I’m going to focus on 2 groups of people here – 20somethings and Retirees. These 2 generations could not be more different from one another. Yet, there is one common thread – they go to whatever church they want. Isn’t that true for everybody you ask? Nope. Kids have to go to whatever church their parents drag them to; and parents go to whatever church they can drag their kids to. So there’s this tight little window when you are in your twenties that you can simply go to whatever church you want without considering another person. That window doesn’t open again for another 40 years.
Don’t judge me for this next statement; I don’t want people blowing up my Facebook page. But how do you make a church attractive to both Young and Old? (CHURCH ISNT SUPPOSED TO BE “ATTRACTIVE”!!!!! There, I said it, and took the wind out of your sails. Relax.) A church style that is interesting and engaging to a 24 year old seems to be very different than what an 84 year old would naturally look for. Thus practically, it seems that many churches are either heavy on Super Seniors or heavy on College Students. The solution for some is to have a vibrant ministry outside of Sunday morning that focuses on each of these groups. While that’s true (and I highly recommend doing that), it doesn’t speak to how you structurally build your Sunday morning. Having a vibrant ministry for multiple generations is especially difficult when your church is under 100 people, which is about 60% of all incorporated church. Church leaders seemingly have to make some tough choices in who they will be targeting. For instance:
Younger churchgoers tend to prefer the worship service dark, loud, spontaneous, interactive, and would naturally favor a later service.
Older churchgoers tend to prefer the worship service bright, reflective, professional, organized, and would naturally favor an earlier service.
Many of those seem to be mutually exclusive propositions. What churches tend to do, whether strategically or haphazardly, is do a little bit a both trying to capture both groups. But is that the best strategy? Then everybody is complaining to you instead of just one group. What pastors tend to do is either gear their service for those 20somethings and then try to put in a lot of extra-work in reaching out to the retirees in their church to show he cares about them; or they gear the service more toward the retirees and then try to hang-out with the college age students to make up for it. But is that the best strategy? (I promise, I’m going to give some answers here in just a second.) This philosophy of ministry will at best allow you to keep who you have, but getting a return from a first time visitor will be more challenging.
The bottom line is, both Young and Old provide necessary functions in the church.
Younger churchgoers tend to get involved in a variety of areas, like physically serving others, can utilize technology, have innovative ideas for ministry, and love meeting in people’s homes.
Older churchgoers tend to financially give regularly, pray powerfully and consistently, be behind the scenes for set-up and planning, have a great deal of wisdom on scriptural and ministerial issues, and love meeting at the church any time the doors are open.
Another way to put it would be: Younger people bring the energy and innovation while Older people bring the consistency and planning. I think everyone objectively agrees that both Young and Old are valuable to the church. The problem is, we are dealing with a very subjective issue. Preferring the auditorium bright or dark, choosing to spend the $100 advertising budget on a Newspaper ad or a Facebook banner, or holding a prayer service or service project are not objective issues but subjective ones. But when you are a small church you have to pick. So how do you do it without making the other group uncomfortable?
The pastor and the other church leaders need to actively discuss the value that each group has. Showoff the website that the 20something made for $9 per month, instead of hiring someone to maintain it at 10x that amount. Publically thank the little old lady that comes in an hour before the service to pray over every chair, or those that helped set-up the little brunch that happens after the service. Share with the congregations the valuable things that each group is contributing. Also, don’t forget to discuss why you make the church so dark. Or discuss why you play a hymn each week. Many pastors are either scared that someone is going to be offended, or they simply do not think to explain it to the whole congregation after hashing things out in some committee meeting the last couple weeks. Hopefully everyone can see each others value, but realize that everyone might not agree with the decision to turn the sound amps up to an 11 or why the second service is going to be at 8:30am instead of being a Saturday Night Service. But explaining it will help curb gossip and disagreement (but not eliminate them, only Jesus can do that.)
The next step is to figure out how to get both 20somethings and retirees to interact with each other. Nothing can replace a relationship. Older people might not understand kids these days, and they might seem lazy to them, but they still love their grandkids. When older people actually start talking to Young people in your church, they might find out how much they love the Lord and want to see people impacted by the Gospel. Suddenly the ridiculous things they wear to church don’t matter as much, because they found another Believer in Jesus Christ. Likewise, 20somethings love their grandparents. Many at that age start losing their grandparents and would love a surrogate. 20somethings might act tough, but many are away from their family and they would love someone to be praying for them (and maybe even cook for them occasionally.) But this is all easy to say, how do you get Young and Old integrate? Pull on each groups’ sensibilities. They will actually do better one-on-one. Get the Younger churchgoer to mow the grass of their older neighbor or show them how they can Skype their family in Indiana. On the flip side, get the retiree to pray for their younger neighbor and keep inviting them over to dinner (as late as you possibly can stand.) I am all for more suggestions, but this will get your mind started.
I’m reminded of Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” Once education and integration occur, then the argument can finally change. In the past, the Young and Old were only able to look at their own preferences. But hopefully now, they can begin to give preference for others. The argument shouldn’t be on whether the sanctuary should be bright or dark or loud or soft. The argument should be with the 20somethings giving preferences to the Retirees, insisting they get whatever they want in the service. (I’m sure they’ll say something dumb like, they only have so many church services left. Their hearts are in the right place though.) But immediately, the Retirees should pipe-up and insist that whatever is best to reach more Young people is what the church should do. They are the future of the church and we should be geared to the future. (In all honesty, they probably will assume that the loud music will make them deaf soon and they won’t have to worry about it.) Then the argument can ensue. The difference is, the argument has changed, and turned God-honoring and not selfish.