Over Sixty — Under Forty — All Welcome - Issue #74
Many churches are confronted by a number of significant social, cultural, technological, and generational forces that appear to block congregational attempts to achieve growth and health. It seems that in trying to satisfy the needs of one group, leaders create barriers to reaching another group. If a congregation decides to keep the age sixty-plus membership satisfied, very few younger people may be reached. And, if leadership embarks on reaching only the under-forty crowd, older adults may gradually feel that they have little value and worth, which may dampen and diminish their faith development.
Reaching people under forty while keeping people over sixty is an important goal for Heritage United Methodist Church in Van Buren, Arkansas. A key principle for the leadership has been to "add, don't take away" when it comes to worship services. Finding out what was precious to older adults and honoring those practices meant maintaining a traditional worship service. They also added a contemporary worship service in an effort to reach people under forty. By combining two traditional services and adding a contemporary service, the total number of people in worship increased significantly.
Another key principle for reaching people under forty while keeping people over sixty has been Heritage’s emphasis on all generations studying the same thing. Having made a commitment to discipleship for everyone, the church started a Wednesday night study that incorporates all ages in the same study material. Children and youth meet in age-level classes while the pastor teaches a multi-age adult class that ranges from people in their twenties to those in their nineties. Everyone is studying the same topic, on his or her own level, providing children, youth, and adults of all ages with opportunities to learn and share together.
Some Questions for Discussion
How might you find out what particular faith practices are highly valued by various groups within your congregation?
How are you providing opportunities to deal with the unique faith and life issues of particular generations while also providing oppotunities for people of all generations to learn from one another?
Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. is Director of Older Adult Ministries at the at the Discipleship Ministries. He can be reached at [email protected]