Reaching young families can be difficult for churches with older congregations. This is one of the concerns I hear most often from pastors and church members alike. In order to reach young families, you must have young families in your church. And, that’s exactly why older congregations aren’t reaching and keeping them.
While there’s nothing wrong with a church that’s primarily made up of seniors, it can present a problem in reaching young families. Without reaching this demographic the health and longevity of the church’s ministry is adversely affected. So, when a young couple visits a church they look around to see if there is anyone with whom they can connect. If they see that the majority of the congregation is made up of older adults, they also see limited opportunities. And, unless there’s something there that indicates otherwise they’ll never return. And, what’s worse is they tell others in their age group.
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There are a number of ways that aging congregations can overcome this issue. But, its important to realize that the Holy Spirit must work in the heart of the members of the church to make these changes. I often remind churches “If you always do, what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got“. Breaking out of the mold of “that’s how we’ve always done it” is difficult for many older congregations. What worked back then, probably won’t work now. And, just to be clear, I am not talking about compromising your core beliefs or succumbing to cultural pressures. Along with a solid ministry of the Word, it also takes common sense and a willingness to change in order to create a healthier church. So, here’s the truth about how to reach young families and what must be done if older congregations are going to reach them.
1. Pray For Young Families
Your church must begin by focusing its prayers toward reaching young families. With God nothing is impossible. But, many of our churches pray within very narrow and selfish confines. Churches need to pray “big” prayers. First, older congregations should be praying for their own spiritual renewal. Then, they should ask God to providentially work in the lives of young families outside their four walls. And, they should especially focus on praying that God would bring younger folks to visit the church.
2. Network With Young Families
Churches must put “feet” on their prayers. What I mean is that members need to expand their own social circles to include younger individuals and couples. The most effective way to reach people is through relationships. Older members must be deliberate about establishing a connection with the younger generation. Contrary to what some folks might believe, many younger people actually want to have interaction that includes those that are their elders.
3. Listen To Young Families
Although it can be challenging for older congregants, they must be willing to listen to the younger families. When they aren’t heard they will go elsewhere. As I’ve already pointed out, I’m not talking about compromising the churches stand on biblical issues. But, younger folks aren’t easily persuaded to follow things that aren’t backed by clear Scripture reasoning and common sense. Unfortunately, many churches place a high premium on issues that are merely personal preferences. Of course new ideas must be approached with discernment, but this is where the leadership must determine the feasibility of the proposed changes.
4. Accommodate Young Families
Declining churches with an older membership didn’t get that way overnight. Until a church stops blame shifting and accepts its own responsibility for declining numbers nothing will change. I have seen many churches that are unbending. They are stuck in a way of thinking that ended 50 years ago. Over time the personal growth and the spiritual health of the church deteriorates. Outdated paradigms become the standard rather than the bible. Too many churches are dying while languishing in delusional nostalgia. While this may seem harsh, I’ve seen it played out in numerous churches that refuse to budge on non-essentials.
5. Minister To Young Families
Consider creating a ministry to young families as a staging area to get them to visit your church. This can be accomplished through mentoring, bible studies or even a “hands-on” practical type of ministry. Once you build strong relationships and establish a connection, invite them to church.
Once again, I am not implying that one generation is better than the other. Nor do I advocate sacrificing the church’s biblical positions or practices. But, I do believe churches made up of primarily older adults can reach out to young families. It takes transparency with God, taking ownership of their condition and a willingness to change if they are going to reach young families in their community with the gospel. Younger families are our neighbors.
How To Reach Them In One Word
These five things can be summarized in one word – Love. In order for older congregations to fulfill the “Great Commission” they must obey the “Great Commandment” to love God, first and foremost and to love younger individuals and families as they do themselves. And that’s the truth about reaching younger families.