"How could I guarantee that each table would have an intergenerational representation? My solution: silk flowers and quart jars."
An Intergenerational Gathering
At the Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids Michigan we started Intergenerational Sunday School (IGSS) in the Fall of 2013. On the first Sunday of the month from September through May, during our education hour, IGSS replaces our normal Sunday school classes.
Instead of watching adults go off to their classes and sending each grade of kids to their separate classrooms, all generations (even our nursery kids!) are invited to meet together in the fellowship space. We set up round tables that seat eight people. But how could I guarantee that each table would have an intergenerational representation? My solution: silk flowers and quart jars.
How it Works
As people enter the fellowship space, there is a table loaded with baskets and vases of silk flowers and ferns. I determined five different age groups and assigned each age group their own flower color. The groups are:
- Age 0 - 6th grade
- 7th - 12th grade
- High school grad through 29 years old
- 30 - 55 years old
- 56 years old and up
The participants are instructed to ‘make a bouquet’ by wandering through the fellowship space and placing their flower in a quart jar located at the center of a guest table. No table is permitted to have more than three flowers of the same color in their bouquet — meaning at least three different age groups will be represented at a table of eight people. Note: I don’t have rules about parents sitting/not sitting with their own children as I feel that decision is best left to the parents.
Why I Like this Method
1. Instead of awkwardly walking around a large space wondering where you belong, everyone has been given clear instructions about where they belong. The focus becomes, ‘Where does my flower belong?’ which is much less intimidating then ‘Where do I belong?’
2. It creates a colorful centerpiece!
3. It guarantees people will get to know other members of their church family outside of the normal peer group.
1. Find Table Hosts: someone who will arrive early at each guest table, invite others to join them, take the lead in facilitating discussion, and help with clean up afterwards!
2. Always provide crayons or markers and blank paper at every table. Nursery kids and introverts of all ages will thank you!
3. Relationships formed at tables will most likely by fairly new and therefore fairly fragile. Don’t burden these relationships with more than 15 minutes of table discussion at a time, or things may get awkward. Better to leave ‘em wanting more...
What Happens at Intergenerational Sunday School
We have just begun our second year of IGSS, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Attendance varies between 150-200 people, which is slightly above our average education-hour attendance on non-IGSS Sundays. It truly has become an intergenerational setting where members of our church family can engage and connect.
And of course, it is so much easier to fulfill our baptism vows to receive, pray for, help instruct in the faith, encourage and sustain in the fellowship of believers’ all members of our church family, when we know each other by name!
In terms of the content of IGSS, we center our discussion and activities around the sermon passage of the day, which follows the lectionary cycle. Jolanda Howe, a good friend and a member of our church with experience writing Sunday school curriculum, meets with me to create our IGSS curriculum. Each IGSS meeting contains the following elements:
- Table introductions
- Opening question
- Large-group presentation of today’s topic
- Table discussion of today’s topic
- Closing activity
A Sample IGSS Outline for September 2014, Theme: Renewal
1. Introduce yourself to table members & share something new you did this past year or something new you would like to try this coming year.
2. While introducing yourselves, use the materials on your table (play dough or Legos) to form something "new" and then name it. Bring your creation, including a label with the name of your object and the names of all the contributors, to the ‘Make All New Things’ display table.
3. Sing ‘The Lord Be with You’
4. Watch clip from "History Channel: American Restoration" and listen to pastor’s brief insights on Passover and Renewal from Exodus chapter 12.
5. Discuss & dream with your table members about what renewal could look like in our church, in our community, and in our homes.
6. End with "Renewal starts with me" craft. Participants glue large, reflective silver sequins to cardstock that has been pre-printed with Renewal starts with me. They punch holes in the cardstock and attach a ribbon so participants can hang it somewhere as a reminder of our desire to be renewed.
If you have any questions about our IGSS ministry, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annette Ediger is the Minister of Faith Formation at the Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, MI. She has served as a Sunday School teacher, Girls Club leader, and Facility Committee chair, while homeschooling her four daughters and working as the wedding coordinator for her parents’ farm, Post Family Farm. Annette and her husband, Jay, and their children live in an 1892 farmhouse in Hudsonville.
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