Friday, June 4, 2010

Chronological Snobbery in the Church

My small group at church is considered kind of anomalously radical because we have college students, a newly married couple, a couple with two kids, and a happily single woman.  Our age range is all of 12 years, but it's quite unheard of at our church where Sunday fellowship is pretty much segregated by age or life stage.  We all think this is quite silly.

We decided to start up a Sunday school class where we actively invite everyone especially if they aren't in our age group or life stage or whatever.  As one woman in my small group says, "I don't need people to commiserate with at church; I need people to learn from."  Amen.  I want the wisdom of people who didn't grow up in my generation (whatever that is) or even my parents' generation.  I want to know how people are walking the Christian life even if we don't have "life stage" in common.  We need people to learn from.

And people who can learn from us.  We admit we're hardly masters of the faith at our ages, but interacting with college students, high schoolers, and anyone younger than us seems like it could be mutually beneficial.  There has to be something our experience can teach them, such as, "No, really, don't do that because look what happened to me."

"I want to be part of a chain of discipleship."  Isn't that what the family of God is?

Our college student members are enthusiastic about this.  They both live not-so-close to where they attend college, so they don't go home all the time.  They miss, "things like hanging out with grandparents and playing with animals and tripping over children" and other stuff they don't get to do on campus.  They want to belong to a family of believers.  But at our church, where The Way Things Are doesn't change very fast, and we don't have a lot of time (they'll both be seniors next year), we're finding it takes a lot of hard work to make a family.

Here's an interesting article I found by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway about age segregation in churches.  (If the CT site gets up again soon, you might even be able to read it.)  Probably your church isn't as extreme as these examples (and I hope it isn't even as extreme as my church), but the article as a whole did make me think more about the topic.

Anyway, our class starts next Sunday, and we have NO IDEA if anyone is going to show up.  So, if you get the chance, please pray with us that the Spirit will move people into getting out there and learning from and having fellowship with Others Unlike Them (maybe at our class, for example :).  I kind of want to make a Bible study with O.U.T. as the acronym now . . .

I'm curious about how this has worked at churches you've attended.  Is there a natural intermixing of ages/life stages, or do things naturally settle out along ageist lines?  Why?  How do you make sure you interact with your elders and those younger than you?  Do you think this should be a priority?  Should it be something natural, or do you think it necessarily requires work?  Any other thoughts on the subject? (Extra points if you know where the term in the title came from.)


  1. The only environment I've encountered where people actively rejected age segregation as a way of life was the homeschooling community. Because the basic unit is the family (grandparents often included) rather than a classroom of similarly aged kids, homeschoolers tend to be good at socializing across age groups (and, at times, unsure of what to do with their chronologically-snobbish peers). Anyway, I suspect that because age-segregated classrooms are standard, people are just used to socializing with same-aged peers, and that it naturally carries over into Sunday School environments.

    I wonder at times whether this practice doesn't affect our culture much more widely than we realize, really- we benefit from close friendships with those older and younger than us generally, not just in regards to spiritual matters. There's a lot of wisdom to be passed around that never gets shared.

    From personal experience, as a teenager or college student I really would have appreciated being treated as a social equal by adults more. I think teens benefit especially, since they're developing their adult identities and need to separate themselves from their parents to a certain degree, but I know there are a lot of college students who miss the family environment. As a college student, I attended a Sunday School class aimed at people my parents' age (and taught by Sharon Johnson, who is awesome), and it was SO much more fun than the college & career class at the same church.

  2. Thanks for the interesting ideas here. I hadn't really thought about the classroom chronological snobbery carrying over, but I guess it makes sense.

    I wasn't homeschooled, but I've dealt better with adults than peers since about age 10.

    Your second paragraph was particularly compelling. How much of it is a cultural thing? Here's one area where I think we should be actively counter-culture. :) Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how to counter the chronological snobbery trend?

  3. Just trying to develop friendships is a big start. We've invited couples from church from our parents' generation over for dinner and tried to form friendships with them, and Paul has befriended one of the teenaged boys at church, getting him involved with worship and working on some electronics/computer stuff with him.

    It can also work to have men's or women's Bible studies, since they might at least be bridging generational divides. Personally, I think the best way to get people connected is to get them working together on a ministry project of some sort- so anything the whole church can get into is likely to be a winner. 30-Hour Famine, missions project, food/clothing collection or distribution, refurbishing church property, whatever. Our church has been very open to having younger adults serving in leadership roles, which has helped.