Throughout much of my time as a pastor I’ve been viewed as a young leader who should have insight into what “young people” want from a church. What makes people come to a church? What makes them stay? Whether I have any helpful insight on these questions remains to be seen, but I have been asked them too many times to count.
These conversations have picked up following a sermon I gave at my home church titled “The Intergenerational Church.” I have noticed churches are becoming more homogeneous. Meaning churches become reflective of themselves. This is true of age and race, and the lack of diversity means we rarely have to do the hard work of reaching out to someone completely different than us, which means we lose out on growth opportunities because we are relational beings who grow in community.
It’s becoming less and less common to see churches filled with a variety of ages. Often the older struggle to connect with the younger, and the younger sensing this lack of connection ultimately either leave altogether, leave to start their own thing, or leave to join a church full of people like them.
This reality is not a positive thing. We do not understand how to navigate close proximity with those unlike ourselves, to our own detriment. On the one hand the question of “how do I get more (pick your generation of choice) in my church?” is tired and antiquated, but on the other hand is the question is poignant and necessary, even though the answer is probably more than most are willing to endeavor toward.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things churches have done to try to accommodate or be relevant to people recently:
- Coffee shops in church (everyone drinks coffee right?)
- Theology and beer groups (everyone drinks beer right?)
- Electric guitar and drums (everyone likes loud music right?)
- Low light with candles (everyone wants good vibes and soft tones right?)
Feel free to tweet at me or comment below with your own examples, I’m sure there are plenty.
From my experience I believe people are looking for two specific things from a church:
The statement of “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” fits here. Can’t get them to join your groups or serve in your ministries? Maybe they don’t realize they are wanted. Maybe they haven’t been given a compelling vision about the power of knowing and being known by others.
There’s a reason most of the groups my wife and I have led meet in our home. A home gives a sense of comfort, lack of formality, and encourages people to let their guard down, all of which are vital if a group is going to grow in closeness with God and each other.
I asked a newer couple to my church what they were hoping to find in a church. One specific thing they said stood out to me: “We wanted people to know we were new.” In other words, they wanted people in the church to notice them and reach out. While some may look for the largest church in town hoping they can connect with God while sitting unnoticed in the back row, many who walk through the doors of a church long to be in a place where they can be known.
These are questions worth considering:
Do I open my home for people from my church? Do others do the same?
Do I know what’s happening in the lives of people at my church? Do others?
What sacrifices have I made to pursue relationships with others in my church?
While previous generations may have been able to assume that God’s Word was foundational to society, today that is no longer the case. For many, The Bible is thought to be antiquated at best and promoting hate at worst. Yet the Bible’s claim upon itself is that it is God’s Word for us. It has something to say!
More than simply opening the Bible, people want to know what the Bible says today. What does God’s Word have to say that may hold transformative power in their lives?
Prioritizing God’s Word is about more than just asking your pastor to “preach the Word.” It’s about helping others learn the whole counsel of God’s Word (Acts 20:27). It’s about helping people think theologically about life, and how to approach the ethical questions of our time through a biblical lens. It’s about more than just knowing a few well-known verses. It’s about helping people see life through the worldview of God’s Word.
Many churches faithfully preach from God’s Word, yet if the impact remains limited to a thirty-minute sermon on a Sunday it’s no wonder people today question whether the Bible is still relevant to us.
As a pastor I’ve come to recognize I have limited opportunities to impact the lives of others, so I’ve staked my claim at valuing relationship with others in my church community while pointing them to God’s Word. I pray God will continue helping me be faithful to those ends, for His glory.