In at least some ways, we are probably all guilty of telling ourselves that in order to best grow our church and impact the community, we need to be focusing on the younger generations and future generations to come. It’s this focus that affects our sermon topics, our preaching styles, our worship music, our outreaches, and just the overall day-to-day operations of the church.
And I do not believe that there is necessarily anything wrong with “thinking young” when it comes to the church. Sports teams don’t build dynasties by signing long-term contracts with all the oldest free agents on the market, and the US military doesn’t become the world’s strongest army by only enlisting AARP members. Besides, the younger generations are increasingly becoming more and more unchurched, and the unchurched is who the church is supposed to be reaching out to, right?
But are we guilty of trying to build God’s church, focusing on young, while forgetting about scriptures like these:
•Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31)
•Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32)
•Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. (1 Timothy 5:1)
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. (1 Peter 5:5)
And there are countless others. Just do a search for “elders” in the Old Testament, and you will see how revered the older generation was with God’s chosen people. Of course, none of these verses imply that we shouldn’t be singing Hillsong United during the worship time, serving donuts and frou-frou coffee drinks in the lobby, or using the absolute best of multimedia during the worship service.
But here’s what we need to consider: If our younger-oriented “Sunday presentation” isn’t going to appeal to the older generations, then what else will? Because the one thing we cannot do is just tell ourselves, “Well, if they don’t like it here, there are plenty of traditional churches around that they will be more comfortable in.” Because while I am sure there is a gospel-centered church somewhere in your community that the gray-haired may enjoy, have you ever considered that it is not they who need the church, but it is your church who needs them?
Just as the best sports teams have a mixture of young kids to center the future of the organization around, as well as a healthy dose of veterans to mentor and teach the kids, the healthiest and wisest of churches would incorporate a similar approach when seeking to grow their ministry in the community.
But if the average senior adult isn’t going to love the loud music, the warehouse-style environment of the worship center, or having a preacher who in his eyes doesn’t look old enough to vote, how will the church get them to stay?
Get some elders on your elder team. I’ve seen pictures taken from elder and staff retreats where everyone looks exactly the same, and not one under age forty. How can we “submit ourselves to our elders” and “show respect for the elderly,” while at the same time not seeking out their counsel and assistance in church leadership? Churches don’t need a team of like-minded, similar-experienced individuals leading the way. They need some salt and pepper sprinkled in with their conference room full of Justin Bieber hairdos and shaved heads.
Intentionally establish ministries that call for their assistance. If all your ministry teams are geared toward younger generations (worship team, audio/visual team, social media team, running club, MOPS groups, etc.) then where will the seniors in your church get involved? They won’t. And since we’ve already established they don’t really prefer your young and contemporary worship style, they are now left without any reasons to stay and strengthen your church body with their involvement. So establish ministries where older women teach younger women some of the lost trades of their day. Most older men have a good collection of tools.Start a handyman ministry, led by the retired men at the church. The point is, gear a few things in the church around their skills and interests; don’t just force them to “take it or leave it” with what the younger generation feels should be offered at the church.
Don’t revert back to segregation. Why must we still have Sunday school classes set apart by ages? Why do we continue to maintain daytime Bible studies for the retired? In and of themselves, these are not bad things. But who is learning to respect the elderly in these groups? To what younger adults are the seniors mentoring and teaching? Where is wisdom being passed down and who is humbly recognizing that they have much to learn from others with more experience than they have? Resist the urge to provide separate ministries and groups for the seniors in your church to be a part of, and intentionally seek to build Sunday schools, small groups, and Bible studies with men and women of all ages. If this requires you making a special “sales pitch” to the elderly in your church, then do it. Make sure they know how much you value their wisdom, experience, and viewpoints, and that you are looking for their help in growing this church and maturing its young leaders.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, which can both be found here at Amazon. You can also read about his family’s ongoing journey of adoption through foster care at www.OrphanToOrphan.com. Find him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.