Our church has included a mixture of ages from day one. If you attend a Sunday worship gathering, you'll see plenty of gray hair, hear crying babies, and encounter everyone in between. It wasn't something we were trying to create; it just happened.
The fact that we were effectively reaching the next generation made our church an ideal candidate to merge with a much older congregation in 2021.
Over the last two years, we've integrated a group of elderly Christians into our church, launched a youth ministry, and grown significantly in the ever-elusive Gen Z.
For so many of the good things happening in our church, I've thought, "I don't know what we're doing, and it's working." To God be the glory.
At the same time, I've learned a thing or two about ministry to diverse age groups. Here are my Top 5 Tips for Multigenerational Ministry:
1. Value Cross-Generational Discipleship.
Do you really want a diverse age range in your church? Or do you just like the idea of it?
There is a big difference between aspirational and actual values. Aspirational values are things that you think would be nice. Actual values are when you put your money where your mouth is.
To foster a multigenerational ministry, you must be convinced it is worth it. Diversity is always messy. You will need to know that the value of multigenerational ministry outweighs the cost.
In my experience, deeper discipleship is the most compelling reason multigenerational ministry is meaningful. Diversity of maturity is a vital ingredient contributing to a solid disciple-making culture. A church that only has believers of a certain demographic is at risk of major blind spots in spiritual growth.
A new believer needs to be discipled by someone who has followed Jesus for a while. On the flip-side, mature Christians need to pour out their wisdom into others; otherwise, they become inwardly focused.
Kara Powell explains this powerfully in her book Growing Young,
"Cross-generational discipleship is beneficial not only for young people but also for older generations who need the vitality of the young to inspire their faith just as much as the young need wise elders to ground theirs. Faith, after all, is not just passed down. It's passed around."
You can also make a strong case that multigenerational ministry is biblical. God's vision for renewing the earth rests upon each generation, passing their faith to the next.
"One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. - Psalm 145:4
2. Create a Warm Church Culture.
Everyone, regardless of age, knows where they are welcome and where they are out of place. We want our churches to feel like home. Our church has continued to grow across generational divides because our people are very welcoming.
One characteristic that destroys a warm culture is when the insiders speak evil of a certain kind of outsider. Even something as simple as jokes from the stage about a particular generation signals that those people aren't welcome here.
We all know that every generation has its strengths and weaknesses. Instead of highlighting the weaknesses, you can identify a group's strengths. Retirees make great volunteers. Students and young adults bring the energy. Young families fill the church with the sounds of children's laughter (and crying).
Another unfortunate norm in the American church is consumerism. Church leaders should do whatever it takes to eradicate consumerism from their culture. All too often, mixed generation groups get caught up in their own conflicting preferences. The music is too loud, the dress is too casual, the coffee is too hot, etc.
The goal is not to prioritize the preferences of any one demographic. The goal is to teach everyone that way of Christ is to serve one another (John 13:14). The most welcoming church will be the one where humble people are considering the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
3. Intergenerational Programs and Events.
Be careful not to over-program age-specific ministries. In doing so, church leaders might inadvertently silo age groups that need relationships beyond their peers. Your church doesn't need a "single young adult post-college introvert small group." Those people would probably be better off integrating into a mixed group.
Our church has a thriving Life Group ministry. While some leaders prefer to disciple a specific demographic, most of our groups are open to people of any age group. Diverse life stages provide a beautiful opportunity for learning and growth.
I'm not saying there is never a place for age-specific ministry. But we must remember that people, not programs, make disciples. Our programs function best when they create space for people of all ages to be in the room.
We've seen tremendous fruit from monthly gender-specific events. At our men's breakfasts, you will see college kids, dads with elementary students, and retirees all sitting at the same table eating bacon and talking about Jesus.
The ladies also run monthly intergenerational events. I'm constantly hearing stories of these events being catalysts for coffee meetings and mentoring relationships outside our organized programs.
4. Digital Communication with Analog Options.
Technology is one of the most significant dividers between generations. Look at how the Pew Research Center describes generational differences:
"Technology, in particular the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact, is another generation-shaping consideration. Baby Boomers grew up as television expanded dramatically, changing their lifestyles and connection to the world in fundamental ways. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and Millennials came of age during the internet explosion. In this progression, what is unique for Generation Z is that all of the above have been part of their lives from the start."
Differing technological aptitudes result in different avenues for communication. A Boomer and someone from Generation Z may speak the same language, but they will never connect if they use different platforms.
Our church relies primarily on digital communication. We leverage emails, social media, and videos to communicate important details and the vision of our church. We also recognize that if we only share digitally, we will leave some of our older members in the dark.
So we try to provide an analog option whenever needed. I'm using analog as a shorthand term for "the old way of doing things." Here are a couple of examples:
Giving. More than 60% of our giving is online. We encourage online giving because it takes less staffing to process and can easily be automated.
We also have ushers at the doors with baskets every Sunday to collect cash/check donations. If we didn't provide in-person or mail-in options, we'd miss out on almost 40% of our monthly giving!
Next Step Class. Our church membership class is a 15-minute online video with an online form. It's a highly convenient and streamlined process for a new person to learn about our church and commit to becoming a member.
From time to time, we encounter a person who has trouble filling out the online form. In those cases, we will print them a hard copy and get it entered into our system. We even hosted an in-person "showing" of the video to make it easier for people who have trouble navigating the internet still participate.
The goal is to communicate in ways that are current with the times while also providing options for people who aren't digital natives.
5. Reach the young & honor the old.
The church is hemorrhaging Gen Z. According to a Barna study, the number of church dropouts among ages 18-29 rose to 64% in 2019. That's up 5% from 2011. The jury is still unsure if these young adults will ever return to their faith.
Every church needs to answer the question, "Who are we trying to reach?"
We need to set our sights younger. Sermons should be interesting to a 16-year-old. People should be able to recognize worship songs from their Spotify playlists. Young people shouldn't feel out of place on Sundays.
At the same time, you shouldn't try too hard to be "cool" to reach younger people. Each church's context and history will vary the flavor from place to place. Most people are looking for authentic over cool anyways.
Even though our church has a mixed demographic, I will choose younger if there is ever a choice to be made. If older Christians complain, it's an excellent opportunity to cast vision for Jesus' approach to reaching the lost.
"There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." - Luke 15:7
A church that sets its target audience as its own current aging members is a short distance away from irrelevance. It's not healthy people that need a doctor, but the sick (Mark 2:17).
While older Christians aren't the target demographic, it is still important to honor these saints.
One of the best ways to honor the elderly in your church is to ensure they are cared for. You may need to establish a system for hospital and home visitations. You can go the extra mile by sending able-bodied groups to help around the yard or in the house.
You can also utilize faithful Christians in ministry. Last summer, I preached through Ephesians. When I got to the passage on marriage from Ephesians 5, we did something unique. We created a video of a couple from our church who has been married for over 50 years.
I can share insights from the text or examples from my decade of marriage. But there is incredible power in seeing people who have followed Christ longer than I've been alive. That's the kind of value that you only get from a multigenerational church.
What benefits do you see with multigenerational ministry? Let me know in the comments below!
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