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  • Myriah Snyder

German church plant thriving through intergenerational relationships

Friendship knows no age at the Dunn’s German church plant. From left to right: Hannelore, Gretchen Deese (former HandsOn missionary), Edda, and Ute. Photo provided

Alina came to faith at age 17, and her life was radically changed.

When Steve and Julia Dunn, International Mission Board church planters in Germany’s Ruhrgebiet region, first met her, she bore fresh wounds from self-harm. Julia’s first conversation with Alina was outside of a church retreat as Alina rolled a cigarette.

A few months after Alina came to faith, Steve approached and asked if she wanted the church to start a small group for her friends and others her age.

The new Christian thought a small Bible study group was a great idea, but she had one stipulation. She didn’t want it to be a small group exclusively for those her age. It needed to be intergenerational.

“I want to do a Bible study where old people can come,” Julia recounted, putting “old people” in air quotes, knowing full well that Alina’s definition of old at 17 wasn’t what most would consider “old.”

Alina’s reasoning for this request, though, showed her maturity. “I’d prefer if it would be a mixed group so that my mom would come too.”

Alina’s mother did, in fact, attend. She professed Christ and was baptized. Now she’s serving in the women’s ministry.

As Alina began growing in her faith and became a faithful member of their church plant, Steve and Julia saw that she clearly had the gift of teaching.

Julia shared that Alina was discipled well and attended a year of Bible college. Three years after she became a believer, she started leading Bible studies for women of all ages.

Edda, who is 65, started following Christ two years ago. She attends a Bible study Alina co-leads with Julia. “[Alina] has so much Bible knowledge and she does a great job of being able to communicate it with us in such a loving way,” Edda said.

For members of this church plant, learning and growing together intergenerationally is the standard. It’s a standard that worked for Gretchen Deese, a 30-year-old HandsOn missionary, and Ute, a 67-year-old widow.

When Deese entered Ute’s apartment, she was flabbergasted.

Ute’s apartment was covered in mauve paint. Most every wall. She walked past the bathroom and the colors got even bolder. In there, hot pink reigned.

One of Gretchen’s favorite experiences from her time in Germany was this breakfast meeting with Ute, a member of the church plant, in her colorful home.

Gretchen hung on every word while Ute shared her life story as they sipped coffee and munched on snacks. Ute had only been a believer for a short time, but she had plenty of wisdom to share.

“I really value intergenerational relationships,” Gretchen said when asked why this visit to Ute’s house stood out. Apparently, Ute’s unique sense of home decor wasn’t the draw.

“I have a ton to learn from women who are older than me. It meant a lot to me that she wanted to have me over and spend time with me.”

The intergenerational mindset is key to growth, the Dunns agree.

“Our church is so small. We have no choice but to be intergenerational,” Steve said of the congregation of 45 or so members. Julia estimates that 75 percent of the church members are first generation believers. This means that they rely on each other to learn and grow. The older women give advice for raising children in Christian homes. The younger women share insights from Scripture and provide encouragement for the older generation.

Edda added, “I feel like we are a large family. Everyone brings their experiences to the table, and everyone appreciates what the others have to say, no matter how old they are.”

Some names have been changed for security purposes.



Myriah Snyder is senior writer/editor for the IMB.



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