“You should come visit our community group! We are kind of old, though; you might not like it…” How often do we hear about Christian fellowship divided by age? Age often provides the boundaries for forming community. School divides by grade. Churches divide classes and small groups by age. Most friend groups form around similarly aged people. But what if we miss out on great opportunities for edifying relationships by limiting interaction to people of the same ages?
An Unlikely Situation
I just joined a new church. Awkward conversations and forgetting people’s names seemed inevitable. Where do I sit? I hate sitting by myself. I settled down into a row halfway back of the auditorium for the second week in a row. “Maybe,” I thought, “if I sit in the same spot, I will eventually meet the people around me.” Lo and behold, a couple, probably in their 50s or 60s came up to my twenty-five-year-old self. We exchanged the normal greetings of church people on a Sunday morning, but they engaged me in further conversation. Eventually they asked me to check out their community group to meet more people. My heart leaped at the opportunity for possible new interactions. They quickly assured me that they could help me find a younger group if I disliked theirs.
Wednesday came. I drove across town with a pit in my stomach, equally excited and nervous to form new relationships. I thought I found the house, but I also found an empty driveway. Do I run? What do I do? The pit in my stomach grew larger. I took a trip around the block, and when I returned, I saw the couple who invited me getting out of their car. The pit in my stomach decreased, and I walked in the house to the aroma of something freshly baked. Comfort washed over me.
I waded through more awkward introductions, but I eventually settled in. I was the youngest and only single person in the room. I noted the variety of ages: the leaders in their 30s, a couple in their 40s, and a few more couples in their 50s and 60s. Prayer requests differed from a man recovering from heart surgery, a couple’s son going through a divorce, and another couple’s daughter struggling with school. Discussion over the message from last Sunday differed as well. Each person brought a different perspective influenced by his or her demographic.
Members of my community group soon developed into my closest friends at church. Personal and spiritual growth arose in this diverse group of people. Our first Christmas party together, the hostess saw me as a guy who might just need an easy thing to bring to the party. She told me to bring rolls. I appreciated the thought, but I wanted to show that even a young single guy could contribute. I asked if I could bring a dessert as well. I made a chocolate and peanut butter brownie trifle in a fancy dish that left everyone fighting over the leftovers. The age differences blurred as I found my meaningful place in their community.
A Variety of Benefits
Our group includes people with different jobs, family dynamics, life experiences, and perspectives. While differences abound in every group, the differences increase with different ages. My friend in his 60s has many stories. But although I have fewer years of experience, the perspectives from different generations can create wonderful discussion.
I have seen the benefit of this diversity as a young mother grows concerned about her child who struggles to read, and an older mother provides perspective from her journey raising children. As I’ve worked through job situations, I’ve learned from men and women with thirty years’ experience in the workforce. Every week it seems another conversation comes up where diverse perspectives come to aid.
Age diversity also creates a better space for tough conversations through the maturity of older believers. Our group has had difficult discussions regarding LGBTQ+ individuals, government elections, and racial equality. While we may differ in opinions, diversity that includes maturity greatly enhances the conversation. For example during last summer’s riots over racial equality, one of our couples left the church over comments a member of our church staff made. While the situation presented many challenges, our group brought many perspectives on the issue that resulted in everyone’s greater understanding. A tough conversation increased in scope because of diversity.
These benefits only come with intentionality, though. We need to recognize the differences we have and choose to lean into those differences. Sometimes conversations trend toward marriage. Sometimes they trend toward children. Parts of the group may feel left out of certain topics because they feel they have nothing to add. I learn a little bit more about each person during these discussions. Listening and knowing others cements relationships, especially in diverse community.
A Diverse Community
While it seems that my community group just “happened,” God brought us together, and he desires interaction between different ages among believers. He shows in Titus 2 that older women should teach younger women and in 2 Timothy 2 that people should teach others who can teach others also. God designed us to interact with people of different ages. Therefore, we should seek out friendships and relationships with people who differ in age. These diverse communities form only by taking steps of obedience, and the outcome provides a value that often exceeds expectations.
If you desire to serve, seek to form groups without age distinction. Maybe you want to form a group in your church. Avoid just inviting members from your age group. Seek out people older and younger than you to invite to meet together. Find that person who sits alone and talk to her or him. Instead of a focus on building groups that have the same characteristics to “relate” with one another, you center your discussion in the work of Christ. He will bring the group together.
As a leader, you need to recognize that differences exist. Recognize the fact that you may have single and married people. Instead of ignoring these differences, embrace them. Build a community that can have tough conversations. The multiple perspectives will help both you and them.
Maybe you want to involve yourself in diverse community, but you wonder where to find it. Start with conversations. Talk to the person you see passing by your seat every week. Ask them something specific. What do they do for work? What good thing happened to them this week? Most of all, write down their name. Make a note in your phone with names and descriptions of people. Many times, I have strayed from talking to a person a second time because I forgot their name. The next time you see them, call out their name and mention your name again. Break down that awkward wall, and continue the conversation.
Be confident reaching out to people of different ages. We can learn a lot from them, and they can learn a lot from us. Find common interests, and ask questions about where you differ. All these actions will help build community, and age diversity will bring us a deeper understanding of community than only engaging with people our own age. It may seem daunting and difficult, but trust God to work.
My community group still meets almost weekly. Even though the group was “older” I never left. The group has provided counsel, comfort, and encouragement to me through job difficulties and struggles with family relationships. We all still sit through the awkward conversation, but we continue to fellowship together. God works in each of our lives, and a community with age diversity showcases God’s beautiful work.