I could be wrong, but the more I look at the reality of our local churches, the more I see a need for doing church in an entirely new way coming sooner rather than later.
I have the great honor and opportunity to lead a community of people who do church much differently than how I remember it from my childhood. Although our structures and rhythms for being the church are different than those in the past, they are not much different than many other local churches today. What makes my community distinct is that it is a modern community housed within a traditional model. Therefore, we are only innovative when compared to the larger structure. When compared to other modern local churches, we are not all that innovative.
A recent conversation with a good friend brought this whole idea back to the forefront of my mind. He was asked by a family friend to meet with a pastor who was interested in “getting more millennials to come to her church.” My buddy provided some insight as to why they may be missing out on this demographic, but the truth of the matter is that this particular church doesn’t stand a chance. The current state of mainstream denominations is entirely unsustainable. Sure, we can give it a shot in the arm while we beg, plead, and inspire the same group of people to work harder and give more, but ultimately, it will come to an end.
The best invitation to the next generation is one that includes them in the decision making. The local churches who thrive in the future will cast big vision and push forward with courageous leadership. As long as the current decision makers enjoy the culture of church as is, there will be little to no growth, because it “suits their needs.” No mindset is more dangerous to the future of the local church than that of “I love my church.” Unless of course you love it solely because it is providing environments that bring people to faith in Jesus Christ and then empower them to do the same. Most often, however, those of us on the inside do not think this way, because we enjoy how the church currently serves the felt religious desires of me and my family.
But what about the millions of others who are entirely indifferent? “They’re welcome to join us.” No, they are not. The issue has far more to do with organizational culture, than with styles, structures, and systems.
There is a segment with which I have become especially concerned. This population is in the workplace, but they do not yet have children. These young professionals (as opposed to the young unprofessionals…who are way more fun but have no future) are not going to conform to the current methods of doing church. They don’t care about worship style either.
So what do we do? I have a few areas for consideration:
Hear from God
We do not want to make broad sweeping changes to the current structure and rhythms of the local church as a knee-jerk reaction to cultural trends. Instead, we need to make broad sweeping and courageous changes because we are convinced that God is leading a new movement for a new day.
There is no style of music, no day of the week, no time of day, no staff structure, no program, and no curriculum that will solve this issue. Instead, the most important aspect of church is summed up in just one word: relationships. Of course the logistics and structure will need to be developed, but you have a much greater chance of reaching a younger generation if you invite them into the process, rather than planning for them. This requires new relationships.
Serve our community
Serving in the name of Jesus is not the issue either. Providing the opportunity for people to make a difference in the world continues to be a great method for introducing those who are currently disengaged to experience the life-giving community of church. We can’t do too much of this, especially if we want to get the attention of the next generation.
What are some other areas for consideration as we seek to step into what God is doing to reach the next generation? I’m excited to see how He will move in new ways to stay faithful to His promises and His plans for His people.