Teenagers + Generational Segregation

Published on February 1, 2016 by Eric Mathis  
Two weeks ago, I offered ten observations on teenagers and worship. I also vowed to say more about those ten observations in upcoming posts.

This week, I’m tackling the second observation I made: Many teenagers participate regularly in intergenerational worship, but an equal number of teenagers experience generationally segregated worship practices.

In The Church of All Ages, Howard Vanderwell labels intergenerational worship as “a new issue for a new day.” Fifty years ago, the norm was for families to worship together. While some families continue to worship together, that image is not as common as it once was.

A number of congregations near me – and around the country, I suppose – have a model that espouses age segregation in worship. Have you seen it? Adults drop off children at a children’s building and teenagers at a youth building, while they go to another building for “big church.” What happens in these buildings is very distinct from one another.

I get it. I really do understand why this is convenient. Children and teenagers and young adults and median adults and senior adults have specific spiritual needs. There are age-appropriate means of communicating with children and teenagers and adults about issues of faith. There are particular ways these age groups understand and think about God.

Yet, while separating age groups might be convenient, the Fuller Youth Institute has shown that for teenagers, “involvement in all-church [inter-generational] worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith in both high school and college than any other form of church participation.” This is significant.

All ages worshiping together can be more like my family’s messy kitchen table. But, I believe Vanderwell gets it right when he says, “there is no better way to worship God than as an intergenerational community in which all are important, all celebrate, all communicate, and all encourage and nurture the faith of others.” And, it’s the biblical way.

When we come to the table of the living God on the Lord’s Day, no matter who we are, and no matter where we find ourselves on the journey of faith, we are all welcome, and each age group has something important to offer one another.

Sit next to a teenager in worship this week. What might that sixteen-year old offer you?