By Chuck Lawless
I’ve heard phrases like these dozens of times as I do church consulting: “Those newer folks just don’t understand the way we do church” or “The older people are in the way of our growth.” In many churches, the generation gaps – between young and old members or between longer-term and newer members – are still wide.
I’ve learned, though, that the generations often resist one another without knowing one another. You see, it’s easy to blame others when you don’t know their names or their stories. Here are some practical ways to close those gaps by guiding the generations to get to know each other.
- Intentionally invite older, long-term members to attend the church’s membership class. The goal here, of course, is to introduce new members to older ones. Invite the older members to assist in the class by telling some of the church’s history or leading a facility tour. Not only will the new members learn to appreciate the long-termers, but the older members will also be re-introduced to the church’s vision and doctrine.
- Include testimonies in the worship service. Most church members know the testimonies of only a few other church members; that is, we often attend church with large numbers of people whose stories we do not know. Start to correct this problem by inviting selected members to share their testimony during the worship service – and be sure to vary the generations.
- Start a cross-generational prayer ministry. Unite the student ministry or the young adult ministry with the senior adult ministry by connecting prayer partners from each generation. Imagine what might happen if each senior adult were linked to a younger member, and they prayed for each other. Informed praying would require that they get to know each other and their families well.
- Create a “grandparenting” ministry. One of my former students pastored a church with several older folks whose children had moved away, in addition to a few young families who lived some distance from their parents and grandparents. Recognizing that both groups missed their families, he connected these groups and encouraged them to support one another. In fact, he trained older folks to invest in and pray for young families as soon as they joined the church.
- Start a mentoring program. By definition, mentoring takes considerable time to build bonds between generations – but the work is worth the effort. Jesus invested in others, and Paul did the same. Indeed, the Apostle expected older believers to teach and train younger believers (Titus 2). When we do what the Scriptures mandate, we can expect God to bless it.
- Develop multi-generational small groups. Educationally, I still affirm age-graded or life stage groups, but I also believe a church needs small groups that intentionally bring together the generations. These groups might be ongoing home-based groups, short-term study groups, or leadership groups (e.g., committees/teams). Regardless of the type of group, plan significant times of teaching and fellowship to facilitate developing relationships. It’s amazing how much relationship building takes place during a shared meal.
- Do social ministry and servant evangelism. My guess is that younger folks will get on board quickly, as they want to do hands-on, relevant, transforming ministry. They want to feed the hungry, free those caught in human trafficking, and stand up for orphaned children. Older folks, too, recognize these responsibilities, but they may need some prodding to produce the same passion as the young people. Here’s the point: we need to do the prodding so the generations can do this work together.
- Enlist a young leader to oversee the senior adult ministry. Most often, churches enlist older believers to lead the senior adult ministry. That direction, however, misses an opportunity to bring the generations together. If your church is near a Christian university or seminary, seek a young minister who can lead and learn from the older believers. If not, raise up a young leader in your congregation, and give him opportunity to grow. When the generations learn from each other, the church will be stronger.
What other strategies would you add to this list?