In life we like to reduce things to a simple dime store novel filled with villains and heroes. We want the cowboy western with white hats and black hats. We like a predictable ending as in a Hallmark movie. We want the hero to win, ride off into the sunset, or kiss the girl and live happily ever after. Life is not quite that simple. I wish it were, but it is not.
A speaker I was listening to recently said that change is a part of progress. Every entity has to change to stay current. Every business has to refresh itself, change the menu, re-decorate, do something to attract attention and customer loyalty.
In the kingdom of God, the kingdom is eternal. It moves and changes in forms, but the core message remains the same. Churches come and go. If you look at the pages of the New Testament and list the churches mentioned, you would be hard pressed to find them today. They vanished centuries ago. Yet, the kingdom of God is flourishing throughout the earth. God moves constantly to reach lost humanity. Humans change their cultures and habits; yet their core issues remain the same. How to address the changing cultures is the kingdom’s ability to adapt and keep the message addressing the age old issues of humans.
People, however, do not like change. They want to find something familiar and stick with it till they die. When I started out, planting a church in a rural, bedroom community, I had only two people who were over 50. The church was made up of young families and singles. This couple was just retired, 65, mail carrier and school teacher. However, they were into the current move of God. Change did not bother them; they were ready to be on the cutting edge of what God was doing. Maybe they were visionaries as well. They supported us all the way.
We live at a crossroads in some ways. God is raising up all kinds of new churches, some small and some rapidly growing larger ones. We live at a time when denominationalism is dying and many independent, or networked churches are flourishing. However, the kingdom of God is strong and growing.
Going back to my novel analogy, the churches that are closing, ceasing to exist, are not attended by unbelievers, but good people who have struggled with change. These churches have held on to the move of God they enjoyed when younger. There is usually a commonality in all these situations, the young people are missing. Somehow there was a disconnect between the older members and their ability to attract and retain younger people. Just as when we planted a church, it was all young people except for the one couple. Today, it is all older people except for a handful of young in most situations.
We may ask, “What is it?” Style, music, decor, language? Is it as simple as young draw young and old draw old?
I strongly believe there is an issue that is common and it is not the above. I strongly believe that the issue is the lack of inclusion and opportunity for younger people to engage, participate, and move into leadership positions. I have been to churches, and attend one now, that is trans-generational. There is a large group of young people and many interspersed into leadership and there is a good number of people of all ages worshipping and serving. Churches can serve and prosper with all ages being represented.
As churches age, they usually keep raising the bar for anyone to come into leadership. More rules, longer wait periods, limited opportunities are common in churches that are just surviving. One international leader I know, puts young people and new converts into roles of service as fast as she can. Her church is packed with young people. I also have known churches that have hard fast rules that no one can do anything until they sit for months or years. There are reasons everyone has for the various approaches, but the first engages and draws young people.
I know a church I worked with that was filled with young families and some great potential leaders. I was excited for that church. I came back a few years later and they were all gone. I asked what happened and found that all opportunities had been shut off to them. They are now leaders in other churches. What a missed opportunity!
Paul, the apostle, constantly encouraged his team to find young people and entrust them with the gospel. It was preparing the next generation.
In this book of life the villain is really complacency fueled by fear and lack of adaptation. Its symptoms include no change, keep the status quo, remember the good old days, and make little or no room for the next generation.
A good read along these lines is Kevin Gerald’s book, Naked and Unafraid which just came out.
The hero in all this is Jesus. He is able to reach every generation and keeps his kingdom growing. While some camps of his are shut down or absorbed into other camps, his kingdom adapts and keeps the message and the hope alive to every generation and culture.