Further questions?

I just finished the Webinar, which was pretty surreal. I was talking into the phone and clicking through a power point on my computer. Meanwhile there were about 80 participants that I couldn’t see. There was no interaction, no facial expressions (except for emoticons. Surreal, I tell you). Then, we had five minutes for questions. There were about ten questions… and you know how wordy I am. So, I didn’t come close to answering them.

For the sake of ongoing discussion, let’s talk about them here. I’ll tell you what I said, what I meant to say, and what I should have said. And, we can gather the wisdom of the ‘nets. How would you answer them? What questions would you add?

How do we get young adults in our doors?

Well, the front door for most young adults is actually your website. If you’re going to put money and energy anywhere, you’ll probably need to put it into your site. Try to get an online presence, with blogging, Yelp, and things like that. Mac makes it really easy to build sites.

If there’s a college or university near by, you can begin there. Western received 15% of its membership directly from the campus ministry. And 10% of its attendance comes from students.

But… the best advertising for churches is word of mouth. (Here’s a post on it.) So, if you can get people talking about your church, talking about their own spiritual journeys, then you’re in good shape.

Basically, you need to get a few young adults in church, give them some substantial power, let them begin their own things, and let them tell their friends.

Good preaching’s pretty important too. Post your sermons on the web, so people can email them to one another (amazingly, this actually happens).

What about in rural settings? Web sites are okay, but what about rural communities?

When I was in Abbeville, I hung out in the local coffeehouse, put flyers up for events there.

Oh! Interesting letters to the editor work well in rural communities. Or sometimes you can get articles in the paper.

In a rural community, you actually have an advantage when it comes to word of mouth. People talk about things. Word gets around quickly.

I can’t get the different generations in our congregation to be in the building at the same time. How do you build intergenerational community, when you can’t get them in the same place at the same time?

That’s a struggle. Retirees can make it during the day, and young adults at night. Families? It’s always hard for families to find time…. We can always count on young adults on Sundays, but it’s hard for them to make it at other times. Worship is central, and then build your other interactions around worship.

We also have a men’s group (Wednesday 7 a.m.) and a women’s spirituality group (Sunday 8:30 am). Both are intergenerational.

Usually when people talk about churches for Generation X, they are churches only for Generation X. Why do you talk about intergenerational connection?

Right. That’s what I read about a lot. But it hasn’t been my experience. Intergenerational ministry is what’s always worked in the churches that I’ve pastored. And in the churches that my friends pastor. So, I felt like there was a missing voice in all of this. Our society needs intergenerational understanding. And, I know many young adults and college students who really appreciate the community.

There were some questions on worship styles. Maybe I’ll try to get the original questions from Alban… Stay tuned. And what would your answers be? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What would you ask?

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12 thoughts on “Further questions?

  1. Great post, sorry I missed the webinar.

    I like your point about the front door being a website. Facebook has opened up a new world for me, only after being on it for a few weeks. I look forward to even more of an impact in the future.

    One of the questions or struggles that I deal with evolves around issues of power in the church. How do you get the older generation to ‘let go’ of some things in a healthy way? I have only experienced hardships after a more experienced member ‘let go’ of some duties. Basically she made everybody’s life miserable with all the complaining. You talk about giving younger people ‘substantial power’. What does that look like?

    Also, how do you deal with a congregation who makes every young person feel like he or she is their last hope? That can be pretty overbearing and scary for young people. Yet, when it comes time, they will not give up control. It is very confusing to me.

  2. Great questions! You’ve succinctly outlined so many of the challenges.

    I got the front door thing from Lynne Baab, I think.

    I’m not sure you can always get older generations to let go of things… or at least not without a lot of grief. I mean, quite literally. There’s often a grieving process that goes along with losing things. And it’s often an healthy stage of emotions that people go through when they lose responsibilities in the church (it just seems kind of weird when they’re doing it).

    My pet peeve: When someone complains and complains and complains about a burdensome duty. Then I find someone else to do the job, and the original person won’t give it up!

    Sometimes you have to work around older generations, start new things, different things. Make a space where a new generation can have some power…

    Power in our churches comes in a lot of different forms. There’s the entitled position, but then there’s the ability to have influence. You know, when you talk and people listen. That’s substantial.

    As church leaders, we can put people in the positions, encourage them, recommend them, hide their screw-ups. Stuff like that. And often, we can get more power for someone else than we can get for ourselves.

    And aaahhh… the “last hope” pounce. It’s a common greeting in so many churches. I’ve been known to pounce myself. Maybe that’ll be a post for tomorrow….

  3. As we rebuilt Western, every new person, especially a young person, was our last hope. I just told them that more were coming. Thanks be to God, they did. But in the beginning, it was scary for the one or two or three young people. Same thing with the families. We had no Sunday school or nursery because there wasn’t even one child. Getting the families to stick was even harder. But if people feel like they are building/creating something, they can be engaged.
    As for old people giving up power, it is never easy. At Western we were blessed with old folks who wanted to give up power. They were tired, worn out. Nonetheless, the complaining about the new ways was there. I tried to get people to laugh about it. For the most part, humor was the best remedy. Most healthy people recognize when they are being obnoxious and can laugh about it if invited to do so. The unhealthy ones? Well, I had to drive a few away. A few others died. A few just hung in there. Ultimately, the neurotic ones were totally outnumbered.

  4. We’re not so young anymore (30’s), but are considered young by our current church (which says something for their average age) and are definitely Gen X.

    Web sermons convinced us to finally visit your church. We liked what we read so much.

    What will probably convince us to stay is the service your church performs. Miriam’s is such a huge demonstration that yours is a “missional” church where Sunday mornings give people the encouragement they need to head out the door and do the work that Jesus calls us all to do. Worship is about more than doing the Sunday service well, it’s also about what you do the other 6 days… Your church seems to get it, and I’d like to get it better as well.

    Along those lines my wife and I have been reading “The Dangerous Act of Worship” by Mark Labberton of First Presby in Berkeley, CA.

    Plus high school kids have mandatory community service these days, so they’ve grown up doing this stuff. If the church can provide a venue for them to continue doing it, I would think that would be a draw for college kids and young adults too.

  5. Alan,

    Welcome to the site! And to the church! (Watch out for the pounce….) I think you’re the first person to attend worship and comment on the blog. Well, actually, one member comments via facebook….

    Yeah, Western’s just amazing with their outreach to the city, and to the world. John’s very innovative, and he’s always welcoming the opportunity to organize. I’m just so grateful to be a part of it. And Miriam’s is a huge draw for the students.

    I haven’t read “The Dangerous Act of Worship,” but I’ve heard a lot about it. I’d love to meet you and your wife for coffee sometime. I’ll email you.

  6. the webinar…what an interesting concept. I do have one small exception to something you said “young adults can do sunday.”

    I’m having more and more conversations with young adults who can’t do sundays because they have jobs that require them to work. In fact today a young mother called the church looking for a place to get her kids in some activities, but they can’t do sundays because of her job.

    Just to say that we actually have to find and think about alternative church times, if we’re gonna attract young adults who aren’t in your typical 9-5 jobs to church.

    I seem to remember a blog post a while ago by Diana Butler Bass (if my memory is correct) that essentially said having only services on Sunday morning totally cuts out your working class population of folks….which makes for an interesting justice issue.

  7. I just love reading this blog. I would offer on the getting young folks in the doors. Create a space that we can explore our faith. Engage us in worship. Open the door and do not stop at opening the leadership doors as well. I for one, do not want to fight to be accepted into leadership. When the church gets serious about wanting youth in the church then they will let youth lead. Birds of a feather flock together…there is room for you, I, and that other guy.

  8. Jim,

    You’re so right. Many people work retail (I know I did), or wait tables, etc, and you’re never guaranteed Sunday morning off.

    We’re just beginning explore the possibility of an alternative Sunday pm worship right now.

    Has anyone done it? Any thoughts?

    And thanks, Ryan!

  9. I remember the saying, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Perhaps as John and Carol wrote that could be the answer, I worked under a very creative pastor who was constantly starting new projects and putting the younger or newer people of the church in charge. He would let the old things hang on for years and years, until the older leadership died and it closed naturally. He never complained about the WMQ meetings. In fact, he would promote them but, of course, no one was interested in attending.

    There were several times that an older person would come and ask to be relieved of the responsiblity of the established organizations so they could attend the newer, more vibrant projects.

  10. In thinking about adding an additional worship service, it seems important that it be just as inter-generational as Sunday morning. The congregation I am at tried a new service on Thursday evenings (before I arrived) and young adults did show up, but the number of worshippers was so small, they didn’t come back.

    I think if we start new worship again, we need to ask people already in the congregation to commit themselves to it. That way a new community isn’t starting from nothing, but from an established part of the congregation and connections can be made into the larger body.

    Carol-enjoyed the webinar…thanks!

  11. Thanks, Ben. Very insightful.

    We have a Coffeehouse that’s geared for college students right now, and it’s amazingly good. But… there are only so many college students. So, we have great food, interesting speakers, and fabulous music for a dozen people. Not that I don’t love those dozen people… it’s just that I wish that I would have opened it up for everyone at the beginning.

    Thanks for the feedback on the webinar. It’s comforting after talking into a dead phone for an hour! And thank you so much for writing good things about TC on your blog. There’s nothing like a good blog review. I REALLY appreciate it.

  12. Like many of you have said, influence is key. A church can talk all they want about how they want young people, need young people, blah blah blah. My current church does this. But then when they talk about how to engage young people in their meetings and committees, they do so without young people! Giving us young folks (I’m a millenial) a voice is a huge, crucial step.

    I think the other key thing is the intergenerational piece. We like the hip churches geared at us for a while, but it is hard to build realy community (or find a mentor) when everyone else is within 5 years of you. Plus, these churches often just grow older and become what they were originally trying to fix (ie something that no longer reaches young people).

    I can’t tell you how badly my wife and I just want someone older in the church to invite us over for dinner!

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