Connecting with every generation

The Conference Older Adult Council cites Ecclesiastes and urges outreach across generations.

JAMES NOGGLE
Older Adult Ministries Council

There’s a new movement in our Michigan Conference. It springs from a very familiar source. Our members are aging and we are observing the graying of our congregations at a greater pace than ever before. The Conference Older Adult Ministries Council, formerly known as the Conference Older Adult Committee, is in the game!

One need not look too long to see our churches have become segmented in a certain way. There are the Haves and the Have-nots. The Haves are those with young people in their churches. The Have-nots get grayer and grayer as the Church seeks to discern what to do. Most churches wish to reach younger people, especially children. How do we connect?

It is no surprise to anyone that our world is changing rapidly. Cultural, behavioral, ritual, faith, and values issues seem to be in a constant state of change. But that does not mean people are any less spiritual than in the past. To the contrary, spiritual hunger has stayed steady, and in some cases increased in our society.

However, the influence, or should we say the desired influence of the Church, has faded in many people’s eyes! Although researchers have found that belief in God has remained stable, the numbers of people affiliated with a Church have dropped substantially. So how do we connect?

In the 1950’s the American Church was influenced by a generation we refer to as the Builders who were born between 1925 and 1945. They are the parents of the Boomers, and they established the genre which many churches still inhabit today. Mission, vision, and values were guided by the Builders’ experience. As they brought children into their families, the churches they helped build were accommodating their needs.

For example, churches had fewer parking spaces because, after all, the family station wagon held the whole family. So 50 parking spaces provided for at least 200 worshipers with children to attend Sunday school followed by worship.

Today the church buildings the Builders erected are home to their children, the Baby Boomers. Born between 1946 and 1964 Boomers have become the dominant presence In churches. Today those 50 parking spaces provide for only about 75 worshippers because their children, the GenXers, aren’t coming to church. So how do we connect?

Most every church today wants to see young people in their building. However, too many of them insist that these younger people conform to their mission, vision, values, and practices.

Here’s the reality. Although they are attempting to get to places where young people are, the problem is that they want to remain in place where they are, where they feel comfortable. We can’t get to where we want to go if we stay in the place where we are!  

The mission, vision, and values of churches can be attractive to young people today.But it’s how churches practice their mission, vision and values that will determine the impact they will have on the younger generation. So how do we connect?

Okay, let’s get real! How many of us stayed in the same place our parents were when it came to the music? Hint, the Builders were not listening to Bob Dylan, Righteous Brothers, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or even Creedence Clearwater Revival. But Boomers were listening, and still are listening today. The Builders established what Boomers came to know as our relationship to God in the band names, and even the song titles. So how do we connect?

We need to rebuild the community within God’s creation by moving into new places where there is room for the GenXers, Y’s, Z’s, and Alpha’s. As Builders and Boomers, we must become bridges rather than barriers to these younger people so they are able to experience, participate, see, and connect to God through us! We are the key ingredient to multi-generational outreach and mission. 

And please do not feel as though “your church” is being taken away from you. Becoming multi-generational in our outreach and mission is about fulfilling God’s call. God’s Word speaks often of the need to be multi-generational. One generation passes away, and another generation comes” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

A proverb associated with several generations is applicable here. ‘Wise Elders plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.’ Each generation has the opportunity to choose whether to plant trees or rest in the shade. We can talk about it forever, but what we truly need now is action.

~ Pastor James Noggle is pastor of Good Shepherd Church of the North in Roscommon. The Older Adult Ministries Council of the Michigan Conference is looking for input as we work at becoming a multi-generational ministry. If you have ideas, questions, or comments, please contact Rev. Noggle at 989-275-5577 or jnoggle@gsumc-roscommon.com.

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