Growing an Enduring Faith through Intergenerational Relationships
by Karin Sasser
Do you remember when you first held your child as a newborn? In this moment, parents are filled with awe and wonder and a million hopes and dreams for their little ones. Marrying into a family of high school and college athletes, I remember when we were pregnant with our firstborn. My father-in-law would peruse the sports page of our local newspaper, looking for names for us to consider that would sound good over the PA system at a sporting event. Our son did end up playing football for his high school team (and his name sounded great on the PA), and we have been able to provide many opportunities and experiences for him and our daughter that we hoped for from the beginning. There are so many wishes and desires we have for our kids. But as Christian parents, the core aspiration we have for our children is that they would have a lifelong relationship with Jesus. We pray for them and with them; we take them to church on Sundays; we encourage them to be involved in youth groups or student ministries. Yet studies show anywhere from 50-70% of students walk away from church or faith after leaving high school.
What can we do so that our children are not one of those who walk away? Studies have shown that one marker of young adults who have stuck with their faith and church attendance is those who experienced intergenerational relationships. One study in particular executed by the Fuller Youth Institute looked at how to achieve what they call “sticky faith” – a faith that sticks beyond adolescence. As they researched to determine what criteria helped students remain connected and committed to their faith and church after high school and college, they discovered intergenerational relationships played a key role. The more Christian adults in the lives of teenagers walking alongside of them, helping them grow in their faith, the better. These are adults who have a real influence in the life of your child. It could be a Christian teacher or coach, a youth pastor, a volunteer small group leader or Sunday school teacher, an extended family member, or a family friend. Anything you can do as a parent to foster these types of intergenerational relationships will be incredibly beneficial for your teen. If your child has a small group leader or Sunday school teacher, make sure you introduce yourself to them and try to build a relationship with them. Maybe even consider having them (and possibly their family if they have one) over for a meal sometime. Show them your appreciation and seek to have open communication with them. Be on the lookout for adults in your teen’s proximity who you could work with your child to cultivate a relationship or encourage any relationships that already exist.
Another way for teens to experience intergenerational relationships is to attend intergenerational church services. Churches have done a great job providing inviting environments tailored specifically to different age groups that play an important role in helping kids and teens grow in their faith, but studies have shown teenagers who attended Sunday morning worship services with their parents are more likely to stick with church once they leave home. If students rarely attend intergenerational worship services and instead only experience programs customized for their age group, they tend to feel lost and uncomfortable in Sunday morning worship once they have aged out of a specific age ministry. So, keep sending your teen to youth group and Sunday school, but also take them to worship with you on Sunday mornings!
Teens can also build intergenerational relationships by serving – in the church and in the community. They build relationships with those they serve alongside, and if they are serving kids younger than themselves, they build relationships intergenerationally that way as well. Help your child discover interests and gifts they have and help them find a way to plug in as a volunteer somewhere serving others. Serving always helps us grow in our faith, and our kids will have the extra bonus of developing intergenerational relationships they might not otherwise have.
Most teens go through a stage in which they think their parents don’t know anything about anything. They roll their eyes at our advice and then come home talking about the great advice someone else gave them, which happens to be the very thing we advised! During these phases, it is so important for our kids to have other trusted voices in their lives. Use whatever resources you have to help your child develop genuine relationships with adults that will point them to Jesus.