The Theologian - The internet journal for integrated theology


Church Family?

Intergenerational Tension in the Church

by Adam Sparks



We live at a time when much progress is being made in inter-church and interdenominational cooperation and unity. However, the trend is often not mirrored within individual fellowships. Sadly, much of this disunity is split along generational lines and many churches are finding it difficult to “keep everyone happy”.

The tensions that exist, often surrounding the issue of “worship style” have caused many churches to adopt a pattern of three or even more different services to cater for the various preferences each Sunday.

Advocates of this approach point out that in many cases churches that have adopted this pattern of niche services are growing. It is on this basis that the approach is then justified.

This paper recognises the very real issues that exist and acknowledges that there are no easy solutions to the situation. It is not an appeal to retain the status quo or to return to an imagined past ideal.

However, it argues that the niche approach may be problematic and is not necessarily the best way forward for the life and mission of the church. This paper considers that the one church ideal must be made a reality. It is optimistic that workable solutions can be found if our confidence is put in the transforming, reconciling power of the gospel for all the people of God.

If this is achieved there is significant potential for the ministry and growth of the church. If it is not achieved the future will almost certainly be one of growing fragmentation and tension in the church.


1. Setting the Scene

1.1 Trends in society

Western Society is changing. Our individualistic and consumerist culture tells us that “I” am most important. I must get what I want when I want it, whatever the cost. Individual choice rather than community obligation drives our actions. This mindset has contributed to the escalating fragmentation occurring in marriages, families and communities. Interdependence is being exchanged for independence. 

“The Western worldview is now in crisis. The breakdown of bonds of commitment and mutuality at family, local and national levels is the harvest reaped from a partial understanding of what it means to be human, mistaking the individual for the personal and ignoring the relational altogether.”»1

A recent Government initiative, “The Tomorrow Project” has looked at the potential shape of society over the next 20 years and suggests that it will be characterised by growing fragmentation and isolation. People’s expectations of relationships will change. “As made-to-measure expectations spread people will be less inclined to negotiate difficulties and conflicts in a group. ‘If the group does not fit me exactly, I’ll move on.’”»2 The project recognises growing marriage problems and increasing problems relating within and between generations. “The current trend towards less stable relationships seems set to continue”»3

In the West, loneliness and isolation are increasingly being acknowledged as social problems. The shape of families is changing. As people live for longer family structures are becoming “verticalised” Family ties are loosening, particularly at a horizontal level with extended family members. It is anticipated that the growing elderly population will peak in first quarter of the 21st Century and that there will be a “crisis in care for old people.”»4

Another recent study has concluded:

“With the ageing of the population a much greater level of understanding is important if we are to achieve harmony and balance within society. For this reason more intergenerational programmes in education, work, volunteering and care must be developed as a matter of urgency.”»5


1.2 Trends in the church

The church, as a counter-cultural community of God’s people has enormous potential to demonstrate the reconciling, uniting power of the Gospel, as it prophetically and practically challenges these destructive trends. It has a strategic opportunity to foster meaningful relationships and community. Tragically, many churches are failing to recognise and grasp these opportunities. Os Guinness’s suggests “In terms of her alertness to cultural danger, the church is virtually in a coma.”»6 This assertion is relevant to the current issue.

We like to refer to our congregations as “church families”, but it is difficult to see how this description can be accurately applied to many local churches, where the various generational groupings rarely, if ever meet. There may be a formal 1662 Prayer book service at 8 am, a traditional service at 9.30 am, an informal service at 10.30 am and a youth service in the evening. This may mean that grandparents, parents and children all attend different services.

A defining characteristic of families is that you do not choose who is in them, but I believe church congregations are loosing sight of this reality and are in danger of becoming specialist clubs. In these “clubs” we choose whom to associate with and are willing to do this only with those who are the same as us. We are told that the personal, cultural and generational differences that exist are insurmountable therefore we need to meet separately. Perhaps we have forgotten that we are meeting to worship the God who created these different personalities, styles and ages!

There has been a recent proliferation in books, journal articles and conferences on church growth strategy. One of the most popular themes has been “The tailor-made church»7”. In an article with that title, Rev Dr Michael Moynagh argues that in a society driven by consumerism, individualism, customisation, and differentiation, the “traditional church with its wide mixture of people, will seem increasingly alien to those who want to join others like them.” He continues

“Our society is becoming ever more fragmented. Let us incarnate the church by establishing new kinds of congregations within the fragments instead of inviting people to us. Just as Christ’s love is tailor-made for individuals, the church’s mission should be tailor-made to the different groups in our society…..We may recoil at this theologically because a fragmented church seems to fly in the face of the ‘one church’ ideal. However, planting churches in the fragments would proclaim that our unity is in Christ, not place.”»8

The current writer agrees that the big challenge “will be to go to people – to connect church to the groups in our society who are distant from it” but questions the suggested solution. I believe that rather than proclaiming our unity in Christ, Moynagh’s approach proclaims that our “unity” is found only in a context of others who share our personal preferences. This is not the unity that the transforming, reconciling gospel brings.


2. Discussion – The Issues

2.1 Pragmatism and The Homogenous Unit Principle

 “If the niche approach works, then surely we should adopt it.” Similar statements would be echoed by many who support this approach to church growth strategy. It reveals an interesting trend in modern evangelicalism - an emphasis on pragmatism. If it “works”, we do it. While no-one would want to advocate approaches that do not work, and recognising that pragmatism is not unreasonable in itself, the current writer believes that raw pragmatism can obscure other considerations (particularly long-term implications) that a particular decision my have. In relation to the current issue, considerations such as maturity, unity and discipleship may be overlooked.

Many of the advocates of the niche approach base their position on principles derived from Homogenous Unit principle (HUP). The HUP is a principle of church growth theory championed by Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission during the 1970s. A HU can be defined as “a section of society in which all members have some characteristic in common.”»9 These common characteristics may be geographical, linguistic, ethnic, economic, social class etc. The primary motive for such a strategy is the belief that sociological barriers often inhibit people converting because the Gospel appears alien to them. HU churches attempt to reach one particular section of society by adopting an approach that does not appear alien to that focus group.

The theory created considerable debate, and in 1977 the Lausanne Movement convened a special conference to consider it. Supporters and opponents both presented papers and some common ground was found. One of the conclusions reached was:

“…a HU church can be a legitimate and authentic church. Yet we are also agreed that it can never be complete in itself. Indeed, if it remains in isolation, it cannot reflect the universality and diversity of the Body of Christ. Nor can it grow into maturity. Every HU church must take active steps to broaden its fellowship in order to demonstrate visibly the unity and variety of Christ’s church. This will mean forging with each other and different churches creative relationships which express the reality of Christian love, brotherhood, and interdependence.”»10

In both the OT and NT we discover that God’s mission is to create a people for Himself. We must remember that Christ came to establish a new society, not just new individuals. Wells points out that it is difficult to see how we can witness to the gospel’s truth that “in Christ all barriers have fallen – those of race, education, class etc…if they are carefully and deliberately preserving these barriers as part of their mission strategy.”»11 Stanley Grenz highlights the communal nature of the people of God.

“The Church is far more than a collection of saved individuals who band together for the task of winning the lost, for the programme of God moves beyond salvation of the isolated individual to encompass social interaction.”»12

Similarly, Stott states that

“Salvation in the Bible is never a purely individualistic concept. As in the Old Testament, so in the New, God is calling out a people for himself and binding it to himself by a solemn covenant. The members of this new society, reconciled through Christ to God and one another, are being drawn from all races and cultures. Indeed, this single new humanity – which Christ has created and in which no barriers are tolerated – is an essential part of the good news (Eph 2:11-22).”»13

Few would deny this, but would draw attention to the dilemma that then exists. If homogenous churches tend to grow faster than heterogeneous churches “we have to choose between apparent acquiescence in segregation for the sake of numerical church growth and the struggle for reconciliation at the expense of numerical church growth.”»14

The current writer recognises the difficult issues being highlighted by this statement, but believes that this is a choice that does not need to be made, for reconciliation and growth are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, a church that effectively and proactively models true community is dynamic and attractive – and a powerful statement to society. Perhaps partly to blame for this lack of confidence in the one church ideal is the loss of confidence in the power of the gospel, not only to change lives but also to transform the community of God’s people. “Christ the Lord gives to his people new standards. They also receive a new homogeneity which transcends all others, for now they find their essential unity in Christ, rather than in culture.”»15

David Wells, perceives a clear, but perhaps somewhat simplistic link between the growth of many contemporary strategies such as the HUP and the decline of theology in the church.

“it is probably no accident that these principles began to find wide acceptance in the evangelical world in the 1970s, because, as I have suggested, this was the time when the confessional and theological character of evangelicalism began to fade, leaving the churches wide open to the intrusions of raw pragmatism. As theology moved from the center to the periphery of evangelical faith, technique moved from the periphery to the center.”»16


2.2 Mission and Church

The basic thinking of the HUP was developed in a context of cross-cultural mission, primarily by McGavran during his work in India in the 1930’s and it is thus most applicable in mission and evangelism. Indeed, it is on the basis of this missional motive that it is usually defended. However, questions arise when it becomes normative for the life and ministry of the church in general. While “church” must be about evangelism and mission, it is more than this. Church is also about maturity, unity, discipleship and community, (egg. Eph. 2:11-21; Heb. 5:11-6:3; Col. 3:12-17) and these dimensions cannot be fully demonstrated in a Homogenous Unit. There is also the danger that the HUP makes too much of a distinction between mission and the church. The church is the primary agent of mission. It is both ontologically mission and occurs only when mission occurs.

Reaching the “un-churched” and particularly our youth in an effective and meaningful way is certainly a mission activity, arguably even a cross-cultural activity. However, it is the conviction of the current writer that the intention must ultimately be to introduce all believers into the body of Christ with all its various representatives and parts.      (1 Cor. 12:12) Mature Christians must be able to worship together. To say otherwise is a denial of Christ’s reconciliatory accomplishment. Strong Christians and strong fellowships are those who are mature enough to experience variety and live with differences. Those who are unable are immature»17 or are ignoring the clear teaching of the New Testament.

True community is something the church must strive for. Not only is this a biblical principle, it is also an apologetic and an evangelistic tool. “The Tomorrow Project” recognises that despite growing fragmentation “the groups concept remains attractive.” It gives a sense of belonging and identity and significance, “but for many the answered question remains – to whom do I really belong”»18 Surely, true belonging is found in a mixed group. The family is a mixed group and is the formative arena in which most people learn how to relate – not only to their contemporaries but to their elders and minors as well.

Professor John Drane considers community to be key to the mission of the church.

“We have lost a vital sense of community and the most desperate need of many people is for a place to belong. All around us, people are asking big questions but all too often they find neither understanding nor acceptance, among Christians. Yet the Jesus presented to us in the New Testament consistently identified the reality of loving community as one of the key aspects of Christian discipleship. Those churches that are growing in the West have worked hard at creating and nurturing effective community.”»19

This theme is explored further in 2.4 (below).


2.3 Mind the Gap

Many of the advocates of a niche approach suggest that the challenge of bridging the gap between young and old is now too great and therefore we have little choice but to meet separately. They maintain that the cultural challenges of the 1st Century church were less exacting than those that exist today. In a recent edition of Youthwork, John Buckeridge comments on the rise of “Niche Church Services»20”.

“Growing numbers of churches appear to find the challenge of all-age meetings too tough. Coming up with a formula that addresses the needs and holds the attention of young children, teenagers, singles, marrieds, the middle aged, divorced and senior citizens – all together in one church service – is about as easy as turning the Millennium Dome into a money maker……The early church knew no barriers between races, ages, genders or background. But that was then – what about now? I believe that if niche fosters spiritual maturity and growth significantly better than older models, why not.”»21

The current writer believes that such opinions show a misunderstanding of the culture of the early church and the challenge that confronted it. Cultural tensions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female were every bit as real as those that exist today between young and old, Baby Boomers, Baby Busters and Generation Xers.  Significant sections of the New Testament deal with these tensions and even a brief review of the way they were dealt with reveals the model for overcoming them is very different to one many churches are adopting today.

The apostles’ teaching on division in the church does not advocate a solution based on establishing separate meetings to suit the styles of the various parties. The solutions involved sacrifice, tolerance, love, and respect for others (e.g. Phil 2:1-4; Eph 2:14-25) – qualities we would do well to inculcate today. Perhaps if Paul was writing Galatians 3:28 today he would need to include ageism along with racism and sexism. Mark Ashton believes there are close parallels between the three.

 “Where a generation barrier appears in congregational life it must be resisted as stoutly as racism or snobbery. The idea of “youth churches” as a permanent expression of the Christian community’s life is highly questionable. If we abandon the vision of a church without age barriers, we are discarding a part of the gospel, just as much as if we accepted there should be different churches for different classes, races or skin colours.”»22

The “generation gap” began to be addressed seriously by missiologists in the 1970’s when Kraft first diagnosed a “generation gap problem” and warned of growing “intergenerational apathy”»23 He was referring to the situation in the West, and this is still very much a Western phenomenon. In the article by Rev Moynagh referred to in 1.1 above, Moynagh suggests that “if we do not take this initiative ourselves [referring to the adoption of a niche approach] missionaries from Africa, Asia and South America will.”»24 I believe this is unlikely because at the heart of the problem is the individualistic mindset and isolated nuclear family that dominate the West’s social landscape. The same is generally not true in Asia, Africa and South America, and I doubt whether missionaries from such places would seriously entertain this approach. For them it would probably be a denial of true family and community – and true church.

If true family and community are to be achieved in the local church, it is clear that there are no short-cuts, they need to be worked at with long-term strategies. The status quo is not satisfactory. It has long been recognised that problems are encountered when seeking to incorporate young people into the main church. Indeed many do not make this step and leave church when the have outgrown the youth groups. Perhaps part of the problem is that often, young people are seen as a problem rather than a resource. They are seen as the “the church of tomorrow” when they must be a meaningful part of it today.»25 This will involve far more than tokenism – more than getting the young people involved in the Christmas services or a quarterly “Youth service”.

Much church youth work is conducted in isolation from the rest of “church” and its various ministries. This must change. Youth work cannot expect to successfully incorporate young people into church when they reach the appropriate age if they are kept separate from it until this age. Young people need to experience, benefit from and contribute to intergenerational groups throughout their development.

“We cannot consign the young people to a section of the church’s life. We cannot treat the ‘youth work’ as a neatly self-contained unit which, with the right resourcing and servicing will deliver mature Christian disciples into the adult congregation of the church on their twentieth birthdays.”»26

An important lesson can be learnt from secular Youth Work experience. In the 1960s the British Government recognised the need for greater emphasis on Youth Work and commissioned the Albermarle Report to research the issue. This resulted in increased funding for, and recognition of Youth Work by Government agencies and authorities. Youth Work experienced a boom period. However, according to Youth Worker Bob Mayo “The Albermarle Report left a Youth Service well-intentioned, well-financed, but flawed”. One of the main flaws Mayo points to is “it dealt with young people in isolation from the rest of the community.”»27 Within 10 years of the Report being published, thinking was retracting violently from this isolationist approach to young people.

“The Albermarle report on the Youth Service in England and Wales is one of the most disastrous social documents to appear in this country this century. It widens the fissure in English society which divides the generations and no doubt with the best intensions in the world belittles and humiliates the young. It advocates that there be established a separate, segregated adolescent world….with specially trained (and paid) representatives of Adult society to supervise and oversee it. There is throughout the report no conception of introducing young people into adult society even as junior members.”»28

According to Mayo, another fault of much youth work is that its deals with symptoms rather than causes. “In making the raison d’être of the Youth Service to deal with disadvantaged young people within the community, the Service end up enshrining those very differences it was intended to challenge.”»29

The current writer believes that many of the approaches that are being adopted as solutions to the problem of intergenerational tension within churches may actually result in exacerbating these tensions and ensuring the same problems endure for the future. Although well-intentioned they may inadvertently result in a reinforcing of the generational gap. At some stage the church needs to take the challenge seriously and develop positive solutions. If we fail to do this we are setting in place a system to ensure successful division. The church will produce congregations of people who know only how to relate to people who are the same as them. Michael Harper makes the interesting point from church history that when groups separate from organisations out of tension with the old, they subconsciously plan a corrective of the movement which then successive generations of the movement immediately make normative! »30

If the church is to successfully plot a course through difficult and contentious issues such as this one, it must demonstrate greater willingness and ability to submit secular assumptions to a rigorous theological critique, rather than adopting them wholesale as seems to be the case in much current church growth writing and practice.


2.4 We need each other

We often make the statement that “we need each other” or “need to learn from each other”, however, more often than not these remain as clichés. Rarely are they taken seriously or are systems put in place to facilitate such intergenerational relationships or opportunities for learning.

True community is interdependent. This truth is at the heart of the NT teaching on community. The basic message of the “Body metaphor” (1 Cor. 12:12) is that we need each other. We are corporately the body of Christ, and individually members of it.  David Watson helpfully notes the distinction and similarity between the Body of Christ and the Church.

“Although Christ is quite distinct from the church, as the body of Christ the church should be a powerful testimony to the reality of the risen Christ today. And that can only be true when individual Christians or groups of Christians, lose their independence and learn again what it means to belong to one another and to share together their common life in Christ as members of his one body.”»31

The Bible endorses the diversity of cultures, but maintains that the Unity of church extends beyond this diversity. (Eph 4:3-6, 13-16.) Christ’s mission abolished the barrier between God and his people. It also abolished the barriers between his people. (Gal 3:28). We do not cease to be Jew, Gentile, Male or Female, but these differences no longer represent barriers to fellowship.

 “Thus the church as the single new humanity or God’s new society is central to the Gospel. Our responsibility is both to preach it and to exhibit it before the watching world.”»32

So, we are not just to advocate a new social order but rather be a new social order. The church is the gospel’s credibility statement to society. It is an eschatological community, called to anticipate on earth the life of heaven, and thus to develop both cultural richness and heterogeneous fellowship.»33 God’s glory is to be seen in the church as Christ’s living body. The body demonstrates deep relationships based on deep commitment to each other. Our first commitment is to Christ and then to each other – not to ourselves – our style and preferences. This love has apologetic and evangelistic value. (Jn. 13:34-5)

The early church met in homes until at least the 4th Century, and it is hard to imagine these first “house churches” would not have contained some intergenerational quality. Scripture clearly recognises a role for the active involvement of all generations in communal worship. Space prevents an examination of these texts, however, a few are noted below. Joel’s prophecy clearly envisages a role for young an old “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams….” With the coming of Pentecost and the birth of the church this prophecy became a reality. (Acts 2:17ff)

The language of the Bible is full of indications of the intergenerational nature of the people of God, for example, “The family of believers” (Gal 6:10). Paul affirms the position of young Timothy, encouraging him not to be looked down upon because of his youth. (1 Tim. 4:12) On the other hand, Peter appeals to the young to be submissive to elders (1 Pe. 5:5) and he urges old and young alike to clothe themselves with humility toward one another (1 Pe. 5:1-5). Indeed it was Jesus’ prayer that we might be “one” (Jn. 17:21f.)

It is difficult to see how young and old who are not prepared to worship together can be “one” in any meaningful sense. In a very profound way, through the power of the gospel we have become one generation. We are all brothers and sisters, we all serve the same King and are all made in His image. Disunity is a denial of our identity.

In their book The Family: A Christian perspective on the contemporary home, J & J Balswick state that “God’s ideal is that children mature to the point where they and their parents empower each other.”»34 We need each other, and this mutual empowerment must be actively sought in the church as well as the home. John and Olive Drane note that “A major reason why younger people find relationships difficult is that they have no models to give direction” and they suggest

 “The only way we will break out of this self perpetuating cycle of defeat and despair is if we can find living examples of people of different dispositions and outlooks being together in harmony, working through their differences in a spirit of mutual respect and humility. The single most valuable thing the Church can do for families today is to model life in that sort of community.”»35

There are parallels between a niche approach to church and a monoculture approach to agriculture. Both may produce good harvests initially, but are unsustainable, produce very barren habitats and have negative implications for the church and the environment, respectively. We need each other.


2.5 Discovering worship

“Worship is the single most important act in which Christians engage. ‘Let us worship God’ is the most important sentence spoken week after week, year after year, in congregations all over the world. It calls us to attention before God who has something life-changing, soul saving, and world-renewing to say. It gathers us to an appropriate and adequate response to God who wills to ‘make all things new’, an ‘all things’ that includes us. But as we enter the third millennium…when the call goes out, ‘Let us worship God’, instead of worshipping, men and women begin to argue, explain, denounce, promote, discuss, and denounce…..The work of Christian worship is in chaos.”»36    

Eugene Peterson, Emeritus Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver.

Advocates of youth congregations and the niche approach often claim that their approach does not undermine the reality of the church family, even if it does not meet to worship together. However, this begs the question “If we can’t worship together, what can we do together?” True worship is a profoundly unselfish activity. John Drane has described it as “all that we are, responding to all that God is”»37 As such, there is little room for a preoccupation with self-gratification. In the words of Matt Redman we need to “get back to the heart of worship – that’s God not me”.

It is my conviction that at the heart of the current crisis of confidence that many in the Western church are experiencing is a crisis of confidence in the gospel itself. We need to discover afresh the revolutionary, radical, transforming power of the gospel. The gospel has overcome that rift between God and humanity. But what power is there in a gospel that cannot overcome personal preferences? What power is there in a gospel that cannot overcome the tensions caused by differences in musical tastes – “worship style”? Put this way the issue seems absurd, but it is a very real one and one that we have noted, is causing significant problems in many congregations. A unity based on the condition that others must be the same as me or enjoy the same music as me is no unity at all.

This paper has concentrated on the dangers that a niche approach may present to church unity, particularly intergenerational unity. However, of similar concern is another implication of this approach. It is outside the scope of this paper, thus is just briefly mentioned here. By providing a smorgasbord of various styles and tastes in order to keep as many people as possible “happy”, we may inadvertently be encouraging a pic-n-mix spirituality. Dave Baxter has highlighted this risk. “We can become consumeristic about our church services to the point that we come to church choosing which of the three types of service we want. The danger is that we become selfish in our approach to worship and seek out what we want rather than what God wants….We spend our time trying to please the ‘consumer’ rather than build something reflecting God’s heart for ‘church’.»38

There is also the danger that much “niche mentality” is driven by a personal frustration with the status quo, rather than a genuine desire to explore better models of contexualised ministry.


3. Conclusions and Recommendations

Western society is experiencing growing fragmentation, particularly at the intergenerational level. These tensions are often reflected in local church congregations where increasing numbers of churches are adopting a niche approach to “doing church”. Advocates of the approach point out that many such churches are growing and tensions - primarily over the issue of style are alleviated. This paper recognises these positive results but argues that many of these advocates may rely too heavily on pragmatism. It urges those considering this approach to look at the wider issues involved.

The current writer believes that the Homogenous Unit Principle may be suitable for particular evangelistic or mission settings but cannot be successfully employed as a general ecclesiological model. Moreover, church and mission must never be divorced. Maturity, discipleship and community, principles that are central to NT teaching on the character of the people of God can only be fully fostered in a heterogeneous fellowship. Salvation in the Bible is never a purely individual concept but also has societal implications as God is calling a people for himself. True community is a powerful apologetic, a credibility statement to wider society.

The generation gap although serious is not insurmountable. The NT church experienced tensions of a similar magnitude between cultures and sexes and yet the teaching of the NT is that these barriers can and must be overcome. Youth work that is conducted in isolation from the rest of “church” is problematic and may exacerbate the generation gap.

The church as Christ’s body cannot function properly if its parts are separated. The people of God are an interdependent community where mutual empowerment, humility, love and sacrifice are to be exhibited. There is a very real need for the church to place more confidence in the reconciling power of the gospel. The alternative is a shallow, pic-n-mix spirituality and enduring division.

This paper does not offer a detailed strategy for addressing generational tension within a local congregation as this would be the subject of further specialist reflection and study. However, the following points are offered as basic considerations that may be helpful starting points from which to work.

  • The Bible’s rich imagery and abundant references to the “people of God” need further detailed study to discover the qualities and characteristics of this people. These will need to be appropriately applied to the contemporary culture of the people of God.
  • There is an urgent need to discover the true meaning and motivation for church – especially worship, which has sadly often become an instrument of division rather than for glorifying God and for mutual up building.
  • Any strategies must begin by acknowledging the essential unity of the church. They must acknowledge that achieving unity is hard work. It is not a passive feature, but has to be proactively sought. Strategies must not underestimate the challenge this presents on the one hand, or be resigned to defeat on the other.
  • Churches that are to effectively model true community and family across the generations will need clear teaching on this responsibility.  Some people may need disciplining if they continue with selfish or unreasonable expectations. True unity will require sacrifice by all church members.
  • Isolationist approaches to youth work need to be exchanged for integrated approaches. They cannot be left until young people “graduate” from the youth groups. Successful intergenerational church will involve intergenerational ministries operating at every level of the church. Young and old working together have the dual function of complimentarity and providing role models for the wider church family.
  • Youth Group leadership must not be consigned to the young, but a mixed model should be explored. Mike Yaconelli, speaking on the challenges youth workers face when relating to teens today, says this

  “I know, I know. The Church is boring, dull, out of touch, irrelevant and all that stuff. But it’s still here. And somehow, when young people have a relationship with the whole church, not just the cool people; when young people have adults who care about them for a long time; when young people are appreciated and have mentors and models to follow, they do better.  I know the emphasis is on cool, relevant worship and worship is important, but more important are people who have decided to follow Jesus for 50 years. When young people are exposed to or forced to be with adults, over the long haul, they do better”»39

  • Homogenous congregations must make every effort to broaden their fellowship if they are to be true expressions of the body of Christ.


  1. Age Concern The Debate of the Age, London: 2000
  2. Ashton, M., Christian Youth Work, Kingsway, 1986
  3. Balswick, J. & J., The Family: A Christian perspective on the contemporary home, 1989
  4. Buckeridge, J., “Editorial”, Youthwork, July 2000
  5. Cray, G., “Postmodernism: Mutual society in crisis” Building a Relational Society
    ed Nicola Baker, Arena, 1996
  6. Drane, J. & O., Happy Families, Harper Collins, London, 1995
  7. Drane, J., Cultural Change and Biblical Faith.
  8. Grenz, S., Revisioning Evangelical Theology.
  9. Guinness, O. The Gravedigger File. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1983
  10. Hickford, A., Essential Youth, Kingsway, 1998
  11. Kraft, C., Christianity in Culture.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1979
  12. Mayo, B. & Baxter, D. “Is history Repeating itself?” Youthwork, October 1998»40
  13. Moynagh, M., “The tailor-made church?” Christian Herald 23 October 1999
  14. Moynah, M. & Worsley, R. Tomorrow,  Lexicon, London. 2000
  15. Peterson, E., “Forward” in Montgomery, D., Sing a New Song. Choosing and leading praise in Today’s Church. Rutherford House, Edinburgh, 2000..
  16. Stott, J.  Making Christ Known: Historic Mission Documents from the Lausanne Movement. Paternoster, Cumbria.1996
  17. Watson, D. I believe in the church.
  18. Wells, D., God in the Wasteland, IVP, 1990
  19. Yaconelli, M., “Interview” in Youthwork, October 1998

About the Author

Adam Sparks worked for the Evangelical Alliance in the UK before moving to study for a PhD (Theology of Religions) at Bristol University.