Home Equipping Leaders Children Consider an Intergenerational Approach to Vacation Bible School this Summer

Consider an Intergenerational Approach to Vacation Bible School this Summer

By Kevin Johnson

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If you have served in family ministries for at least one season, you have probably been asked, “How do we get families more involved with our church?” One response this summer may be to take an intergenerational approach to vacation Bible school.

Intergenerational ministry nurtures a Christ-centered community by bringing together two or more generations in planned and purposeful settings, where all are mutually invested. Many faith communities are discovering the joy of all ages joining together on the spiritual journey. The mingling of innocence and maturity, playfulness and reverence, creates a bold and bigger vision of the church as the body of Christ.

The goal of intergenerational ministry is to create and deepen relationships among all the generations found in your congregation. Intergenerational ministry opportunities do not discriminate based on age or any other status. All are a welcome part of the congregation’s mission in ministry. Simply put, if you are an age, you are engaged.

First, we must distinguish the difference between multigenerational and intergenerational. Most United Methodist churches are already offering multigenerational aspects of ministry. Worship, for example, is often multigenerational. It is an opportunity for multiple generations to be together. This doesn’t necessarily mean that deep, meaningful relationships are being developed. Often, multigenerational ministry happens accidentally. The problem that multigenerational churches will face is the dreaded siloes that children and youth ministries have faced for years.

Intergenerational ministry opportunities, including vacation Bible school (VBS), are different. Most churches are multigenerational; however, with intentionality, a church can become intergenerational. This creates a transformation to a new way of being the church, a new way that consists of faith formation and impacting the world for Jesus Christ. This transformation brings about a sense of belonging for all, to be in relationship as equal parts of the body of Christ—the intergenerational church.

Intergenerational churches go deeper into nurturing relationships among the generations. Intergenerational churches are more intentional. They are more interactive across the generations. There are conversations of equality to be had among the generations. Intergenerational churches share in their identity and calling.

Intergenerational churches go deeper into nurturing relationships among the generations. Intergenerational churches are more intentional. They are more interactive across the generations.

An intergenerational approach responds to the needs of current trends in the United States, as we predict that more than one million young people will walk away from the church. An intergenerational approach to ministry can make greater use of the entire faith community’s gifts in the life of the church and its surrounding community. The understanding that every generation matters to God and to the church is embraced. This approach can strengthen and nurture solid relationships across age groups and will help raise a new generation of leaders.

Studies have shown that an intergenerational community provides:

  • Affirmed value, regardless of age.
  • Response to God’s call for faith to be shared in community.
  • Decreased isolation for all ages.
  • Support of families.
  • Welcoming and inclusive environment.
  • Practice in caring for one another.
  • Understanding and unity as a congregation.

“As generations mutually invest in one another, relationships deepen, transforming the church from doing intergenerational programming to thriving as an intergenerational community. Christ-centered community draws us all closer to God.” (From GenOn Ministries’ website.)

GenOn Ministries offers an excellent vacation Bible school resource this summer that provides an intergenerational approach.

All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for a Blessed Summer (An Intergenerational Approach to Vacation Bible School)

All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for a Blessed Summer is designed to meet the need for generations to learn and grow in faith together. The intergenerational gatherings in this resource are written for all ages, who will eat together, play together, study God’s Word together, pray, sing, and worship together. Each learning time is a worshipful celebration, and each worship event is educational.

When presenting intergenerational ministry to a congregation, emphasize the positive relational aspects. Often, adults fear looking silly or acting foolish. There is a difference between childlike innocence and outright childish foolishness. These events are not children’s programs with adults participating. The joy of the Lord can cross generations only when we open our hearts and minds to the power of the Spirit of God who will guide all conversations and interactions.

Traditional Vacation Bible School programs are designed for two and a half to three hours, and this is true for each of the five sessions of All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for a Blessed Summer. There are no specific timelines for the individual events. If a meal is included, more time will be needed than if a prepared snack is served.

You may choose to move through the five sessions on five nights in a row or once a week for five weeks. Each session can stand alone so that whenever people choose to attend, they will be fully included and not feel like they have missed anything.

Within the sessions, there are options for the whole group and other activities for small, intergenerational groups. When there are several choices of activities, invite people, young or old, across families and generations, to choose an activity that most interests them. This will produce some surprising but usually interesting small groups. Invite families to separate into interest groups within their comfort levels, with younger children staying with a parent. Don’t be anxious if many choose one activity and few choose another. Let the gifts, talents, and interests of your group members enjoy the freedom of choices.

Sessions include diverse ways to engage the entire group. Call and response blessings, asking open-ended questions, allowing silence for time to think and reflect, allowing individuals to choose a meaningful response that interests them, and using the worshipful work in a worship setting are modeled throughout the sessions.

Care should be taken with those who have limitations. Don’t assume that everyone hears well, can jump, run, or even walk quickly. Including older adults will be a blessing, but offer chairs and assistance to anyone who needs it. Having young children play together with older children and teens calls for careful monitoring.

Each session includes a brief list of questions, activities, and prayer ideas related to the theme that invites families to extend and remember throughout the week.

All God’s Children: The Church Family Gathers for a Blessed Summer includes a bonus section titled “Blessing Others.” Adding this mission or outreach component extends your intergenerational group gatherings into the community. You may choose from one of the examples listed to extend over the entire VBS experience, or you might want to use a different one each time you gather. These are only examples with sample ideas for blessing your church, your neighbors, and the greater world. Your congregation or outreach team may already be doing exciting ministry that will fit your needs. Additional time is needed when adding a “Blessing Others” activity.

Thanks to Suzie Lane, Program Director with GenOn Ministries, for collaborating on this article.

Rev. Kevin Johnson is the Director, Children’s Ministries for Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship at Discipleship Ministries. Kevin’s hero Fred Rogers suggests that we, “listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.” This quote defines Rev. Kev’s approach to ministry. Kevin, an ordained elder of the Kentucky Annual Conference, has over fifteen years of ministry experience in which he has thought of the children first. Prior to ministry, Kevin worked with children in the hospital setting and in group homes for emotionally and physically abused children.

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