My grandmother is without a doubt one of the most influential people in my life. It is her love and devotion to God that has inspired me to be faithful and obedient as I serve and love Jesus. There have been many times when I have been faced with a challenge in life and I have been reminded of the steadfast faith of my grandmother who faced similar challenges in life, and did not grow bitter about her struggles, but grew stronger in her faith through them.
I am certain many of us could say the very same thing, as we reflect on our faith journeys, asking ourselves who has helped shaped our spiritual growth. I’m sure many of us will name older adults in our lives who pointed us towards God. Why then, do we believe the best way to do youth ministry is to segregate the generations?
Pastor David Wright says, “When we build youth ministries that don’t fold students into the life of the congregation, the unintended consequence is a future of empty pews.”
For years youth ministries operated from the standpoint that we needed separate youth services, so we created youth worship services, youth mission trips, youth bible studies and the like. Yet, now we’re finding our youth and older congregations actually need one another to encourage and inspire the church. Dr. Chap Clark in his book, Adoptive Youth Ministry says, “We must understand that youth ministry is much less about running a program and much more about becoming a family.”
Ministry Architects President Mark Devries also says in his book, Family Based Youth Ministry, “that young people who grew into faithful Christian adults had either one of two things going for them growing up. They either grew up in a Christian home where their faith was nurtured or had significant adult connections within the church that served as an extended family for them.”
If that’s the case then I would suggest if we want our churches to flourish together we must create opportunities and programs that seek to blend the generations instead of segregating them. Here are seven ways we can do that.
- Hold a fellowship lunch after church where the youth sit with older congregation members. Provide questions and games for youth and adults to play together
- Invite an older congregation member to share their testimony for youth group. Students need to hear the stories of faithfulness from adults who have followed Jesus for many years.
- Launch a prayer ministry that unites the generations. Match up each older congregation member with a student in the youth ministry who commits to praying daily for that student.
- Get your Senior Pastor on board. Cast vision to your Senior Pastor so they can start talking about the need of bringing the generations together, since for many years, the church culture has operated quite differently.
- Be prepared to have some pushback, especially from older congregation members. I’ve had many of them say things to me like, “I can’t relate with those kids,” or “I’m too old for youth ministry,” etc. I often ask, did you ever raise a teenager? Do you have a grandchild that has been a teen? Then, you can relate with teenagers and you have something to share with them for God’s glory!
- Recruit older congregation members to serve in your youth ministry. A couple of years ago I recruited a married couple that were 70 years old. The students love them. I love them and they fit right into the youth ministry.
- Start sharing stories with older congregation members of what God is doing in the youth ministry. Keep them in the loop so they can celebrate with you and as you share, they might start seeking the Lord about getting connected into what God is doing in the youth ministry.
All of this will take a shift in culture, but I believe it’s the way of the future for thriving youth ministries. Don’t give in or give up, keep pressing forward, because God can do greater things than we can ask or imagine.