As I travel I see family restaurants that invite and encourage families to eat together, I see facilities that promote family entertainment, and I even see church buildings whose notice boards may read something like: "Family Church," "This church welcomes families," or "A family-friendly gathering of God's people." Inside these church buildings, however, the structures and programs sometimes do very little to include, facilitate, and encourage families experientially to develop a lifestyle of relational worship, growth, and outreach together. It is time for the Body of Jesus to embrace, empower, and equip families. It is the most natural thing in Scripture to see households worshipping Jesus together as part of a community of believers.
Where extended families are broken through distance or relational estrangement, the intergenerational Christian community can offer the missing extended family support. For example, the Bible speaks about the older women pouring themselves into the lives of younger women (Titus 2:4). Today there are so many struggling younger women with families. They need the support of those whose children have grown up, who have experience and wisdom, and who will be there for them and their children. Intergenerational small groups where older and younger women interact, offers that kind of support through the relationships that are built there.
In a similar way, older men will be there for the younger, and older married couples for the younger married couples. Children have spiritual aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparent figures. An intergenerational community where individuals learn, through modeling and relational interaction, in an environment of unconditional love and support is called family! A place where God's rich tapestry of relationships and support can begin to be woven together.
What are the benefits of intergenerational small group communities to families?
The intergenerational small group can be an extension of the primary family environment for children and their parents. The group is not necessarily specifically about families; it is about the inclusiveness of welcoming and mobilizing every generation.
God's intention for family included that they should worship together—meaning their daily lives are being offered up to their heavenly Father so that families grow in relationship with Him and with each other. Not only that, but households should be a light that lifts Jesus in their neighborhoods. In other words, they would love God, love each other, and love those who are lost to Jesus. The small group and the family complements, encourages, and develops those values in one another. The two-way response results in families contributing to the small group and the small group impacting the family.
Family is God's primary community. When that small community is surrounded and protected by the community of God's people, their weaknesses are covered and their strengths mobilized.
No family or married couple is perfect. But, every family and married couple has something they can offer to others. This interaction of giving and receiving, in dependency on the Holy Spirit, is supportive and brings healthy challenges that promotes life change.
In most church settings, the family unit is fragmented by generation-specific ministries. This can be an effective form of ministry, but if the family does not come into a place of vulnerability with one another, if they do not become exposed together to the presence of Jesus within the community of believers, seeing each other confessing their sin and giving and receiving ministry, then we may be doing a tremendous disservice to the family. Children who rarely see their parents being vulnerable, and parents who miss the joy of seeing their children's lives maturing among the community of believer, miss a tremendous opportunity for spiritual growth and development. Where families, singles, and couples come together, they can encourage one another, pray for one another, and hold each other accountable.
Acts 2:46 gives a wonderful picture of homes enjoying the resurrection life of Jesus:
"They met together in homes, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the good will of all the people."
So many times, parents have little or no contact with their children's lives in the context of church. On the other hand, the intergenerational small group empowers parents as they are involved with their children.
Malachi 4:5-6 says: "Behold I send the Spirit of Elijah and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers." Today God is pouring out His Spirit to restore the hearts of fathers and children. This restoration can be lived out in His Body and in homes, the two in perfect unity.
The Christ-following small group is in a strategic position to stimulate healthy relational dynamics in the biological family. When a small group models healthy discussion and conflict resolution, couples and families begin to see how they can resolve conflict in their homes and bring intimacy back to their relationships.
Above all, where the Holy Spirit is moving in power, He can do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Where Jesus is in the center of the small group, families will be impacted. Where Jesus is in the center of the family the small group will be impacted. A wonderful flow of divine blessing is His tapestry being woven through many lives.