Mar 24, 2020

The Graying of the American Church

Let me start off by saying I love the senior adults in our ministries.  They bring wisdom, experience and knowledge to the table.

With that clarified, I want to shift and point out a challenge that we must face and meet if we are going to see our churches reach future generations.

The American church is becoming more and more gray with each passing year.  Getting older is a part of life.  I have a lot of gray hair myself.

But left to coast in neutral, most churches will naturally grow grayer every year.  Then one day, they will look up and see that the next generation has left the building.

It takes intentionality to reach succeeding generations. It must be done by keeping the church balanced with the wisdom of older generations alongside the zeal and passion of younger generations.

It also takes the older people of the church to look beyond themselves and seek the changes that must be made to reach their children and grandchildren along with the young families in their community.

One area this shows up is in the worship music.  Music is important to every generation.  Generations get used to a certain style of music.  Usually it's what they grew up with.  Go messing with their music and you will ruffle some feathers.

But the churches that are growing and reaching the next generation are churches where the older members are willing to lay aside their preferences so the next generation can be reached and thrive as leaders in the church.

Want to know how healthy your church is?  There is one place we can go to and see how healthy your church is.  What area is it?  Look into your children's ministry.

Does your church have any babies in the nursery?  How about preschoolers?  How about elemetary-age children?  What about teenagers?

If the answer is "no," then here is the sad news I need to share with you.  Your church is dying.  And when the older people in your church pass away, your church will have to close it's doors. 
Where there is no crying in the nursery, the church is dying.
I was at a church last year and as I looked around I saw that they had no children in the church.  Not one baby.  Not one preschoolers.  Not one elementary student.  No teenagers.  As I sat in their services that morning and looked around, I saw mostly gray hair.  I thought to myself, "This church is terminal."  Unless they start reaching the next generation, they will eventually have to close their doors.

As we talk about reaching the next generation, we must look closely at the Millennials.  They are the young parents in your community.  By 2030, they will represent 75% of the workforce in the country.  The big question is "will they be 75% of your church as well?"

For many Millennials, church is irrelevant.  The number of people who do not have a "religion" has grown by 40% in the last 30 years.

The next generation is growing up in a post Christian world.  Many are Biblically illiterate.  Bible stories like Moses and the burning bush are not common knowledge among them.  But they want to learn and are very open to it.

At the same time, they are observing leaders who say one thing and live something else.  Authenticity is crucial if you want to bring them to your leadership table.

Older church members must understand that the next generation is ready to step up and lead.  But they want to lead not from an authoritative structure, but from a collaborative structure.  This is a big shift for most of the older leaders.

Here are a few more tips that can help your church have a good balance of gray-headed leaders alongside a group of young leaders.
  • Listen to them.  Younger leaders want to have a voice.  They want to be heard. 
  • Build relationships with them.  They respond best to leadership that is grounded by relationship.  Yes, they love coffee?  Why?  Because coffee represents more than having coffee. It represents building a relationship through talking with another person.
  • Mentor them.  They want to be invested in by older leaders.  
Any church that is willing to reach out and connect with the next generation of leaders, can grow their church now and in the future.

Remember this - a healthy family is made up of all generations.  Children.  Teenagers.  Young adults. Middle-age adults.  Senior adults.

I want to enocurage you to do this - the next time you are at church take a look around.  How much gray hair do you see?  Is the gray balanced with the edgy hair styles of youth as well? 

I pray you will be passionate about reaching the next generation.  Hold your "style of ministry" with open hands.  Be willing to change and adjust...even when the changes are not your preferences.

The spiritual future of the next generation is depending on it. 

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