How to grow younger?
I recently read a news article that saddened my heart.https://wset.com/news/nation-world/struggling-church-asks-older-members-to-go-away
The article told of a dying church that did not understand the beauty and importance of the older generation.
In an effort to grow their church younger they asked anyone over 60 to not come back to church for two years while they focused on reaching younger people.
Most churches in America right now are trying to figure out how to reach younger people.
There may be much debate on the best way to reach younger people, but I believe most of us would agree the church in this article has taken the wrong approach.
While we may not be as clear about it as the church in this article, this is still our primary approach in one form or another.
I have observed three primary approaches for reaching the next generation that don’t work well and one biblical approach that is slower but more effective.
Bad approach #1 – Center all preferential decisions in the church culture on one generation. (The older generation in legacy churches and the younger generation in church plants)
Bad approach #2 – Hire a new young pastor and expect him to reach young people.
Bad approach #3 – Create segmented programming where everyone gets what they want, and no one has to sacrifice their generational preferences.
In my role at NAMB I am blessed to be able to listen and learn from church revitalization leaders all over the country.
A pastor friend recently asked me if I have noticed any patterns or trends in struggling churches.
I told him that the primary issue I see in struggling churches is they are built primarily on the preferences of one generation and thus the congregation consists primarily of one generation.
My friend asked me what the solution to this problem would be.
I told him that I believe the solution is multi-generational discipleship relationships.
I believe it because I have seen how it works.
We have covered three bad approaches to reaching younger people, now lets look at the biblical approach.
Biblical approach – Increase affection and understanding amongst generations through intentional multi-generational discipleship.
1 Thessalonians 2:3-4
For our exhortation didn’t come from error or impurity or an intent to deceive. Instead, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please people, but rather God, who examines our hearts.
We have been entrusted by God with the gospel and it is imperative that we pass it on to the next generation.
The LORD is great and is highly praised; His greatness is unsearchable. One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts. I will speak of your splendor and glorious majesty and your wondrous works. They will proclaim the power of your awe-inspiring acts, and I will declare your greatness.
It is more important that we herald God’s greatness to next generation than that they respect our traditions, or we are in danger of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees.
We must be careful not to value our personal preferences over God’s purpose.
Every church makes decisions on preferences.
I live in the south and I have a strong preference toward air conditioning in any church I attend.
If we want to see our churches become healthy multi-generational churches, we need to make and live out a kingdom commitment:
I will place the interest of the church and the Kingdom of God ahead of my own personal desires and preferences.
This is a bigger commitment than it may seem at first glance.
As Bob said in the previous session, “A vital and healthy church denies its preferences, dies to its preferences and does that on a daily basis in order to follow Jesus.”
Bob also said, it is impossible to follow Jesus and stay where you are and stay as you are.
Success in your church 5 years from now will not look like success did 25 years ago.
The church that grows younger is intentional about building affection discipleship relationships.
Instead of diving fully into this commitment there is a temptation choose of the bad options mentioned earlier or make superficial efforts.
1 Thessalonians 2:5-6
For we never used flattering speech, as you know, or had greedy motives – God is our witness – and we didn’t seek glory from people, either from you or from others.
Flattering speech is an insincere effort to gain something you want.
When we are hoping to grow your church younger, we must examine our hearts and your motives.
If our goal is to have younger people just so we don’t feel the pain of our churches slowly dying we are going about it the wrong way and we will not get the results that we desire.
Our motivation must be the glory of God and our affection for the next generation.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
Although we could have been a burden as Christ’s apostles, instead we were gentle among you, as a nurse nurtures her own children. We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
This verse may not seem to be about multi-generational discipleship directly, but it does accurately describe the posture necessary for growing your church younger.
When we sit across the table from someone in a discipleship relationship, we begin to care so much about them that we are pleased to share with them not only the gospel but also our own lives.
The generational differences in a church can often feel like a competition.
But ministry should not be about us vs them.
We have an imperative to pass on the gospel.
2 Timothy 2:2
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
But this isn’t just about passing things on to the next generation.
This is a gospel issue.
This is about biblically healthy churches.
This is about growing in the only metrics of success the Bible give us.
Biblical Measures of Success
Ephesians 4:11-16 show us these measures of success.
And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 4:11-13
Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 4:14
But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head – Christ. 4:15
From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. 4:16-17
Did you see the biblical measures of success in the passage?
Biblical Measures of Success
“It’s not natural for people who have almost nothing in common to voluntarily die to self to live in thriving community. Yet this is exactly what the gospel accomplishes in its building of the church—and this is particularly true of multi-generational congregations. Thriving multi-generational churches are characterized by self-denying humility because they cannot function otherwise. When you bring people together who have absolutely different ideas about what the church needs, you will see members preferring one another’s needs above their own, or you will see the church collapse.” – Sam Parkison
If we want to grow our churches younger, we must choose love, unity, and maturity.
In this choice we have an opportunity to see our churches grow younger and for us to grow in love, unity, and maturity.
I am convinced that the best way to accomplish this is to invest ourselves in each other’s lives.
And the best way to invest in each other’s lives is in discipleship relationships that are intentional and incarnational.
I want to challenge you to consider putting this into application when you get back home.
Begin building a relationship with someone younger than you.
Begin with asking more questions than giving advice.
When you ask questions listen to understand and not correct.
Empower the younger generations to lead and participate fully in decisions affecting the youth.
I am convinced that if we all did this our churches would grow younger.
We would not only grow our churches younger.
We would grow in love, unity, and maturity
The true measure of biblical success.
We also make disciples who make disciples and make the community noticeably better.
Let’s choose love.
Let’s make every effort toward unity in Christ.
Let’s mature in the fulness of Christ.
Let’s put the love of Jesus on display for the world.
Let’s grow our churches younger.