My interest in intergenerationality grew from my family’s life-changing experiences in the 1990s with a faith community that met weekly in intergenerational small groups. Those years prompted me to change my career focus and to pursue a doctorate in Christian education which was driven by one burning question: What can explain the profound spiritual effects I observed and experienced in those intergenerational small groups? Since finishing my dissertation (Allen, 2002), I have followed the literature that tracks the growing interest in intergenerationality, which includes 46 doctoral dissertations on the topic and scores of articles as well as the books mentioned below. In general, it is the premise of those who promote intergenerational approaches in faith communities that cross-generational life together uniquely fosters spiritual formation in all age cohorts, and conversely, that perennially segregating the various generations is inherently diminishing.
During the last hundred years steady changes have occurred in society that have separated the families and segregated age groups, not only in educational settings, but in life in general. Faith communities are perhaps the only places where families, singles, couples, children, teens, grandparents—all generations—come together on a regular interacting basis. Yet, the societal trend toward age segregation has moved into churches also. Though church leaders endorse intergenerational approaches in theory, in practice American mainline and evangelical churches generally conduct many of their services and activities (worship, Sunday school, fellowship, outreach, service, etc.) in agesegregated settings. Consequently, in the second decade of twenty-first century America, all generations of the faith community—babies through octogenarians—are seldom together.
Though grandparents hope to influence the new generation, to pass on their values, understanding, wisdom, and faith, little empirical evidence exists that reveals if (or how) grandparents actually influence their grandchildren spiritually. To investigate this issue, the authors revisit the raw data from Allen's 2002 qualitative dissertation on children's spirituality and analyze what the 40 children in the field research said about their grandparents. The statements of these children as well as data from other empirical studies offer strong support for the idea that grandparents nurture their grandchildren's relationship with God through their frequent prayers, their stories, their clear example, their quiet witness, their availability, and especially their ability to lavish love, grace, and mercy on grandchildren in deep need of such gifts.
Children's spirituality is the child's development of a conscious relationship with God, in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, within the context of a community of believers that fosters that relationship, as well as the child's understanding of--and response to--that relationship.
This first mini-theme issue of CEJ (Series 3) focuses on children’s spirituality. Children’s spiritual development is currently a hot topic not only in Christian education circles but in the broader world of the social sciences as well. Robert Coles’ publication of The Spiritual Life of Children (1990, Houghton Mifflin) heralded a new interest in the area of children and faith across a variety of fields and disciplines—educational and developmental psychology, ministry, medicine, world religion, sociology, education, theology, even church history.
In addition to briefly examining biblical and empirical support for intentional intergenerational ministry, the author primarily addresses the question: Why might intergenerational Christian experiences contribute significantly to faith and spiritual development? She integrates concepts from situated learning theory with some of Vygotsaky's sociocultural ideas to forge a learning macrotheory that explicates the basic learning principles at work in intergenerational Christian community. The author also offers practical ideas for those who desire to cultivate a more intergenerational outlook as well as some specific ways to bring the generations together.