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What’s Working: Generation Spark 

 In What's Working

As part of our multiyear campaign titled What’s Working, sponsored in part by Lilly Endowment Inc., we’re talking with faith-based organizations across the country to discover how they’re working to engage Gen Z. Generation Spark supports young people by empowering adults to better connect with them. Born out of the Reformed Churches of America (RCA) and Christian Reformed Church (CRC) denominations, they partner with Christian churches to help congregations build authentic intergenerational relationships between 16-24-year-olds and older spiritual mentors. Their aim is to expand intergenerational ministry by implementing faith-based mentoring safely and intentionally. Read below for excerpts from our conversation with Generation Spark leaders Ruth Langkamp and Ron deVries, or watch the entire recording on You Tube.  

What is Generation Spark, and what is the scope of your work? 

Ron deVries: The work that we do is primarily focused on training congregations’ leaders to think critically and experiment with intergenerational mentoring relationships. One of the things that [Generation Spark founder] Virgil Gawker found in his research and with the young people that were leading this is that a good number of our young people felt like they were being graduated out of church once they left high school. And would that have changed had they had a relational connection to somebody older in their congregation that would give them a wider sense of belonging to the community? Research has told us, and experiential learning has taught us, that is in fact the case. And so our work is about training churches using the Generation Spark model to incorporate this learning within their congregational settings. 

Ruth Langkamp: Yeah, I would say, at the heart of Generation Spark is recognizing transitions. We’re asking ourselves: Where are young people stepping away? And where do they need support, whether that’s in relationships, in their identity, in their vocation or wellness or spiritual religion, whatever that may look like. And we’re recognizing that’s not the case just for young people. Transitions happen within our older generations too. And so, what would it look like to create a space where both those communities could come together and see the need and desire to belong and to flourish together? 

What is the Generation Spark model? 

RD: The Generation Spark model is about taking a couple people, an older person and a younger person, matching them up and encouraging them to work on a problem together. What we’ve found that’s beautiful about that is sometimes those types of relationships or  connections can feel awkward. And so, if we give them something that they feel passionate about to work on together, usually we can see some real fruit come from that. With the Generation Spark model, we encourage the churches as they start pairing up the younger and older person to listen to the younger person and say, “What is on your heart? What would you like to work on together?” Instead of the older person coming in and saying, “This is what we’re going to work on,” actually encouraging the young person to say, “Hey, I’m wrestling with this, or I’m wondering about this.” And then the two of them come together for a period of time to explore what Scripture teaches us about this. What could be something that the world is helping us try to understand around this? And what would it look like for us to tell this story of what we’ve learned to the broader audience, the congregation, or the body that we’re kind of connected to, to share those insights. And so it gives young people a voice, allows them to be seen as important within the community, that their voices are valued and heard. 

How have you seen young people’s relationships with adults help young people thrive? 

RL: We’re just continuing to be amazed by the way a small connection sparks dialogue in creative ways. One of the things we do in Generation Spark is listening sessions. We invite congregations to listen to their members. And so we send out these surveys, and anybody in [the] congregation can fill it out, and then we do a roundtable listening based on the results [they’ve] received. From that, we often help congregations debunk some of the myths [the generations] have about each other. We often hear young people say: “You don’t need us. You don’t want us. You don’t care how we think or what we feel about this or that.” And then we have older generations sometimes saying, “They’re not invested. They just want to do this or that.” 

But when they actually sit at a table and hear each other—the hearing and the feelings that come up are really transformational. And so we’ve done a couple of these listening sessions across the region, and the things that come up are just incredible.  

Hear more about Generation Spark and their stories of mentoring congregations in intergenerational work in this 50-minute conversation.

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