Growing Younger by Reaching Young Families

Jim Capaldo

Regional President

  • Church & pastoral health

Here is a truth as revealed from the results of over 30 ministry planning retreats recently completed throughout the Heartland; the average age of most Converge Heartland congregations is growing older and not younger. 

Though the church is commissioned to minister to all generations, we have a top-heavy generational disparity that is getting heavier.  Even though the heart-felt cry of many Heartland churches is the return of younger families, many aging congregations tend to calcify into life-threatening inflexibility. 

How to "grow younger" by reaching young families is perhaps one of the most common questions that aging churches ask.  There is no silver bullet for this challenge, but the following are four attainable and de-calcifying church culture dynamics linked to this vital church health issue. 

Visible Life Transformation: Younger parents, couples, and adults from the Millennial and Gen Z generations, which includes all those born after 1981, highly value the safety and freedom to be vulnerable about their struggles and life journey.  These digital natives experience more in the hallways of their high schools, the first quarter of their careers, and on the internet than most older generations fully comprehend.  They have experienced a divided world of brokenness and corruption and desire both restoration and justice.  They want to witness and experience the healing and restorative power of Christ.   

Questions for Reflection: 
1.  When was the last time your congregation incorporated life-change testimonies reflecting the power of the gospel into your Sunday worship service?   
2.  How safe is it for a person to let their hair down, be vulnerable, confess sin, admit to struggles, ask for forgiveness, work through addictions, make a mistake, restore a broken marriage, and receive God's grace and mercy through your church family?  
3.  Are your visible leaders promoting a healthy culture of vulnerability and confession? 
4.  When and how does your church openly encourage and make space for this type of dialogue to occur?  

Evidence of Discernment: Young adults, couples, and parents long for discerning and gospel-centered voices to speak into their lives.  Interestingly, there is a link between congregational voting and discernment.  Your church's bylaws or constitution typically define what and how your church should vote.   Congregations that constantly bring or demand that non-constitutional church matters be brought to a congregational vote are sending a clear signal that: 1) your church has not appropriately entrusted decision-making power to your elected leaders, 2) your elected leaders are not capable of or willing to make decisions, and/or 3) your church is divided by individual power struggles. This dynamic in a church is a poor reflection on the church's capacity for discernment. Actually, it serves as a repellent to younger families looking for discerning Biblical wisdom for their family, marriage, finances, careers, and relationships. If you bite and devour one another through power struggles played out through church committees, business meetings, and congregational voting, then beware of losing people, especially younger generations.

Questions for Reflection:
1. How are decisions made in your church?
2. What clear evidence of discernment do you see within your congregation? 
3. On what issues does your church constitution guide your congregation to vote?  

Schedule Simplicity and Flexibility:  Time demands pull young families in many directions.  It is important for older church influencers to graciously accept that we no longer exist in a time when extracurricular youth activities honored traditional church gathering times and younger parents volunteered for years at a time.  Young families will not likely be at church every Sunday, nor are they likely to make long-term volunteer commitments.  

Questions for Reflection: 
1.  How flexible are your church ministries to adapt to the scheduling rhythms of the families in your community?    
2.  What would be an accessible time for younger families to gather as family units outside of a traditional Sunday school hour? 
3.  Might your church find an effective way to simplify ministry to entire families without breaking them apart into children's, youth, adult ministry groups? 
4.  COVID pushed churches to develop online ministry, so how is your church continuing to build its online presence, teaching content, online giving options and  digital connection with church attendees throughout the week? 
5.  How might your church make structural and scheduling changes in a peaceful manner that look out for the interests of young families?  

Reaching Heads of Households:  When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, he sent them to reach a person of peace who was a household head with relational ability to influence and reach others within the household (See Luke 10:1-12).  Too often, we see grandparents bring their grandchildren into church life, but the parents of these youth remain absent. Though the presence of children is wonderful, the absence of their parent(s) is both grievous and incomplete.  According to our ministry planning retreats, very few churches doing VBS or with a mid-week children's and/or youth programs are making intentional efforts to reach the many unchurched parents of attending children.  When the parent(s) are intentionally reached, the children typically come with them.  The same cannot be said when the outreach focus is primarily aimed towards the children. 

Questions for Reflection: 
1.  Is your church primarily aiming to reach parents through the youth, or are you primarily trying to reach youth through their parents? 
2.  How is your church following up with the unchurched parents of participating youth?  
3.  Is there an unreconciled relational issue hindering the return of formerly churched young adults, couples, or parents? If so, how is your church addressing or equipping people for such relational restoration?  
4.  What would it look like for your church to prioritize reaching parents and their children together? 

Though there are other church culture dynamics that assist in reaching and ministering to younger families and couples, please note that the foundational dynamics mentioned in this article are not dependent on the pastor's age, the location of the church, nor the style of the church music. Instead, these foundational dynamics have to do with the freshness of individual surrender to Christ, a flexible missionary heart, and sincere longing for God to transform lives.  

Jim Capaldo, Regional President

Jim Capaldo is Converge Heartland Regional President.

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