There is a great sense of jubilation that comes from rolling a six and getting to climb a ladder that skips thirty spaces on the board. However, it’s easy to roll a two on your very next turn and hit a chute that completely devastates your progress. It’s akin to that feeling when you draw the Peppermint Forest card and have to go all the way back—but then you hit that Gumdrop Pass for a little extra boost. See you later, Plumpy!
Board games are not only great for teaching life lessons (“You’re right, son; it’s not fair.”); they’re also amazing at bringing people together. I subscribe to the school of thought that intergenerational ministry is not a series of organized events. Rather, it’s a way of thinking about how a church does life together. Intergenerational ministry is about relationships, not about putting multiple ages in the same room for some sort of parallel play.
Intergenerational relationships happen naturally more often than one might think, and one of the things we have to learn to do is name it. Sometimes the church is intergenerational in its very nature, and we can do a lot to advance the cause by simply pointing out and celebrating what is already there. Other times, we do have to help foster these relationships through key events. One way our church has done this: grandparents and Candy Land (or Chutes and Ladders, or fill in the blank).
We had a scheduled night between electives coming up for our midweek programming. We wanted to do something important and specifically intergenerational with our time, so we decided to reach out to a senior adult Sunday school class with something that would feel achievable to them and would help us move toward a more intergenerational church. We invited them to join the children for a board game night. I don’t know about you, but my grandma was always down for a board game when I was a kid. Clue. Guess Who. Battleship. Monopoly. A 1,000-piece puzzle of a dolphin. That was how we spent a lot of our time together. What if we could recreate this sort of relationship with lots of grandmas and grandpas and lots of kids?
We set out all the board games we had at the church, and staff members brought some from home as well. There was Yahtzee in middle elementary. Jenga for the preteens. Ants in the Pants with the first graders, and lots of other games in between. We invited the senior adults to arrive a little early so we could talk to them about what we envisioned for the evening. Many arrived with their own favorite board games in hand!
We split them up so there would be several senior adults in each room. We told them that their only goal for the night was for them to learn some kids’ names and play games with them. There was no devotional message, no singing, not even a prayer time. Some kids went head to head with a single senior while others gathered for larger games, with one senior adult to three or four kids.
We wanted them to walk through the halls or into the sanctuary and have faces they recognized that weren’t specifically related to them.
It was kind of quiet at first, but it picked up quickly. Eventually, every room was lively and full of laughter as everyone played games together and got to know each other. One of our goals for the night was to broaden the kids’ sense of ownership in the church. We wanted them to walk through the halls or into the sanctuary and have faces they recognized that weren’t specifically related to them. We wanted senior adults who knew their names and had some sort of shared experience with them to be able to strike up a conversation on a random Sunday morning because they weren’t strangers anymore.
The goal was to change the life of the church so that the generations could have a shared story. We wanted new relationships to be created. We wanted kids to look around, outside of the children’s ministry area, and say, “This is my church” because they knew the faces looking back at them.
At the end of our game night, the response from the senior Sunday school class was overwhelmingly positive. They’d had a blast playing games. We never had to use the word “intergenerational” or try to explain some brand-new ecclesiological concept. Instead, we just played games together. They asked if they could come back and do it again. Of course, a few weeks later, we sent out the next invitation.