Do you remember when there was prayer in the public schools and when Sunday mornings were reserved for worship so people could go to church without competition from sports; when it was expected that everyone went to church every Sunday?
That was a time of cultural privilege for Christianity. Churches thrived in a culture that supported them. The LA Times ran a weekly Bible study column in its Sunday paper—way back in the day. Parents and grandparents remember this fondly as the way things were. But it is not the way things are now, and it hasn’t been for several decades. Our new American culture does not care about church. Families face a lot of scheduling conflicts with Sunday morning church attendance. These days a person who goes to church two times per month (the actual figure is 1.9 times per month) considers themselves very committed.
There is no question that the Gospel will always be desperately needed. The Church will continue to flourish and grow, because Jesus Christ is the head of the church. But what that Church of the future will look like—we are struggling to see it, and to meet it. It will be different, for sure.
This means that the older generation will experience a real sense of loss, which must be named and felt. It also means that the older models (the idea that if we just did ‘this’ program that worked in the past we would experience results) won’t work. The people of today’s Church are being called upon to humble ourselves, to listen, ask questions, imagine, adventure in order to minister to younger people who are part of American culture.
Some shrinking churches have closed their doors to the older (very committed) generation, and then restarted by branding themselves as a young, hip church for millennials and Gen Z. That is NOT ABC. In fact, we find this appalling. We cannot imagine a church that does not value its elders.
But we do need to grow and reach younger generations. So based on research which shows that everybody of every generation wins when a church grows in ministry to young people (ages 12-29), ABC has begun a multiple year effort to Revitalize Our Church Culture with the purpose of growing stronger within (inter-generationally), and growing bigger as a church.
Last month we completed an assessment designed to help us know where we should put our greatest focus. We tried our hardest to get everyone’s opinion, because the answers to this survey would point us in the direction we would need to take. A big thank you to the 64 people who completed the assessment.
First, our strengths. ABC scored highest in “Fueling a Warm Community,” “Taking Jesus’ Message Seriously,” and “Being the Best Neighbors.”
Now for our challenges. Our lowest score was in the category, “Empathizing with Today’s Young People,” “Prioritizing Young People and Families Everywhere,” and “Unlocking Keychain Leadership” (i.e. including young people in important decision making and equipping them for ministry).
Our strengths should not come as a surprise, as they describe what everyone likes about ABC. But how, then, can empathy be our lowest score? (And we are not alone in this discrepancy—most of the other churches who took the same assessment face the same dichotomy.) How are we warm but critical at the same time? How are we loving, but not friendly? How do we highly value Jesus’ message, but assume that people we disagree with, or young people from a different generation don’t take Jesus seriously?
We have a team of people who are diving into these questions, with the goal of becoming a church that welcomes and attracts young people. We want to love and nurture our young people so well that we are woven into the fabric of each other’s’ lives, being a true community to each other, and all of us will be richer for it. So while we have a team at work, we believe revitalization is the work of every ABCer, as we strive to meet the new generation where they are, listen deeply to them, and pour ourselves into their lives, knowing that our faith and our church are strengthened in so doing.
So we are asking each ABCer to match yourself to one of our young people in prayer. We want each of them surrounded by at least 5 people who will pray for them through their formative years (12-30)! These are the years where important, life-changing decisions are being made. The 20s are the ‘adulting’ years. Every one of our young people needs this continued prayer. Start praying and keep praying.
We will be looking for effective ways for different generations to interact in the coming months. We are asking you to engage. We are hoping to form connections, improve empathy and understanding, enjoy each other across generational lines, all the while inviting God to create His “new thing” in ABC and through ABC. “I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43:19-21
–Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn