A few years ago, one of our pastors contacted my husband and me about a couple who wanted to join our community group.
Our group was fairly eclectic already, with some racial diversity and a combination of young singles, young families, single moms, and one empty-nest couple. Still, we were surprised when he said the prospective couple was closing in on age 80.
We asked, “Did you tell them they would be the oldest members in our group by far?” To our delight, they still wanted to join us.
Three years later, our small group has members in almost every decade of adulthood. This intergenerational group has allowed us to thrive in three particular ways.
1. Intergenerational fellowship leads to organic discipleship.
Many churches, like ours, struggle to place their members in discipleship relationships. Even formal mentorship programs often fall flat because the relationships feel forced and uncomfortable. Who wants to share their sin struggles with a near-stranger? The beauty of an age-diverse Bible study or community group is that it allows for organic relationships to form over time.
Discipleship relationships, whether formal or informal, can develop much more naturally when friendship and camaraderie already exist. Mentorship doesn’t have to be between an older Christian and a younger Christian, but there is biblical precedent for the elderly sharing their time-earned wisdom with the young (Titus 2:1–8; Deut. 32:7). At the same time, the Bible teaches that the young can set an example and be filled with wisdom (1 Tim. 4:12; James 1:5; Ps. 119:99–100).
In many churches, small groups form around age or stages of life. But God fashioned his church as a diverse family.
In many churches, small groups form around age or stages of life. But God fashioned his church as a diverse family. Although believers can certainly grow in these homogeneous groups, the rich discipleship benefits of the full range of God’s family are worth pursuing.
2. Intergenerational fellowship helps us see beyond our circumstances.
Sharing fellowship with people in different generations forces us out of seeing the world through a myopic, self-centered lens.
When young parents potty train a stubborn 3 year old, it can seem like the angst and accidents will last forever. An older saint may feel tempted to sink into self-consumption as aches and pains become a constant reminder of life’s brevity. But close intergenerational fellowship opens our eyes to the joys and struggles of each life stage. This zoomed-out view of God’s work in his family helps us look with compassion outside of ourselves.
One Friday after our group gathering had concluded, a few of us lingered to share some salient struggles with each other. Our oldest couple was facing the heartbreaking job of caring for their 50-year-old son, who was losing his battle with brain cancer. One of our moms was overwhelmed with the challenge of raising her young adult son by herself. And my husband and I were feeling depleted after a week of disciplinary phone calls from our son’s elementary school.
We joined our heavy hearts together and prayed for our three sons. It was a beautiful picture of the unity our community has found in the diverse perspectives of walking such different paths.
3. Intergenerational fellowship lends itself to practical service.
God has given us a mandate to care for our spiritual siblings (Gal. 6:10; John 13:34; Acts 2:44). In an age-diverse community, different generations can more effectively meet each other’s varying needs. A younger believer can help an elderly saint move furniture or troubleshoot computer problems. Retired folks can use a free morning to babysit the kids of a stay-at-home mom or cook a meal for busy working parents.
Living in Christian community with those who are different from us requires effort and self-sacrifice, but God calls us into this countercultural unity.
A few Octobers ago, an unexpected snowstorm caught even our local meteorologists off-guard. Our son’s school dismissed early, and I couldn’t make it home in time to meet his bus. I was sitting in gridlocked traffic just a few miles away with our two younger daughters, spinning our vehicle’s tires on unplowed roads.
My friend from our community group, a mom of five with a newly empty nest, picked up our son and spent the afternoon watching him. Even though my peer friends would’ve been willing to help, their schedules wouldn’t allow them to help us that day.
Living in Christian community with those who are different from us requires effort and self-sacrifice, but God calls us into this countercultural unity. The church thrives when we act like a family, where “all the members of the body, though many, are one body,” suffering and rejoicing together (1 Cor. 12:12, 26).
When we gather and grow together with believers of all ages, we embody the oneness Christ made possible through the Holy Spirit, “that there may be no division in the body” (1 Cor. 12:25).