Tag Archives: millennials

Empty Nest Churches

What Do We Do About Our Kids Leaving the Church?

designThe problem was been well documented. Lots of analysis and research reveals that the generation gap in the church continues to widen. There is an issue, especially in the North American church, in that many younger people are not staying or they aren’t coming in the first place. The statistics are alarming. It’s a concern for many Baby Boomer parents and a dilemma for church leaders.

As far as I can ascertain, no one else has coined the term, “empty nest church.” You get the concept: the kids leave, and mom and dad are left alone. In the home, though adjustments need to be made, this can be a refreshing and fun time for couples. In the church, it is a sign of looming extinction. If adjustments aren’t made, the church will soon no longer exist.

Conferences and ministry forums are addressing this problem. Books are being published and denominational leaders are deep in dialogue. It’s baffling, however, that others seem to be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps they are aware but are clueless about solutions. But make no mistake, this matter is not going away, and sooner or later, we will deal with it.

So, what are we to do when the next generation disengages from the church? I would like to discuss 3 possible responses.

Would we allow our kids to walk away from our home and their relationship with us without pursuing them? Most parents would make every effort to assure their children that they are loved and valued and an integral part of the family. It’s unthinkable that we would stand idly by as they depart the house, promising never to return. Would we refuse to go after them in the name of “tough love?” (Sometimes tough love is a cover-up for a hard heart). Would we accuse them of being entitled or spoiled? Why then do we see this in the church? All indicators point to a several year crisis that has developed in many evangelical churches. The problem is not new – but where are the solutions? When discussing the issue of the younger generation leaving the church, we hear people say things like, “it’s up to them to come back” or “we’re not the ones who left.” In a recent social media discussion, an article addressing Millennials leaving the church created a lot of dialogue. The author of the article encouraged churches and ministry leaders to take the initiative to go after people who leave the church. One commenter, a Christian leader said, “Instead of: “it’s your move church,” I keep saying, “it’s your move millennials.” Stop looking for others to change things for you and just start being the change you want to see.” While I concur with the concept of personal responsibility, when it comes to spiritual disengagement, this type of thinking creates more problem than solutions. We cannot expect those who have left the church to assume the responsibility to make the needed changes.

It seems to me that older Believers have the responsibility to go after, even pursue younger Believers who walk away from the church. I think that is what the Father would do.

By “go after”, I don’t mean simply trying to talk them into coming back. While this is an excellent place to begin, we must be willing to face the difficult truths behind the decisions being made. Rather than being defensive or dismissive, we must be open and willing to learn. Teenagers and young adults should know beyond any doubt that we love them enough to come find them – wherever they are. We can’t wait for them to come home; we must go after them with our words and our deeds. And once this dialogue has begun, we must be solutions oriented.

In addition to pursuing them, we should be willing to explore new ideas in regard to ministry. So many of the conversations I have observed between the generations involve an assumption that “my way” is the best way. I think every generation is guilty of this. Until we are ready to explore a different way of doing ministry, the potential of the harvest will be limited. Adjusting methods is not a matter of watering down the Truth. Let’s not fall prey to the claims of our unwillingness to compromise our standards in order to reach people. Many of us compromise every day in order to keep the people we have. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

If I can adjust my preferences, be flexible in my approach and possibly compromise on my methods, and thereby win a younger generation to the Lord, why would I not do so? (Previous experience compels me to state that I in no way propose lowering the standard of God’s Word!) By the way, I am simply providing for others what was provided for me. My elders didn’t insist that I do it their way – they allowed me to connect in a fresh and new way. I owe this gift from an older generation to a new generation.

In addition to going after the new generation and compromising on methods, one more consideration may be helpful.

This week I once again heard someone refer to today’s youth as “the church of tomorrow.” We simply must stop saying this! The message implies waiting. While younger people certainly will be the backbone of the future church, they must be viewed as an indispensable part of the church right now. We wouldn’t think of segregating our children in our home when it is mealtime, only to let them join us for special occasions. I believe that young people should be integrated into every worship experience. Youth Sundays are awesome but highlighting the new generation a few times a year is inadequate. Allow them to serve now. Respect their gifts and talents. While they may not be mature enough to lead every ministry, there must be a place for people of all generations in the family of God. Young people must be a part of the church of today!

One more thought: prevention is key. Let’s not wait until there is an exodus of young adults from our churches. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Start the dialogue before the bridge is burned.

In summary:

When we observe the problem of younger generations leaving the church:

  1. Go after them
  2. Consider a shift in methods
  3. Recognize them as an important part of the church today

I think we (the church) should accept the responsibility for fixing this problem. If we refuse or fail to do so, it is likely that we will lose a majority of people age 30 and younger. No one, especially the Lord is good with that.

No more Empty Nest Churches!

Advertisements

In Defense of Millennials

design1-copyThis is not the finest moment for 20-30 somethings. The post election meltdown is the butt of many jokes. The entitlement being expressed and resulting cries of “no fair” are front-page news and the fodder of smirks across Middle American breakfast tables. “Dump Trump” tattoos are a sure bet for investment opportunities.

As a boomer, I have expressed more than my share of my disrespect of the generation that is emerging. My comments have not been as kind as they could and should have been. Interestingly, most of my millennial family and friends do not defend their generation; they laugh along with me and own up to their shortcomings.

But I’m a bit troubled by and defensive of the generalizations and broad-sweeping disrespect for those born between 1980 and 2000.

Just possibly, we (boomers) have our part of the blame They are what we raised them to be. Some of us were helicopter parents. Some of us would never allow our kids to feel pain. My 30 year old friend said this week, “We never stuck out in t-ball. We were not allowed to lose.” Participation trophies have become the joke de jour. This may be funny but it is not helping the situation. Possibly we have enabled their dysfunction.

Possibly we are compensating for our own failures. The world that the Millennials are inheriting from their parents is not in great shape. I have always found the best way to cover my mistakes is to blame someone else. We broke it – maybe we should fix it before we rip the next generation for not fixing it.

We followed “the Greatest Generation.” We may have an inferiority complex. I know some emotional bullies that, in order to make themselves look better, insult others. Hey boomers, our parents were the greatest generation, and our kids are smarter than we are. Let’s own it and stop blaming others.

One of my favorite joke/stories: Dad says to his lazy teenage son, “Do you know what Abe Lincoln was doing when he was your age?” Son says, “No, but I know what he was doing when he was your age!”

Maybe we should get our stuff together to serve as a model for those who are coming in our footsteps.

Some positives about the Millennials I know:

They are passionate. They have a lot of drive for issues that concern them.

They value authenticity. Fake won’t fly.

They are risk takers. They have few qualms about leaving the safety of home to do some awesome things – things I wouldn’t have done.

They live simpler lives. They don’t seem to need the gadgets as much as we do. (unless the gadgets include smart phones and Xbox).

They will decide what nursing homes we will live it. Be nice to them.

Seriously, I love these guys. Let’s give them a break.


Why We Must Invest in Young Leaders

design[2].pngThere is a lot of talk these days about why it is so difficult for most people to connect with Millennials. They are complex, some of them have no interest in interacting with us and a few of them think they are entitled.

Of course they don’t have it all together. If they did, we would need them to teach us, because we certainly don’t have it all together.

Here are some reasons why we MUST invest in the next generation of leaders:

  • We won’t live forever; someone needs to be prepared to take over once we are no longer able to lead.
  • Some of us need to step aside before we are ready. One of the problems with growing older is our awareness of our effectiveness or ineffectiveness may be compromised. Let’s prepare younger people to lead before we reach the place of ineffectiveness.
  • Someone invested in us. We have a responsibility to pass on the valuable insight and wisdom that was generously given to us. To do otherwise is selfish. One of my favorite Bible passages is II Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” I see four or five generations involved in the teaching process. Let’s follow that pattern and pass on what we know.
  • We love them. Because we care about young leaders, we will invest in them.
  • Because the church and other organizations need young leaders in place now and in the future. The current lack of leadership in our world is evidence that we need strong leaders to emerge.
  • We have things to learn from young leaders. They have a handle on some concepts that we must learn in order to be effective.
  • Because we are better together. Mono-generational existence is boring, unhealthy and unproductive.

I’m excited about the young leaders I know. They are authentic, bright and well-informed. If we do our part to help them get ready, the future will be in good hands. If you know anything that can make the world a better place and can prepare people for what is ahead, do your best to share it with those younger leaders who will then share it with others.


Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

We’re hearing more bad news about how young America feels about organized church. Thom Rainer published this article about young church leaders; it also reveals the brokenness that exists between churches/denominations and a major portion of our adult population. While it’s sort of good news for church planters, it’s bad news for everyone for several reasons: The church is God’s plan to reach our culture. If the plan isn’t working, we’re in trouble. It reveals a lack of grace on the part of younger people. My friend Travis Johnson recently preached, “Flaws and all, the Church must be a central priority of our existence as Christians.” We can’t expect the church to be even close to perfect. The church has a lot of good to offer young adults but if we aren’t on speaking terms, nothing will be shared. We shouldn’t have to learn everything by personal experience. Elders have practical wisdom that is needed. Millennials have a lot to offer the church but if we’re not on speaking terms… And one of the biggest reasons this is bad news is – too much of what Millennials believe about the church is accurate. The church can be irrelevant. The church can care more about maintenance than mission. The church can be myopic. As a denominational leader, I can unfortunately respond: guilty as charged!

So, how do we repair the disconnect? I think that, if these breaches are going to be healed, the church has to do a few things; here are just a few:

We have to go to them. I am bothered by people who say/think, “Here we are, if they need us, let them come.” The title of this article reflects a strategy. The church must take the initiative to reach out. In case we haven’t noticed, no one is beating our church doors down to get in.

We have to be willing to talk. This can be intimidating because many 20 and 30 somethings are accustomed to critical thinking. They aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. Sometimes their attitudes can be perceived as arrogant (and sometimes they are). But these open and honest conversations must take place. These talks are not lectures. They don’t happen during the preaching – they are over coffee. And they may not conclude with a neat little box with a ribbon on top. These talks can be messy, but they are necessary.

We have to be willing to change. Robert Quinn says, “People must surrender some of their previous attitudes, behaviors, positions, and comforts for their organization to advance.” An attitude we’ve heard in the church is, “This is our church, if they don’t like how we do things, they can just stay away.” I’ve heard this or similar attitudes from people who claim to know the exact way that church should be done and are unwilling to consider any adjustments. Without doubt, this is wrong. While the Spirit of Christ will never compromise on the Word of God, there is great flexibility on the part of God when it comes to reaching people. I do not believe that we should ever change the meaning of the Bible, but our methods of doing ministry must change. A church that refuses to change methods in order to connect with the next generation will soon be a former church.

We must do more than just include. My friend Mel Stackhouse recently tweeted, “There’s a big difference between being embraced, and being included; being welcomed vs belonging.” Millennials aren’t stupid; they know when they are being placated. We must care more about people than we do the compliance of the people. They must be valued and respected. We must embrace them; they must know that they belong. And young leaders want to lead! While wisdom and discretion is required for leaders, let’s not wait until someone is too old and tied to lead before we empower them to lead.

Most of all, we must be real. By real, I mean authentic. There is little tolerance for hypocrisy in today’s culture. Churches that preach what they live and live what they preach will find a following. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough topics and offer real-life hope.

I understand the fears of the boomers/leaders of the church. We fear losing something we love very much. If we do nothing about how Millennials feel about the church, that loss is certain.