Church family, today I want to share some reflections I have about younger people being part of Central Oaks and then give some practical suggestions. Before I begin, let me clarify that my post today is about younger people who are actually seeking God and a church, not the many who are wandering from God (although my suggestions at the end apply to them also).
We are a family-oriented church. We are not a church with programming that is going to go viral online (unless we do something really dumb). Our church is about relationships. That’s a key reason why most of you belong to Central Oaks. I actually think that’s good. I think a church full of people that don’t know each other is strange to the New Testament. (That’s not to say being small is godly and being large is ungodly!)
I am far from perfect and have made many mistakes, but I try to make a concerted effort (with my wife’s help) to introduce myself and reach out to guests. Sometimes that has helped younger couples stay for a while. Of course, we’ll continue to do that. But there’s a barrier that’s keeping those younger couples from staying long term. If you’ve been here for a while, you know this to be true because you’ve seen it happen.
Perhaps part of the barrier is that younger couples and singles are more transient by nature. That is, their lives aren’t settled—they’re living in an apartment and might move in a year to pursue a career, relationship, or education. As a result, they might be part of our church for a while and then move somewhere else shortly thereafter. There’s nothing wrong with those things. We want to help people follow Jesus even if it means doing so temporarily.
I suspect another part of the barrier is on the younger people themselves. Perhaps they attend a few times and see a church of people mostly older than them and they think, “this isn’t for me,” in a way that’s, frankly, unbiblical. There are countless factors why people think this way when they’re “shopping” for a church. I’m not sure what to do about that, if anything. I’m certainly not apologizing for who we are in Christ.
We also need to realize that not every Christian needs to belong to our local church. The Lord is sovereign, and the Holy Spirit gives gifts for believers for the good of the church. I believe, then, that God puts the right people in our church for His purposes. Some Christians are supposed to belong to other local churches for different seasons. That’s okay. Ultimately our local church is subservient to the universal church anyway, and every gospel-loving, Bible-teaching church is on our team.
A Stewardship Opportunity
With that said, there is much that we as a church have to offer younger people who are seeking God. Younger people need stability. They’re navigating through challenges, and many are trying to do so without godly examples, or godly examples they only know online.
You, Central Oaks, by and large, have been there, done that. You have the experience and know how that younger people don’t have. Don’t let their knowledge of technology or popular culture intimidate you. Think biblically about this. God has brought you through life, in part, in order to show younger people how to do things He’s taught you through trial and error. They may have vigor, but you have wisdom. And wow, it is a foolish time.
Have you noticed that God just brings younger people through our front doors some Sunday mornings? Often it’s younger people we’ve never met. Yes, they often come a little bit late and try to leave early (they don’t want to be noticed much at first). But God brings them for a reason. Of course, God wants them to hear His Word. But I wonder if God is giving you all, as people older than me, an opportunity to build relationships with twenty-somethings who need navigators.
What follows are some practical suggestions if God is talking to your heart about this. It was very encouraging to hear of Betty Kotila doing some of the following things. I know others of you have as well.
- Pray for a heart for younger people and eyes to see opportunities God has for you with them.
- In our gatherings, look for people you suspect might be guests. Introduce yourself to them. Ask their name, where they’re from. Tell them you’re glad they’re here. People don’t want to be hounded, but they will notice if no one speaks to them other than the pastor (I’m supposed to).
- Over time, invite younger people for lunch after our Sunday morning gathering. Pay for their meal.
- Text a younger person and tell them you’re praying for them. (Don’t call or leave a message. They probably won’t answer or listen to it.)
- Invite younger people to come alongside you in your ministry.
I realize this post might be a little touchy because this is personal for many of us. When I talk about young couples and singles, you’re reminded of your children, grandchildren, and others you’ve invested in who, for various reasons, aren’t among us anymore. Maybe, as a result of that, there’s some hurt we as a church need to give to the Lord and ask Him to heal.
But we can’t ignore the opportunities God brings to us. And God regularly brings us younger guests. Church family, they will not stay because my wife and I are younger than you. They need a godly family. They need you in their life, even if they don’t realize it.
I’m praying for you and love you much.