We have to start somewhere. Generational discipleship doesn’t just happen. No matter what structures or programs we have in place, no matter how stunning our stage presence or powerful our preaching, no matter how nice our facility or how big or small our building, without the connections that lead to meaningful relationships, we will miss out on the greatest opportunity for lifelong disciples within our faith communities.
In the Connect Generations case study in 2022, one interesting insight into how connection plays out in the participating churches emerged.
For starters, in the ten churches that were surveyed, there were ten different understandings of connection, relationship, discipleship, and mentorship. Definitions of these words were intentionally not given to the participants.
The goal was to see if generational discipleship, the passing of faith from one generational to another, was being observed by the participant without input or bias from the researcher.
In the end, only two participants differentiated between connection (a chance or space to interact), a relationship (something that moved beyond the greeting at church), and discipleship/mentorship (a passing on of faith or life lesson from one person to another). Only one participant could articulate a path from connection to relationship to discipleship/mentorship where the passing of faith was the primary intent.
In general, mentorship was primarily seen as simply passing a skill or task to another such as how to run the sound board or cook the meal for the yard sale or cut the lawn or teaching someone to take over a vacated role on a committee. Mentorship was only spoken of by one participant in a way that involved any form of spiritual formation or the sharing of personal life lessons.
The ways in which discipleship was understood were equally vague, with all but one referring to a discipleship program or curriculum as the primary context for discipleship. One participant responded to the question on mentorship/discipleship by saying, “We don’t use a lot of religious language…Mentoring is still a thing but not necessarily spiritual or religious.”
Another offered their church’s definition of discipleship as simply “embodying faith” but offered no practice tied to the experience of discipleship in their church other than starting a mentoring program in January.
Finally, another answered the discipleship/mentorship question by sharing, “Intergenerational relationships are more about hanging out and having fun not intentional discipleship or mentoring.”
Why is this important? Because if we are to take seriously our call to make disciples on all, including the all that shows up in our church each Sunday, we need to know what it is we are doing.
This is what generational discipleship is all about. It’s the passing of our faith from one generation to another. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Our faith doesn’t accidentally get passed on by way of a good book or a great worship song. Our faith is passed from one generation to another. It is passed in relational community.