This is one of the greatest challenges for small/medium sized churches. The majority of the congregation is comprised of older people. They grew up in the church. It has been part of their lives for many years. Many of them are spiritually mature. When someone asks them to pray, they bow their heads, and the words flow beautifully toward heaven. When someone asks them to read scripture, they begin flipping to the book, chapter, and verse without a second thought.
These older members of a congregation are stalwart participants in God’s work. They support missionaries. They give to building and legacy programs. They faithfully attend and engage in worship. I cannot say enough about the good things they do on God’s behalf on this earth.
When they look at the church, they often wonder why young people do not attend. They lament the declining or nonexistent children’s program. They ask questions, like, “Why don’t more young people come to church?” They honestly wonder. They think that they would truly like to know. However, they do not want to know, and they certainly do not want to change anything.
Below is a list of ten ways older people can help a church attract younger people. If you have additional suggestions, please share them with me.
1) Stop pretending that it’s 1950.
2) Smile when a young person happens to wander into worship.
3) Show genuine interest in the person (not the demographic they represent).
4) Do not assume that any subject is safe, just because the person you are asking is young. For instance, it just as impolite to ask a young lady why she is not married as it would be for her to ask how much remains in your 401K.
a) It is also impolite to say to a young parent, “You can’t be old enough to have these children; you look like a teenager, yourself.” Imagine a young mother retorting, “How did you get here? Do they have a bus from the nursing home?”
b) Saying, “You look so young!” sounds pejorative. Remember: the goal is to attract and keep young people attending, not put them in their place.
5) Compliment the music director when she/he selects a contemporary piece of music, bearing in mind that Bill Gaither is not contemporary.
6) Encourage the use of guitar and percussion.
7) Never utter the words, “In my day…”, “We’ve never done it that way”, or “The problem today is…”.
8) Volunteer to help staff the nursery, so that it is ready when a family visits.
a) If it is your Sunday in the nursery, show up on time.
b) Compliment a someone’s parenting or child.
c) Do not criticize someone’s child or parenting, even if your children would never behave that way (although, if you are being honest, they probably did).
d) Pray for patience.
9) If a parent has a baby/toddler who is getting upset, offer to hold the baby, so the parent can stay in worship. (Make the offer genuine)
10) Unless there are lots of candles and it is advertised as a contemplative worship, avoid long periods of silence (recalling how difficult it was to keep your own children quiet in church).
There are certainly many more things that I could add to this list. If our goal is to bring people closer to God, then we need to be willing to change our behavior to reach this goal.