Ask the expert – how can the older generation attract the younger generation to church?
We had this question from Dennis:
Hello, I’m in Oregon and am in a small church of fewer than 20. All of us are in our late 50’s or older. Oregon is a very church-resistant society. Do you have suggestions on how to attract the next generation of believers? We are a Bible believing church and have a mix of hymns and choruses but only a one-man band. On the plus side, our property is paid for and would be a useful location.
Bottom line: How can the older generation attract the younger generation to take their place?
My heart really went out to you on reading your email. I so want to be able to give you an answer that works but I’m not convinced there is one. Perhaps others may have some suggestions of stories of what has worked for them.
Firstly, I would say that there is a fair body of academic research and opinion that traditional models of “attractional” church are not necessarily as effective as once thought. Writers such as Frost and Hirsch would say that churches should be “missional” rather than “attractional”. You will need to read their book The Shaping of Things to Come for more on that. Personally I have found the book with its stories of missional churches very inspiring.
Secondly, I would say that people tend to be homogenous. I.e. young families like to go to churches where there are lots of other young families. Let’s be honest, we tend to connect best with people that are “like us”. If you have a church of people in their 50s and 60s why not focus on being a church for people in their 50s and 60s. Put on social activities that people of that age group enjoy. Gear the content of your services to that age group rather than trying to copy what the family or youth church down the road are doing. Marketers will tell you that its all about choosing a segment and going for it. In church we often try to be all things to all men rather than choosing a few things we are good at and focussing our energies onto that.
As far as the worship music is concerned its important to serve your existing congregation and not alienate faithful people you already have by trying to shoehorn in a musical style that you think will attract younger people for the sake of it. Some will want to be more adventurous than others so occasionally introduce something a little different if you want.
It sounds as if you have a great resource in your building. Does the local community know that you might be happy for them to use it as a place for activities and socialising of their own choosing? When Musicademy first started we were very blessed to be able to use various church halls to teach guitar and vocals classes in. It was a great way of opening the doors of the church to people who would not normally go inside. And if you can offer that as a free service to the community, how wonderful is that.
I’m sure others will have a view on the above – feel free to challenge me on it. This is a great (safe) place for discussion.