October 18, 2018

Cross+Gen Movement Building Across SEPA

More than two years ago, about 20 congregational leaders turned up to discuss the challenges of the traditional, age-oriented approach to Sunday School and faith formation. On the other end of the Skype connection was author and consultant Rich Melheim. The energy and frustration released on that rainy spring day blossomed into the first synod-level pilot program to help congregations explore cross-generational (Cross+Gen) approaches to faith formation.

“As the first synod to formally be involved with this movement, SEPA is setting the new standard for how synods support their leaders and equip congregations for ministry in a changed and changing 21st century world,” says Pastor Bradley Burke, assistant to the bishop for youth, young adult and faith formation. During the past two years 15 of our synod’s 151 faith communities participated in the project. The aim was to help congregations wrestle with the fact that current models are not working, and explore how to transform ministry at a fundamental level.

Congregation leaders began meeting in the fall of 2016 and set out to create small, measurable learning projects. “The idea was to fail our way forward, together,” Burke says. The strategy was summed up as: Experiment. Learn. Share. Repeat.

In 2017 more than 200 faith leaders from across our synod and beyond, representing 50 SEPA congregations, attended a full-day training with Melheim, Rev. David Lose, and the authors of several “Killing Sunday school” case-studies. Through the year the congregations, which ranged from large, growing congregations to a church with 30 in worship each week, implemented their projects and shared their learning with each other.

In early October, Pastor Burke and representatives of some of the Cross+Gen congregations shared their learning and reflections at the annual Cross+Gen Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. Here is insight into their stories, in their own words:

Christ’s Lutheran Church, Oreland

We have a faithful mixed-age group of about 50-60 people, and we do Cross+Gen once a month in place of Sunday School and Adult Bible study. It’s still a bit of a challenge to keep the older and middle-aged folks coming. Some of them think it’s aimed more for the young families. It is a challenge to develop the program to hit all ages’ interest level. I write a funny skit each month based on our Scripture passage. Confirmation class performs with some adults, and I make sure there is plenty of humor for grownups in these. …

The greatest joy has been to see how much our “regulars” love Cross+Gen. We have the children be the “secretaries” for each table, recording prayer requests that we then read out loud. We have an amazing planning team, including a tech whiz who develops great videos for us. Our Confirmands (8th and 9th grade) really step up to lead activities (craft, service projects). — Elise Seyfried

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Melrose Park

We incorporate children of all ages into worship leadership without relegating them to kid-only roles. The kids and congregation love it. Older children mentor younger ones, and adults mentor children in their leadership. We don’t have a name or a logo for what we do. Children are organically included in worship leadership roles alongside adult leaders (acolytes, altar care, ushering, serving communion, etc.), and we use paperless music alongside traditional hymnody, which allows a wider range of ages and abilities to follow along and actively participate. Despite its simplicity, paperless music does not “dumb down” theology or liturgy but adds to the beauty and accessibility of what we do to all people and all ages.

Some of the tools and models used by other congregations experimenting with Cross+Gen don’t really account for itty-bitty congregations like ours (worship attendance at 30 people or so a week), so it has been hard learning to not expect to produce something identical or even similar to what some other churches are able to. Our small size has meant that we can’t replicate much of what other congregations are doing, but we’ve gotten plenty of useful ideas to modify, and hopefully we’ve offered something to the conversation too! – Pastor Linnea Clark

Little Zion Lutheran Church, Telford

We decided to jump in with both feet, and … began a weekly Sunday morning Cross+Gen learning hour in September 2017 (called) GIFT — Growing in Faith Together. GIFT replaced our weekly Sunday morning age-segregated Sunday School, confirmation, and adult forum that had previously taken place between our early and late worship services. We have learned a lot in the past year through our experiments launching Cross+Gen. We are grateful that Little Zion is open to new ways of doing things, yet we still needed to be intentional to shepherding this change carefully in its early stages. We use a consistent structure each week which has helped people grow comfortable with the “newness” of weekly Cross+Gen ministry at Little Zion. Perhaps the most surprising and powerful surprise has been the new relationships that are forming across the generations and the existing relationships that are growing stronger. — Pastor Erica Wesch

Trinity Lutheran Church, Havertown

We have a Faith5 program called Sunday Funday, an intergenerational lectionary-based learning time each Sunday. We begin at 9:10 AM with breakfast and coloring pictures associated with the lesson while we do our high’s and low’s. Then, at 9:30 AM we gather on a large red carpet and chairs to sing praise songs appropriate for all ages. At 9:45 AM one of the parents or older teens teach the lesson, working to make the lesson interactive and engaging for all ages. About 10:00 AM we have a meaningful activity which could be a game that supports the lessons or a craft, and then around 10:20 am we gather on the carpet for prayer time, wrap up, and the giving of the blessing. We also started what we call a GIFT (Generations in Faith Together) center in the Sanctuary, where children can color a picture that goes with the week’s lessons or engage with one another around small tables. After they color the picture, they are able to pass them in to the ushers during the Offering, and the Pastor and Vicar share the pictures with shut-in’s. The shut-in’s love it and often hang the pictures on their wall or refrigerator. — Pastor Dee Littleton