The average age of the Ocean Grove Uniting Church congregation may be 74 years old, but that hasn’t stopped them from experimenting with new ways to make worship more accessible for younger generations.
Last year, the congregations at Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads trialled a monthly intergenerational service called 4R Thrive Together.
Instead of a traditional contemplative service, the congregation listened to Coldplay songs, watched films such as Bruce Almighty and recreated biblical themes using play-dough.
Thrive Together is based on the 4R learning movement created by Ocean Grove-Barwon Heads minister Rev Dr Jong Soo Park. The 4R’s stand for reflection, reinterpretation, re-formation, and re-creation.
While 4R shares similarities with Messy Church, it is different in terms of its theoretical origins and format.
Each Thrive Together gathering begins with a ‘reflection’ on the theme of the day. The community will then ‘reinterpret’ the topic from different angles before identifying the biblical links to the topic during the ‘re-formation’ stage.
In the final phase – ‘re-creation’ –participants reconstruct the lessons from the day through hands-on, co-operative activities.
Dr Park developed 4R as part of a new curriculum model called ‘curriculum as software’, designed to cater to young Christians in a multicultural and digital society.
“Today’s young people are digital,” Dr Park said. “Digital generations not only consume information; they try to construct their own knowledge by critically evaluating the credibility of collected data online and offline, and integrating verified information.”
Since the late 18th century, Sunday schools have been the primary way for children to learn about God. But Dr Park believes the Sunday school model often overemphasised the intellectual aspects of faith at the expense of the personal, spiritual and participatory dimensions.
It also split churches into two separate ministries: adult and youth ministry.
Dr Park believes an intergenerational approach to ministry strengthens the resilience and sustainability of congregations.
“Intergenerational ministry and mission can be a great way to recover the church as an educational community in which all age groups can learn, share, influence, and grow together,” he said.
Towards the end of last year, the two congregations reviewed the 4R trial and discussed their plans for 2018. At Ocean Grove UC, 61 percent preferred traditional music and worship. The Barwon Heads congregation is slightly younger, with six families with children.
The Ocean Grove congregation decided to move away from 4R’s small-group worship style, but will keep experimenting with fresh expressions for all generations. The Barwon Heads congregation elected to keep developing 4R worship, and are keen to expand the concept to family homes.
Dr Park said changing the format of the service can be a challenge for traditional congregation members, but he was pleased that even those who expressed doubts were willing to try new things.
“They have willingly taken a risk to leave their comfort zone to make a welcoming space for younger generations,” he said.
“I appreciate this amazing support and sacrifice, which is one of the best fruits we got from the experiment.
“Through this, we realised we are congregations open to new directions rather than sticking to our comfort zone and fearing change.”