By Brian Boyles
“We want you to do what it takes to reach the younger generation.”
This always sounds great when “they” say that to you. So you start making some changes and adding some new programs, then those who were excited before you began are now all but demanding you stop.
Maybe they make statements disguised as questions, like, “Why can’t the younger people just learn to like what we like?” Or, “Do you think that we may be moving too quickly?” Or even, “Are we going to be the same church anymore?”
I certainly understand the desire to reach people you aren’t reaching. After all, that’s the heart of any true church leader: seeing people come to faith in Jesus. In fact, that is the desire of any true Christian, younger or older.
So, why do so many leaders end up with older Christians getting upset when they’re simply trying to reach the lost?
I’ve heard of churches that asked their pastor to do whatever it takes to reach the younger generation, but when he did he ended up under scrutiny—and sometimes even got fired. Often what went wrong could have been prevented with a different approach.
I believe proper leadership can navigate this conflict if better methods are utilized. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned.
1. Consider the pace of change.
Sometimes the changes that have been brought were the right changes to make, but the pace of change was too fast and the congregation wasn’t able to adjust emotionally or spiritually.
If you move too quickly, people will feel like they don’t belong anymore and they may leave. Don’t be the church that makes too many new changes too quickly only to close within a year because everyone leaves.
2. Prioritize changes.
If you need to improve in multiple areas, then it matters which changes you make first. The chronology of changes should be intentional, based on the priorities of the ministry.
Don’t fight battles on multiple fronts at the same time. Tackle one change at a time if you can, even if it takes longer than you prefer.
3. Consider the price tag.
Of course there are the hard costs of any equipment needed, or construction, or technology, for example. But there are soft costs that are often not adequately calculated.
For example, if this change is made, such as incorporating more modern music, how many people might leave? Or, if there is an influential person who is against the change, what kind of fallout may you need to consider if you go against their wishes?
In addition, what would be the cost if you choose not to make this change? Consider all of this before moving forward.
I hate to be obvious, but it must be stated: If you haven’t spent time in prayer on this specific change with your team, your lay leaders, and those who desire God’s will, then stop immediately.
Don’t finish this article before you’ve labored in prayer before God about this. You must understand the significance of what you’re considering. Your church is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting (to paraphrase Andy Andrews).
To get different results would imply that a major shift in methodology is needed. You must be certain God desires this for the congregation before you take them through it.
5. Communicate (before implementation).
You must force transparency to the congregation. Insist on communication before implementation. Design a plan that allows you to discuss the ideas with all committees, deacons, influencers, volunteers, and anyone else who may have an interest in what you’re planning.
I often conduct “town hall” meetings with no more than about 50 people at a time when we are initiating change at the church I pastor. This allows me to explain the why, what, how and when of what is being considered. This also allows people to ask questions, which they’ll appreciate.
Be honest with your people and you may be surprised how much their trust for you will increase. Tell them there’s no guarantee that this initiative will work, but that you believe it will help you with the goal of reaching more people for Christ.
The idea of reaching younger people is not all that different from reaching older people; the gospel has a way of appealing to every age. If your true motive is to shepherd people into a deeper relationship with Jesus, then every person matters. Don’t pit the two demographics against each other.
A greater goal is to get the current attenders to join the objective of reaching the non-attenders. If you can reach a new group without rejecting the current group, then you’ll have a greater chance of being the leader the church so desperately needs.
BRIAN BOYLES (@brian_boyles) is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Georgia, and serves as a consultant for Revitalized Churches.