This fall, our middle and high school youth ministry made the move from hosting youth group almost weekly to gathering only on the first and third Sunday evenings of each month. A couple factors made switching logical (our Sunday school and youth choirs will continue to provide weekly offerings plus the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering “Getting Ready” curriculum really makes sense as a bi-monthly lesson plan for our high school students.) But beyond those reasons, the decision to meet less, or half as often, was largely motivated by the potential cross-generational benefits of doing so.
Cross-generational ministry prioritizes relationships over programming – one person of a certain generation giving, receiving, or doing ministry with a person of another generation – recognizing the profound impact these relationships have on faith formation. Although programs can absolutely be a means for this, cross-generational relationships can form in any intentional environment, including the home between parent and child. For this reason, most cross-generational ministry work is not in creating new programs, rather observing and tweaking existing ministries to create space for cross-generational relationships to be nurtured and grow.
So, what cross-generational opportunities arise when a youth group only meets twice a month? One, we anticipated. The other was a delightful surprise.
1. More adult volunteers will be able to commit to regular participation
When cross-generational relationships become a ministry goal, consistency in caring adult participation is key. To build relationships, you need to show up, and keep showing up, which can be a tough ask of adults when the commitment is a weekly one. Sure, you will find adults who are able, but I imagine you’ll find more adults, perhaps new adults who are still warming up to this youth ministry thing, if they’re only expected to show up twice a month. And more AAA (authentic, available, and affirming) adults is a good thing considering there is no way any one adult can connect with every kid in their youth ministry, let alone build a genuine relationship. I thought this was a good enough justification for the change, until I was made aware of a far great one after the change was made.
2. Families can have Sunday dinner together again.
A couple weeks ago, after the twice-a-month schedule had been communicated, I received an email from the parent of one of our 8th grade students. She explained that even though her son would be saddened to learn that youth group would not be meeting every week, she was looking forward to the change. “I am excited that there are only two meetings per month. I used to make a big family dinner with dessert every Sunday. Now I can back to that on the nights when there is no youth meeting!” This response flooded me, especially when I relayed it to my wife, with emotion – both shared excitement for this family but also the feeling that church programming had been getting in the way of families doing ministry together. If Sunday nights are one of the few, or only, evenings of the week a family can sit (and slow) down and share a meal, how can the church not gift them with that holy time together? Twice a month, now we can say, “yes, if able, go ahead and make a big dinner with dessert. Pray together. Share in caring conversation. Serve each other. Let that be youth group for the week.” It will be the richest, most important cross-generational ministry the Church can champion.