What do you do when years down the road everything about your church that once taught you, took care of your kids, and walked with you through the torrent of mid-life seems to leave you feeling like you are on another planet. After all, you paid for the building, served in the youth group and were loyal during some hard times your church went through. Now it seems like your church is on another planet. The music is too loud, the focus is all on these younger families, your building is no longer new and appreciated. And, you just do not feel “fed” by your church like you once did.
Every ministry has to make choices in who it is going to reach with programming, which is limited by physics and resources. It seems to me that the most biblical thing is to favor those uninitiated as Christians. In other words, favoring those who do not go to church or who are new on their Christian journey makes for a distinct and biblical strategy. The more mature a person becomes in their faith the more tools they have to feed themselves and the more they do not need the church programs to hold their hand. So, it is those of us who are further along who need to reach to the newbies rather than feeling like we are entitled since we did our time in children’s ministry 23 years ago.
What this looks like in reality is a church worship environment that might actually be more comfortable for someone who is a new Christian than for a believer who has walked with God for 30 years. It may mean turning up the volume, dressing down the pastor, de-churching the language, and providing something for kids. After all, those under 50 are most likely not to go to church and they are most likely to have kids. So, if your target is unchurched people you had better think of kids. So, what happens to me when I pass this point in life?
Someday I am going to be an “older saint” and I hope that I am not cantankerous about the changes. Really, I would rather people not have to go through the pain of learning new worship music and style every five years. In fact, I think the “contemporary” music thing is not the issue. It is really that change has not been led well in many cases and people have not been valued. Sure, there is an actual culture of self-centered older saints, but I have known many who resist filling out nasty comment cards about worship and who “endure” the worship music when it really does not hit them where they live. If you are in a church that is less than 10-15 years old that has always been contemporary or edgy, you have no idea what I am talking about. If you live in a community that has few older people, you have no idea what I am talking about. Just give it time. Your turn is coming.
It would be easy to disregard the older generation if it were not the case that this might be one of the largest mission fields out there. Are we missing something here? I have launched a “traditional” service once and my experience tells me that this type of service had less evangelistic results compared to the other services we launched in a multi-venue setting. However, demographics make it clear that if we do not address the stages after mid-life that we may be losing out on more than our mission. Paul went around collecting money for Christians who were impoverished. This being said, the reality is that I have not observed much fruit from these types endeavors.
Here are some thoughts I am wrestling with right now:
- Our culture is a moving target while some of our own people’s needs are for stability to counterbalance this reality. We need to acknowledge how hard this really is on everyone.
- Meeting the felt needs of new people means that unless you quickly ween them, your entire church will feel entitled for their felt needs to be addressed.
- To be inclusive of new Christians in our church means we have to be willing to start over and reinvent ourselves to stay relevant. Is my small group of friends really friendly to strangers?
- Change is always hard. Learning to lead people through the human process of transition is a must to succeed in today’s church.
- When you reach one group, it is likely another group is not feeling reached. When the temperature in the room is just right for one, it is awful for another. Resist the temptation to “blend” or to compromise. A tepid room would make both unhappy.
- Reaching the older generation, which is becoming huge, has to be addressed sooner rather than later. Am I willing and equipped to tackle this?