As I’m writing this I’m reflecting on the supper my wife and I had earlier this evening with a friend who is 91. We have been friends for 20 years. Over the years that I have known her she has changed very little as far as I can tell. She is one of the most impressive people that I know. On a regular basis she takes older friends shopping and drives them to church. She is the president of the board for a local non-profit. She visits those who are sick, and is an active leader in her United Methodist Church. Although I was her pastor for seven years, I suspect that I have learned far more from her than she has from me!
This summer we have also had several opportunities to spend time with younger adults, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s. A couple of these were relatives, but most were not. The biggest opportunity was on the 4th of July when we had supper with about 20 young adults who were working at one of our United Methodist camps. This included a couple of United Methodist pastors who recently graduated from seminary. I felt energized and refreshed being around them!
It seems to me that in the days of my grandparents it was easier to be exposed to all of the generations. Most of my relatives stayed in, or near, the communities where they were raised. When the family gathered, which was often, all of the generations were represented.
Most of my experience as an adult I have lived thousands of miles away from our relatives. When my daughter lived at home, I enjoyed knowing her friends. Being an empty nester with a grown daughter, however, my exposure to different generations comes almost completely through our church families. I’m wondering, though, how good of a job are we doing in reaching the different generations?
I believe that our most vital churches involve all of the generations that live in their communities. How do we know who lives in our community? I like to pick a busy local store and then pay attention to who is shopping there. If those who are shopping at the store are radically different from who we see in our church, we need to ask “why?”.
Looking at your specific church, are there any generations missing? Do we want to reach these generations? Some of the missing generations might be younger than us, while others might be older. The first step is to have an honest desire to include these generations. We need to know up front that if we are successful, our church will be changed. Are we OK with this? Each generation tends to think, and communicate, differently. Let’s not say that we want to reach a generation if we don’t mean it.
If we do mean it, then it is time to take action. This usually means doing something new. This is one more way that our connectional system can make a difference. Let’s connect with a United Methodist church that is having success reaching the generation that we desire to reach. Let’s learn from one another. In the same way we may find that we are asked to share our experiences with another church. The experiences might not translate directly into another ministry setting, but they can help generate ideas for a starting point.
We are not alone in this ministry. God has brought us together for a reason!
Your brother in Christ, Mark