I am not talking about racial desegregation. We have an issue in the church of segregation by age/stage of life. We have youth groups, 20s groups, singles groups, young marrieds, and seniors groups. We have ladies groups, men’s groups, and groups for people who don’t want to be in a group groups. The only time a young person might see an older person is during a worship service that is not conducive to interaction. Our churches have a segregation problem and it is hurting the spiritual well being of both young and old.
When I say this is an issue I am not saying it is 100% bad or wrong to have groups like this. There are benefits to having groups of people in similar life stages. It makes sense and is effective. It makes sense that teens need time with other teens and develop friendships with other teens. or young marrieds with other young marrieds. That is healthy, needed and makes total sense. However, we have a serious issue when the only people you know in the congregation are people most similar to yourself. What tends to happen is that people end up isolating themselves into an exclusive group of people who together only have a limited perspective of life experience to share with others.
This is a real challenge in ministry because if I have a new couple come who am I going to connect them with to get the biggest impact the fastest? Someone who is most similar to themselves, right? I am starting to learn that pigeon holing people like that is not always the best or healthiest route. My assumption of what they need might be smaller than God’s understanding of what they need and who they need.
What is the solution? It is a both/and situation rather than an either/or. What I mean by that is that people need both time with others in a similar life stage and time with those in a stage different than their own. There is perspective about life, faith, spirituality, relationships, etc that a teen is not going to get from another teen or maybe even from the 22 year old youth minister. They need their parents to help teach and model a healthy spirituality for them and they need others in the congregation to do that as well. Likewise, there are elderly adults who need the friendship of some young adults in the congregation.
Too often we spend our time planning and organizing segregated ministries. It would be wise to start looking for ways to cross the age/stage lines to promote healthy relationships within the congregation. You may try marriage mentoring, having the youth go to the shutins, bringing people from outside the group inside the group in classes or activities, sending those inside a group outside to others. It is not about trying the right thing. It is about starting see this as an issue and take steps to address it. It is important that more and more people start crossing these lines for the benefit of all. They may not do that until someone helps them see the benefit of it and the drawbacks of isolation by age.
Last, there is a subtle but important bi-product that will result from this effort. There will be less conflict in the church in the long run. What I mean by that is, some conflict in the congregations come from the fact that the different generations don’t know each other, understand each other or even like each other (thanks to Eric Brown for pointing that last one out to me). That results in conflict over worship styles, preaching styles, song selection, and much more. The more we have time spent with those in another age demographic, the more we will care for those who are not in our stage of life and the more we will understand where they are coming from and be willing to bear with our differences.
This all starts with solid efforts to create environments of desegregated time together. What ways have you tried this and what questions do you have about this?