Part 2: Best Practices in Intergenerational Faith Formation by John Roberto

Harkness identifies four major areas in which specifically IG educational strategies may enhance the achievement of these goals:
1. by providing the foundation of consistency between the theology of the community and its educational strategies;
2. by embodying the essence of appropriate and authentic education in faith communities;
3. by enhancing the potential for faith development in the individual members of the communities; and
4. by encouraging the corporate edification that enables the community as a united entity to more effectively live out its God-given vocation. (Harkness 2000, 53)

     James W. White offers what has become the guiding definition of intergenerational religious education: “two or more different age groups of people in a religious community together learning/growing/living in faith through in-common experiences, parallel learning, contributive occasions, and interactive sharing” (White, 18). White explains that an ideal IGRE program will have all four patterns of relationships: in-common experiences, parallel learning, contributive occasions, and interactive sharing. The IGRE methodology can be utilized in many forms: monthly IG learning programs, weekly or bi-weekly IG small groups, IG/family summer camp programs, IG/family vacation Bible school, IG Sunday school or Bible study, IG retreats, IG workshops.

     The dominant form of Christian education or faith formation in most Christian churches today is not intergenerational. For over sixty years it has been homogeneous-age education, organizing children, teens, and adults into separate learning groups or classes organized by age or grade level. In many congregations even worship is age-segregated. Holly Catterton Allen, in her research on IG observes, “It seems that learning how to be God’s people has become less a joining in with community, and more a gathering of age-segregated groups to study about being God’s people” (Allen, 271).

     Since the 1970s there have been a number of significant attempts to make intergenerational and/or family-centered learning central to Christian faith formation (see Harkness 1998). Many of the lectionary-based approaches and resources developed since the 1970s have incorporated a family and/or intergenerational learning component. Kathleen Chesto’s FIRE (Family-centered Intergenerational Religious Education) program, originally developed in the 1980s and revised and updated in the 1990s, is a comprehensive five-year curriculum: Celebrating Community, Becoming Community, The Responding Community, The Living Community, The Believing Community. Faith Inkubators ( has developed Generations in Faith Together, intergenerational learning programs focused on Advent, Lent, and stewardship that are an integral element in their curriculum for congregations. The Center for Ministry Development and Harcourt Religion have developed the People of Faith curriculum, six volumes of intergenerational learning sessions on Jesus and the church year, the Creed, sacraments, morality, justice, and prayer, that can be used as the primary form of congregational faith formation for all ages.

     Unfortunately there is very little scholarly writing or research on intergenerational faith formation. James White’s 1988 Intergenerational Religious Education is one of the only substantial books presenting the theory and practice of Christian intergenerational education.

(This is the second of a series of posts I offer from John Roberto’s writings. You can see this piece in its entirety here.)