Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Multi-Generational Ministry

“To niche or not to niche?’ That is the question asked by many church planters and by congregations seeking to expand their mission outreach. The early days of the church growth movement tended to lean towards homogeneous ministries and niche outreach, but people like Mark Deymaz (Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, Jossey-Bass, 2007) claim that in the 21st century homogenous churches will increasingly struggle with credibility in proclaiming a message of God’s love for all people from an environment in which a love for all people cannot otherwise be observed. Deymaz points to the ability of the early church to embrace generational and cultural diversity as one of its strengths and, indeed, a Biblical mandate.

Amy Hanson offers a downloadable resource on Leadership Network ( www.leadnet.org ) “Breaking Down the Age Barriers: How Churches are becoming Intentionally Intergenerational” that can help congregations address one aspect of diversity. Many congregations today serve five generations of people. She urges congregations to give attention to…

• Creating natural ways for the generations to come together.
• Honoring older adults by asking them to tell their stories.
• Educating the congregation on the value of intergenerational ministry.
• Finding ways to make the worship service multi-generational.
• Encouraging affinity groups, rather than age groups, as a way for people to connect. This may be one of the key actions a congregation can take. Groups that are designed around a mutual interest rather than age can become a place for people of various generations to connect.
• Hosting strategic intergenerational events.
• Matching young people with older adults in mentoring relationships. This works both ways, Teenagers may help seniors with computer skills. Seniors may help young couples with plumbing and home repair issues.

Pat Springle in “Communicating with the Postmodern Generation” ( Download at www.leadnet.org ) says “The key to connecting at cross-generational ministry is humility.” Anger and arrogance turn off both the old and the young. Brad Bell (www.thewellcommunity.org ) says. “The older generation won’t listen to arrogant, young goateed pastors who are angry at the traditional church. They can’t respect us because we are attacking an institution that has meant a lot to them. When we say or imply that the traditional church is broken and irrelevant, we lose those men and women who have come to us to be built up in their faith. In our arrogance we cut off any connection with them and drive them away. But it’s not just a problem with the older people. If we’re arrogant, the younger generation writes us off as fake. So to the young, arrogance appears fake, and to the old, arrogance makes us punks.” THE KEY TO CONNECTING IN A CROSS-GENERATIONAL MINISTRY IS HUMILITY. Indeed, perhaps the key to a cross-generational ministry is the cross itself and a theology of the cross that stands at the center of our mission approach.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reaching People under 40 while Keeping People Over 60

That’s the title of a book by Edward H. Hammett and James R. Pierce (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007) that many congregations will find helpful. Hammett is part of George Bullard’s Columbia Partnership (http://www.thecolumbiapartnership.org/ ) and Pierce works with him in seminars and workshops.

As I work with congregations, I always tell them that what is needed for effective ministry in the 21st century is not a quick fix program, but a culture shift in the way a congregation thinks of itself and the world around it. (Recommended reading: Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, John Wiley & Sons, 2005) A congregation’s culture is “The way we do things around here.” It springs from the congregation’s worldview, which is “What we believe around here.” It is the “default setting” for everything it does. A program may change the default setting for a time, but once the program is finished, the congregation goes back to the default setting of business as usual.

Changing the congregation’s culture doesn’t occur overnight or without conflict. Tom Friedman in his new best-seller, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How it Can Renew America, made an interesting comment: “There has never been a revolution where no one got hurt.” America On Line recently published a list of “Memorable Companies that have Vanished”
( http://money.aol.com/special/companies-that-have-vanished) They included companies lost in the “retail revolution” like F.W. Woolworth and Montgomery Ward; those lost in the transportation revolution like TWA, Pan Am, and Eastern. As I write, there is a financial revolution going on that is shaking the foundations of our capital system. Who thought Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG would have fallen in one week? Someone probably did, but no one listened.

Hammett and Pierce make it clear that the church, too, is going through a revolutionary time that requires examination of the church’s culture in relation to God’s mission to the world. The key question the authors ask is “ Where does a person’s need for personal comfort end and a person’s commitment to the costliness of the gospel begin?” Sometimes in a revolutionary time we may need to lose in order that the Kingdom may gain. The authors write: “I love the church, but we church people are killing many of our churches to preserve our comfort. My challenge for you: Are you trying to preserve the church for yourself and your generation, or are you trying to do church in a way that reaches out to a new generation?”

Don’t expect a comprehensive theology of mission from this book, and if you are Lutheran, as I am, you will need to look beyond the obvious Baptist illustrations and theological talk, But do expect a good overview of generational differences and a fair briefing on societal change. The focus of the book is on creating a church culture that can be a “win-win” for all generations and for the Kingdom of God. The strength of the book is that it emphasizes the need for cultural change and not simply programmatic change, yet through some marvelous stories, insightful discussion questions, and practical examples, it speaks to those who also think in programmatic terms.