One of the reasons Scot asked me to write this column was to help share what I am wrestling with at a local church level. And so for the next few weeks I would like to talk about the biggest crisis the church I preach at is facing. I want to talk about the ways we are trying to address it, but also find out how other churches are dealing with it.
It is not a crisis of morality or lack of fidelity to the gospel, or anything that stirs up controversy. The problem is that it is really hard to be a church of five different generations. More to the point, we are not able to get older people and younger people to hang out together anymore.
Two weeks ago, Tim Keller hosted a #AskTK event on Twitter, one of the tweets was asking him what danger he saw in contemporary American churches. Here was his answer:
“Many of the newest churches are too tied to the youth culture and don’t appeal to a broader spectrum of age.”
I couldn’t agree more.
One of the by-products of the individualistic society that we have created is that we have carved up the world so many distinctive ways that we no longer have to share life with people who are different from us. This is true racially, economically, intellectually, and generationally.
This is the great tragedy of modern American Churches.
Growing up, the people who made the biggest difference in my life were much older than I was. They taught me how to preach, and how to be kind to one other when we disagreed, they taught me how to be married, how to be a widow(er), and how to die.
I taught them how to program their VCR’s.
But this isn’t the case anymore. The common assumption is that for a church to grow they must specialize in one slice of the human pie.
Over the past few years, I’ve read and heard some church consultants giving the advice that, in order to grow numerically, a church needs to pick between targeting people of under 40, or over 40.
I hate that suggestion. I think it works against the very nature of Church.
In Jonathan Martin’s great book, “Prototype” he shares some of the charter statements for the church he pastors, it’s a declaration about what makes their church distinct. Here’s my favorite part:
“We are your grandmother’s church. And your great-grandmother’s church. And your great-great-grandmother’s church.”
Martin says the reason this is in their manifesto is because:
I had grown weary of the clichéd church advertising that said, “We aren’t your grandmother’s church.” I understand what they mean by that. It’s a way of saying that our church has electric guitars rather than pipe organs. I didn’t grow up in churches with pipe organs, so I have no reason to be defensive about them now. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but be annoyed with the careless language. The desire to cut ourselves off from those who came before us is no virtue. Even when we are flatly, and perhaps rightly, embarrassed by the behavior or the history of our churches on some level, we still exist in continuity with them. We are forever tethered to our grandmother’s church, and this is as it should be. Our grandmother’s church has given us many good gifts. But even when it has been very wrong, it still belongs to us.
So that is what we have started trying to prioritize at the church where I preach. We are trying to emphasize generational generosity and creating atmospheres conducive for our senior saints to rub shoulders with our younger adults. We are also trying to help the younger saints see how much they need the wisdom of those more mature than they are.
For the next several weeks I want to write more about this, including some of our ideas about how to integrate multiple generations at the church I serve, but we have many more questions than answers. So how have you seen churches fight this trend? What suggestions or resources do you have to help churches become more intergenerational?