Many church members today wonder how their congregation could be more welcoming and engaging for persons like their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Here are 7 strategies that effective congregations are using to reach the next generations for Christ.
1. Regularly create ways to engage younger persons relationally in order to get to know them and learn from them. While we know what it was like to be younger in our day, we do not know what it is like to be younger today. Nothing will make it more likely that a congregation will be effective in reaching the next generations than if key leaders are willing to have significant relationships with younger persons. Henri Nouwen once wrote: “It is a privilege to practice this simple ministry of presence . . .still it is not as simple as it seems. I wonder . . . if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own…and let them know that you do not simply like them – but truly love them.” Being present with younger persons in the way that Nouwen describes is fundamental to every other strategy listed below.
2. Deliberately make room for younger persons in your church leadership and staff. Intentionally have those who have served well mentor younger leaders and then step aside to give them a chance to lead. Give preference to hiring younger persons in order to model and embody openness to them. This accomplishes two things. First, it means that younger persons see “people like me” in leadership. Secondly, it keeps the congregation’s leaders open to younger ideas and perspectives so that the church does not take on an “old fashioned” flavor.
3. Cultivate opportunities to do life and ministry multi-generationally. Mix up the generations deliberately. Provide chances for cross generational relationships to develop. Do life and ministry together: classes, retreats, mission trips, small groups, confirmation class mentors, workdays, committees. How could your congregation intentionally provide opportunities for people of different generations to be together? Some years ago, a Jewish Harvard psychologist remarked to me that he believed one of the gifts that communities of faith offered is they are one of the only places in our culture where the different generations interact and form significant relationships. Healthy congregations encourage multi-generational interaction.
4. Provide excellent childcare ministries, including nursery, Sunday school, VBS, and youth ministries. The first way parents will evaluate your congregation is by the quality of your children’s and youth ministries. Even if they like everything else, if the nursery looks like a dingy and dusty toy museum or if they feel that their children are not effectively engaged, they won’t be staying long.
5. Explore how your congregation can be of service to younger generations in your community. Every community is different. What needs are there in yours? Parenting classes, Financial Peace University, hosting sports programs, after school care, tutoring, mentoring programs, preschool & summer camp, space for organizations to meet, adopt a school, etc. These are some of the ways vital congregations are reaching out to younger generations today. They all have one thing in common: a focus on ministry to younger persons beyond the congregation.
6. Involve younger persons in the worship services and in the planning and producing of worship services. Spotlight the younger generations in worship. Discover ways in which they can serve: audio visual support, music, choir, greeters, parking lot attendants, information kiosk attendants, setup, take down, etc. Include younger persons in your worship planning team to gain their perspective and creativity. Worship is the face of your congregation to visitors from your community. Does your face reflect the people you want to reach?
7. When younger persons come to your congregation, seek to discover what they are searching for and help them find it – rather than try to get them to fill the congregation’s current needs. Few people are driving around looking for a church to save. This is especially true of young families. A young extension minister and her husband moved into an area and started visiting congregations. “When we visited the first three congregations,” she said, “it was like we were fresh meat in a shark tank. And when they discovered that I was a minister, they went into a veritable feeding frenzy! Finally, at the fourth church, one of the leaders asked, ‘What are you looking for in a church? How can we serve you?’ We have been there ever since.”
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Excellence