964
Generation X: born 1965-1980
Millennial Generation: born 1981-1996
[Generation Z or Post-Millenial Generation]: born after 1997

Each of these generations has their own unique experiences and ways of engaging the world, and, if we dig deep, we realize that these different approaches to the world are indicative of each generation being its own individual culture.

So even if you don’t have the time yet to delve into generational specifics, you can approach an intergenerational Sunday School experience in the same way you would approach a cross-cultural experience. Considering customs, preferences, language, and perspectives that are different allows you to honor each generation while fostering an inclusive context.

In addition, you must broaden your understanding of what “intergenerational” really means! Chances are some of your existing “adult” Sunday School classes are already intergenerational—they’re just made up of multiple adult generations. How might an intergenerational approach impact those pre-existing groups?

In the same way that we consider ages and stages in any of our church programming, considering generational differences can open up a whole new world of possibility in ways to engage people where they are, consider their unique perspective, and honor their cultural contributions to both a Sunday School experience and your whole church.

Author Revered Melissa Cooper | Sparkhouse Blog
Reverend Melissa Cooper
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Melissa Cooper is a United Methodist clergywoman who serves as a ministry coach and consultant with expertise in intergenerational ministry and intergenerational culture building. She is an associate with Vibrant Faith, working with churches to develop capacities for intergenerational leadership. She lives in Kissimmee, Florida, with her husband Will, an attention-seeking cat, and the cutest poodle you'll ever meet.

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