One Step Backward, Two Steps Forward

Church #27. Meet Emily Dalen. She is the Director of Children’s and Family Ministries at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and she is on the board for the Christian Education Network for the ELCA. With an average worshiping attendance of 400-450 people on a given Sunday, St. Paul’s is working hard to connect the generations around God’s word in education, worship, and service.

Dalen has a heart and a passion for cross+generational ministry (or cross+gen). When I asked her why, she said, “A wise person once told me that you should not expect people to do at home what they have not first practiced in church. It made total sense!” Most of our lives are lived outside the church walls. Cross+gen ministry reinforces what we learn in church so that faith can break into daily life.

“Cross+gen ministry changes who we are as a congregation. It has strengthened us!” said Dalen. At St. Paul’s, they understand that the generations need to learn, worship, and serve – together. It’s about being the priesthood of all believers and helps the congregation to live out the promises they made at baptism.

But Dalen was quick to follow up that moving a congregation into a cross+gen model of ministry does not happen overnight. Instead, Dalen explains that it is an always evolving process. It’s one where the staff has to come together as a team in order to encourage the philosophy in the larger congregation. Here’s how they did it:

One Step Backward. Dalen’s arrival 2.5 years ago started the process by looking back to where they have been. Milestone Ministry, which is faith learning with kids and parents together, seemed like a natural place to start as this has been part of St. Paul’s faith formation.

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Two Baby Steps Forward. Building on the Milestone Ministry concept, St. Paul’s added two cross+gen educational experiences during Advent and Lent. These are natural times when people are looking to go deeper in faith. Their first attempt including parents and kids together. The next step was to include the middle schoolers and finally the older generations. To get them there, younger students were sent to bring the hand of an older member back to the table!

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Three Small Hops. Once people were comfortable coming together in education, worship was the next hop over. Worship is now led with a variety of people. Any age can help with readings, ushering, greeting, and the prayers. Mixing up the roles each week has helped people to see how they can learn and grow in faith together.

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Four Giant Steps. One way to practice faith is to use Rich Melheim’s FAITH5 (share, read, talk, pray and bless). St. Paul’s spent time in worship learning about the 5 different steps and practiced them. Here is what they did:

  • Month 1 was share. During the passing of the peace, people were encouraged to share their high and lows with someone. It started simple – share with the people sitting beside them, and then it built to someone sitting behind or in front them to someone across the aisle, and finally highs and lows were shared with someone they don’t know.
  • Month 2 was share, read & talk. Getting people to engage in the reading of the story was easy to do. Each week was different – reader’s theater, reading it together, or putting Bibles in the pews for everyone to find. Talking in worship was a little tricky because for many it is out of their comfort zone. St. Paul’s offered a variety ways to talk such as turn to your neighbor or offering a question to think about.
  • Month 3 was share, read, talk & pray. Prayers of the people were delivered by a variety of ages. They also started posting a prayer on Facebook and emailing weekly prayer requests for home use.
  • Month 4 was share, read, talk, pray & bless. Before leaving worship, people learned to bless each other. They were encouraged to turn to a neighbor and say, “God loves you!” People then made the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads or hands or gave a high-five.

One Giant Leap. Education, worship, and now service is being mixed up. Kids love serving, and it’s amazing how many adults do as well. St. Paul’s is committed to providing ample service opportunities for people to engage in.

 Moving Towards Home. Why does this ministry matter? It matters because of what it says in Deuteronomy 6:4-9: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Side-by-side – working, praying, serving, learning, worshiping – in church, in homes, in communities is the way forward in ministry. Because the result is amazing – people now see faith as a way of life.

For more information about this story, please contact Emily Dalen at edalen@splcomaha.org or 402-895-3366.

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