the shape of leadership

Leading Cross-Generationally

The benefits of age diversity

Chris Railey on December 7, 2018


It’s easy for churches to divide according to specific demographics. Of course, that includes geographical, and even financial or social standing. How does that work when you have multiple generations reflected in your community?

Young people will naturally want to attend and serve with other young people. And the older generation can sometimes become distrustful or even resentful of rapid changes around them. The answer is not to segregate but to integrate.

Leading a cross-generational church means not only reaching all people, but understanding the value generations bring to one another. It means you take an active interest in individuals on all spectrums of life, whether they are married, have children, are still single, or are single again. There is no age group that is left out.

On paper, this seems easy. But in reality, it can be quite difficult. It takes a special church and a committed leader to make it work. When I’ve seen it work, it has produced a church that is strong, vibrant and growing. When people of different ages come together in the same church, people of all walks of life are attracted to them.

Older Adults

What can the older generation give the younger generation? Leading cross-generationally shouldn’t be about exploiting the different age groups in your church, but about utilizing them. Find what they can offer, how they can be used by God and then empower them.

When you lead multiple generations of people in your church effectively, they are not separated but integrated. Find ways for them to not only worship together but serve one another. That means going deep on how they can help each other.

What does the older generation have to offer the younger? That’s a great question, and one you should focus on first. Many older Christians may feel their best days are behind them. They aren’t! And don’t present any vision that suggests they are no longer useful for the Kingdom.

The older generation has been there, done that. No matter what new technologies or strategies you can come up with, as Solomon said, there’s nothing new under the sun. Sure, you may be able to do it differently. But every work of the Church is based on something that’s already been done before. So ask the older generation for wisdom in walking those same paths again.

Leading a cross-generational church means not only reaching all people, but understanding the value generations bring to one another.

What greater mentor for your ministry, your staff and even your marriage than one who has the needed experience. What if you were to pair up members from the older generation with young, hungry members looking to gain wisdom? The growth potential is amazing!

Another great benefit they bring the younger generation is knowledge of where the traps are. By that I mean they can help younger people avoid mistakes. As a leader, make sure there are wise elders close at hand who can help you see what is just ahead, and how to keep from failing.

Young Adults

What can the younger generation give the older generation? On the other end, what does the younger generation have to offer those who have already paved the path before them? First of all, they have the energy and creativity to keep your ministry relevant and impactful. It’s not about changing the beliefs or substance, but shifting the setting to one that is more attractive to those seeking God today.

Just being around younger people can be a positive influence on older members. Not only are their health and happiness benefits, but there are spiritual influences as well. As we age, we can start to narrow our view. But the younger generation keeps our perspective wide open. And, in turn, we can more clearly see God at work.

Finally, the younger generation is quite literally the new lease on life for your church. As your members grow older, they need a younger generation who is ready to take over and lead. Churches that wait too long run the risk of losing members and influence. But a church that invests in the next generation has guaranteed themselves a place for the future.

How Do We Do It?

What is the best way to lead cross-generationally? It’s not enough to simply make sure that both young and old worship together. They must serve one another. And you need to be intentional about it.

Create spaces where members of different age groups interact and involve one another. Think through your volunteer structure and how you can assign positions that combine rather than separate age groups.

Offer small groups that are cross-generational themselves. I know it’s easy to meet with people who are just like us, whether it’s based on age, social setting or even geographical location. You must stress the importance of meeting together with those who are different. Spend some time educating your church on the power of intergenerational bonding.

The goal is unity in diversity, not sameness and total agreement. There will be disagreements between the generations in your church. One person will say, “We’ve never done it that way,” while another may argue, “Which is a great reason to start.” You won’t solve all the problems between the generations, and that’s fine. But great leaders don’t eliminate diversity; they find ways to bridge it.

How will you build that bridge? By honoring those who have gone before you and respecting those who are behind you. By praising positive examples at work right now and suggesting new ways to implement your vision across generations. When you do that, you not only connect generations to each other, you connect people to the heart of God.


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