Yesterday I received an email in response to my post, 'An open letter to church-going Christians in Australia from an Ordinary Gen-Xer'. If you'd like to read it simply click here.
The email message was from an Aussie Christian who said my letter was helpful, as they had been wanting to know how to reach younger people. They then described themselves as 'older', yet one of the youngest in their congregation, and also without any close friendships at church. They wrote about being engaged with at church only when the others "wanted something done". This person expressed their desire to reach others who were seeking, and said they felt this is why they were placed by God in this church...To be there for those who are seeking. They then asked how do they 'reach' the younger generations without urging them to come to church or knocking on strangers' doors.
This is my response below. I want to share it here as a post, as I feel this person is NOT alone with their desire or struggle.
Thanks for your email. I am glad to know the post helped in some way!
I loved reading about your heart for 'reaching others' who are seeking, and I can relate to what you're saying about being in a church community where you feel without close friendships, and the experience of feeling only being engaged with when you're 'useful'. Yes, I know how that can feel. I personally don’t think people’s age is a valid reason for them not engaging with others of a different age. I have gone to church with beautiful older people who pastorally care for others. I also know however when certain age groups are missing from church communities, how the church as a ‘family’ is incomplete.
I want to preface this email by stating, I am not God and I do not want to take His place in your life. I’m happy to offer my opinion and perspective from my own journey and experience, but I urge you to pray and read scripture for guidance as this is the most trustworthy source. J When I pray and read scripture first, The Lord uses secondary sources such as Christian books, sermons, and His genuine people for confirmation. (I’m not saying you haven’t been praying and reading scripture!)
Basically my whole letter is urging ‘the church’ – that being church communities – to reach Gen Xers. The advice I give relates to how the church community, with its individual members can reach others (specifically my generation). In the letter I speak about sermons (for those who preach). I speak about Sunday school (for Sunday school volunteers and coordinators) not babysitting our children. I speak to all members about being genuine and transparent with their lives, to elders and leaders about discipleship, for example.
My letter is to church communities, as a family of loving believers, and I feel this is your struggle. It seems you are in a church community where you are working predominately alone in your ministry to ‘reach others’ and you are in a church community that is incomplete in regards to the younger generations being absent to make the community a whole family. This is a problem because you are not being pastorally cared for by the church community yourself, and people will come to church to be ministered to by the body of Christ and for a church family; not just because one person is friendly. No one person alone makes the body, as I’m sure you would have heard before. It takes a family of believers with their individual functions, as His body, to minister to others and meet their needs.
Personally I know I cannot meet all the needs of others alone, and I don’t desire to do so. I believe Jesus gives us the model for team ministry in scripture; we see the core group of disciples ministering with Jesus, and we also read of Jesus sending them out in pairs. The early church gathered as a family, and when children, youth, young adults and gen-xers are missing the family is incomplete. This is not to say God can’t or won’t provide the growth…Just that a core family is usually necessary for a church community others will join.
In saying this, I’m not trying to say The Lord has not wanted you to be where you are, or that He desires you to leave your church community at this time. I believe you need to seek His will on this matter for yourself. I believe through Jesus we become Children of God, and as His Children He parents us to grow more like Jesus as we journey along. He lovingly works to mature us in our faith and relationship with Him, and this can result in us finding ourselves in challenging situations where we really need to push closer to Him, praying for wisdom and to hear His voice for guidance…and this is not a bad thing, even though pruning and growth can be painful at times. Ultimately we must desire to be in His will for our lives first and foremost, for this is how we will bear fruit for His Kingdom and glory.
I believe when church communities, as the body, work together in loving unity and respect they will grow and gain church members. I know from experience just how challenging it is when we feel isolated within a church community and this is not how it should be! We should have our own ‘cup filled’ by Christ and His body, and then minister to others out of the overflow.
Younger people, which includes Millennials, as well as my generation, need reaching through acts of love and kindness and this can take many forms. I don’t believe there is a formula as people are individuals. We must be led by God’s prompting and then people will respond and ‘come to church’ when The Lord makes a way and softens their heart to your loving outreach. When we reach new people, we would not disciple them on our own and this is what getting people to church is about…It’s about them hearing the gospel, responding, and then being discipled…It’s not about doing religion. When The Lord makes a way for us to reach new people and we are able to invite them to church, it should be to a family community of authentic, genuine, loving people who will minister to the new person, and each other, as His body should.