The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 126
Want to attract younger people to your church? Here are 3 ways.
Most declining churches are also aging churches. That doesn’t mean the church has been around a long time, though that is probably true also. It means the average age of the people remaining in the church is increasing. This is most common in traditional churches where younger people move on to something more contemporary or that is a better fit for them as they become adults. It is understandable and natural for people to gravitate towards what they are most comfortable with. If the perception or reality of a church is that it is for older people, then it will struggle to attract younger people.
It is important to note that not every church with an older congregation must become younger. There are wonderful churches full of older people that exist in areas that are primarily senior in years. In fact, we are currently working with a church in a retirement community. It would not be a sound strategy for that church to try to reach young families since none live nearby. The general rule of thumb to consider is whether the church is a representation of its surrounding community.
Attempting to make a mostly single generation church into a multi-generation church is not easy or fast, but it can be done. First and foremost, it requires a desire by the church to change, a strategy to change, and a commitment to follow through on that change. The desire has to come from within and the follow-through has to be led by a strong leader. Today we’ll talk about the middle piece with three general strategies to attract younger people to your church.
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Optimize for Cultural Relevance
Though all generations alive today are living through the same events, they are affected differently. Consider even the last two years of covid. Two-income 35-ish-year-old parents of young kids have had a very different experience than a retired couple. An older church may have been focused on providing food, medical help, and connections for older people, whereas a younger church may have been focused on childcare for parents who had to work while kids were left with at-home learning.
Successful missionaries study the culture that they go into so they can learn how to relate and communicate effectively. An older congregation will have to do the same in their own city. For many churches, it actually feels like a foreign city was dropped around them. They no longer relate. The church may have even become a refuge from the outside world. That is an unsustainable position and counter to the mission of the church – to make and mature disciples of Jesus.
Optimize for Time
Families are busy and the time that churches get from them is limited. Church culture from the mid-twentieth century up through even the 1980s-90s was different from today. Speaking specifically about North America, we still had a cultural Christianity that grew churches and allowed them to work relatively unimpeded. That is no longer true. Sundays and Wednesdays are no longer reserved. In addition, there are even more demands on the time that families have, so the church is seen as a competitor.
An older congregation may have activities happening during the day and prefer not to do things in the evening, but that may be the only time a younger person has available. This is a change that a church will have to be willing to make.
We also have to keep in mind that non-Christians or immature Christians will not put the same value on time spent doing Church things. This is a slow, maturing process that the church should plan for and be willing to invest in with people.
Optimize for Non-Adults
A church with an older congregation may not have any student activities going on anymore, but it will have to be prepared for kids when they come. Going back to point one, the church will have to begin to understand the sub-cultures of today’s young people, and the problems they deal with.
There will be almost no way around having a younger person begin building the programming and outreach for young people. Connecting with kids has to be genuine. You can’t fool them for long if you try.
“Connecting with kids has to be genuine. You can’t fool them for long if you try.”
The one upside that most churches of older congregations have is space. In fact, there may already be classrooms for kids, a nursery area, and even an old youth room with really bad furniture that has become a storage closet. With a little bit of elbow grease, you can get the place ready for some new life.
Optimize Your Prayers
Seeking to move to more multi-generational ministry is not unlike other initiatives that churches take on, such as becoming more multi-ethnic or even just desiring first-time guests. It all starts with prayer. Focus your prayers in the church to opportunities to connect with people, understand the needs of your community, raise up leaders, and welcome families and younger people with open arms.
BONUS: Get a free Team Discussion Guide in the video description on YouTube.
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.