When I went away to college, one thing I hadn't prepared for was finding a new church. I ended up choosing a church simply because my older sister went there while she was attending the same university. What kept me going back, however, was the emphasis on multigenerational groups.
I so appreciated that this church didn't require students to go to a specifically college small group or Sunday school class. I was around college students enough as it was. My Christian college campus was, as it should've been, already brimming with Bible studies, late night conversations about faith, and class discussions about theology and religion. I read articles, blogs, and Facebook posts from my Christian peers all the time. Rather than want more of that from my church, I wanted to hear what adults were learning, what they were struggling with, and how they lived their faith.
The small group I joined became like a family, a home away from home. Even though I've graduated and moved away, I suspect I'll be a multigenerational small group proponent for a while. Here's why:
We learned a lot. There's a wonderful exchange of wisdom and experience that occurs within a multigenerational group. The college students in our group learned much from the older adults, and we'll probably continue to realize things they exemplified for us as we get older.
We witnessed hospitality at its finest. Each week we were welcomed into someone's home, fed until we were stuffed (which is significant for a college student), and asked sincerely about how our weeks were going.
We witnessed sacrificial giving. The adults in our group came to our choir concerts and soccer games, drove us to the airport, bought us lunch after church (way too frequently), and gave us graduation gifts. They took time to share stories about their college experiences and young adult days, and they gave us advice about school, relationships, and planning for our future.
We got a true picture of the church. During a time in life when many of our peers who've been raised in the church leave because of disillusionment, the adults in our small group showed us what the church is called to be. They weren't perfect, but they were faithful, generous, and patient with us. And I would like to think we made an impact on them as well.
We all contributed to the group. One thing that helped make our group so successful was that we all contributed to its life and health. And we learned to appreciate one another's contributions. Different people led the study and discussion time each week, so we were able to hear varying perspectives on Scripture and how it applied to both a student in college and a CEO. One of the college students would lead worship each week, and one of the adults would lead the prayer time. Although one very generous and talented woman prepared the majority of the meal when we met, we all volunteered to bring different side dishes or desserts. We saw the body of Christ working together, everyone using their gifts to contribute.
Thinking back on my experience now, one group meeting in particular stands out in my mind. Instead of doing our normal study that night, we decided to have a time of sharing. We hadn't met for a couple of weeks because of the holidays, so we all wanted to hear an update on one another's lives. I don't think any of us expected it to become such an emotional and powerful evening, but people began to speak very honestly about both the good and the hard things God had been doing in their lives. That a businessman who works for a bank could speak candidly and tearfully in front of a college nursing student and a university professor and a young mom, and that they could speak honestly in return, made me realize that this was a unique kind of community.
That night, for me, is a beautiful picture of the church. Though there are certainly appropriate times for gathering in groups based on your age, gender, or marital status, there's something to be said for learning how to commune with people in completely different stages of life than you. One of the most beautiful things about the church is its diversity. I want to learn from a couple in their 80s and from high school students. I want to hear about life and faith from the perspective of a successful businesswoman and a successful stay-at-home mom.
Our group had married couples, middle-aged singles, younger singles, and dating couples. When you form a community of people who are in all different seasons of life, you begin to develop the realization that each season comes with its own joys and sorrows, its beautiful and painful moments. You learn you have a lot more in common than you thought. And the ability to celebrate your similarities and differences is something that brings God glory and joy.
—Jamie Mitchell served as an intern for SmallGroups.com; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.