I've recently experienced a pastoral transition, meaning our church has changed leadership as father passed the reigns to son. The process has taken two years, but plans were set in motion several years earlier. It's not been painless. In fact, it's been quite costly in terms of attendance, finances, emotions, and even friendships.
The father did not start this church, but people have forgotten that. He was one of the founding members and an extremely key component in its growth, which was quite substantial in the 80s and fairly steady in the 90s. The first decade of the 21st century was not kind for many, many reasons and attendance began a serious downward trend.
He was in his 30s when the church began and so probably was the majority of the congregation. The church and pastor aged together. Then it began to occur to people that not enough younger families were joining to sustain even the status quo as the years sped by. Thus began the quest to Bring in More Young People.
Our church was not alone in this quest as many churches in the US set out on the same journey. Some quite successfully; others... not so much. A lament was heard across the land: "We're losing this generation!!" The intention was honorable - lead people into the Kingdom of God and provide a community where they can "do life together" (one of those trendy phrases everyone used in 2004).
The tools to accomplish this task were not unique to any one church or denomination: contemporary music, complete with high volume, concert lights & haze for effect; bookstores & coffee bars; colorful & entertaining children's venues; separate services for teens, complete with their own worship bands and various trendy entertainments (climbing walls, video games, pool tables, etc); cool websites, video enhancements, live streaming, shortened services, satellite congregations, you name it.
None of those things seemed to have any effect for this particular church. Eventually, the pastor decided it was time for the Next Generation to lead the church into the future. His son felt God had called him to be the one to do it and dad agreed. They felt so strongly about it they changed the church bylaws and their friends on the board approved it, presumably to ensure that "God's" directive could not be questioned by a very likely negative congregational vote. Thus began our current story.
The young(er) pastor has his own ideas about how church should look, sound, be. Changes have included teaching style, service format, music, key staff, and many cosmetic changes. That's ok and to be expected.
Yet still the YPs aren't coming.
Meanwhile, the older, faithful people are quietly slipping away. They were ready to welcome the YPs with open arms. They supported the changes with their finances and prayers (and yes, their opinions). But they have gradually come to feel shoved aside. Excluded. Unheard. Unwanted.
I have heard YPs say things like:
They just need to get over themselves.
They need to get used to it.
- and worst of all,
They just need to get out of the way.
Get out of the way. What if a new college graduate told his parents to move out of their house so he could move in? What's happening in some of our churches is no different. A church community is family. It's a place where lives are shared and many memories are made. People who have invested their time, money, effort - their lives - into their church home are essentially being told to either shut up or move out.
Decades worth of statistics prove that college/career age people aren't church attenders. They are busy getting an education, starting their lives and having fun. Once they get married and especially when they start having children, they turn toward, or back to, church. As their careers flourish and finances stabilize, mid 30s-40s and up, they become better financial supporters of their church community. In the meantime, the older folks keep things going, volunteering their services and paying the bills.
In other words... it's the money put into the collection plate by the OPs that funds all the cool stuff the YPs expect before they will step foot in the door.
I posit: whose responsibility is it really to bring young people into the Kingdom of God? Of course, it's all of us. But who has more contact or influence with them? It's probably not the fifty year old in the accounts payable department of their workplace. In the Gospels, who was it brought people to see Jesus? It was excited friends telling other friends to come see this man who changed their lives.
YPs, it's time for you to grow up. You, too, have the responsibility to lead people to salvation. Don't wait for the next big thing in worship to come along. And don't wait for the older generation to fork over the funds then get out of the way to make church more appealing for you and your friends. Jesus is right here, right now.
If the Good News of the Gospel isn't enough to win young people, let's just stop wasting time and money. Everything else - the loud music, the big production, the hipster frontman with his cool visuals - can all be found outside church walls where they do a much better job of it anyway. Trends come and go and people are fickle. By the time you get that coffee shop built, a new trend has hit the streets. You can't keep up. But eternal truth can.
In the community of family we call church, made up of young, old, and in-between, everyone has a responsibility and a gift to share. Nobody should ever feel disenfranchised.
If the current paradigm thinking doesn't change, I fear we really are in danger of losing This Generation. The one on the other side of 50.