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Bridging the Generational Gap in Our Churches

By September 1, 2016April 29th, 2022Discipleship6 min read

In a movement that is about 50 years old like ours, it’s one of the pressing issues of our day:

How do we keep the younger generation in our churches?

I recently watched a controversial video of a couple pastors interviewing a few women who grow a strain of medical marijuana that does not induce a high. In the video there was a shocking statement: “Our traditional religions are losing our young people. They are not making commitments to religion like we did 30 or 40 years ago. So I feel like it’s on us to develop new religions that will attract the young people.”
Now before you start pulling your hair out and start scouring the Internet for the link, I think this outrageous statement points out something very interesting. It seems that there are some people who are more interested in introducing youth to a reinvented religion than the resurrected Christ, as long as they can keep them around.
Now, my guess is if you’re reading this article, you are probably not growing marijuana, thinking of a giant water slide baptism or asking Coldplay to do a concert in place of your Sunday morning gathering. More likely you are thinking in terms of brewing better coffee in-between services, changing your outdated lighting system, redoing your website, and/or trying to figure out how to use social media for ministry. All of these things are well and good, and for some of us, necessary (especially better coffee). But what if there are other internal and more vital changes we can focus on in order to put Jesus and His majesty at the center of our corporate worship and community with young people?
Here’s one thing that sticks out to me that requires no expense out of the church budget except time:

OLDER MEN and WOMEN, take time to personally invest in the lives of young people.

Four years ago, I remember telling a man I highly respect in our church that I was looking for some deeper discipleship and asked if we could get breakfast. He’s in his 50’s, and I was about half that age. I remember him looking me in the eye and telling me, “Alan, I’ll be honest. I don’t think I have much to teach you.” That statement caught me off guard. I assured him that a man who has been married a couple of decades has plenty of things he can teach a younger man like me. Still, he found it hard to believe.
It’s been said that every Paul needs a Timothy, and every Timothy needs a Paul. In the age of the Internet, where people can access all kinds of good and bad information at their fingertips, millennials desperately need an older godly generation to guide them. The problem is that many older people don’t feel “cool” enough to speak into the lives of younger people.

As a youth pastor, I love having parents involved as youth leaders.

Sadly, what often holds them back is their fear that teenagers will not want to talk to them due to their age. They don’t wear clothes from H&M or Urban Outfitters. They don’t know what a hashtag is or what “lit” means. They feel alienated and unrelatable, outdated and uninspiring. However, what I’d like to point out is that we don’t need parents to be cool or relatable per se. We just need them to be parents.

In 2013 it was reported that one out of every three children in America live without their biological fathers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since I am only about 10-15 years older than our teenagers, I won’t ever be a father figure to them. I can be an older brother, but we need godly men and women to be examples to many hurting youth. Twenty-somethings who are struggling with their identity and calling need mentors to give godly insight. Young people who are in the infatuation stage of an unhealthy relationship need biblical counsel from those who have seen many walk down the wrong road. Teens who suffer the loss of a loved one need the sensitivity of a seasoned saint to mourn with those who mourn.

Many of us are familiar with the story of King Rehoboam, who: “…Rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him (1 Kings 12:8). In my opinion, we could use a lot more mentors and a lot less church growth experts.

So, maybe you’re reading this article as a pastor who has been planning with your team on how to reach the next generation.

Perhaps something to pray over is how to plan an event or organize groups that will foster these kinds of discipleship opportunities. Maybe you’re a young person and have been desperately longing for a mentor. I pray you consider asking a well-respected member of your church to grab a burger with you. Maybe you’re an older man or woman and have a burden to see young adults come alive in Christ. Pray about joining the youth ministry or even just asking a twenty-something across the church pew if you can pray for them.

As my pastor Lloyd Pulley said this past weekend regarding exterior improvements that we are looking to make, “It’s not about the coffee, it’s about the connection!” Stylistic improvements and advancements can be well and good, but they should only serve as an excuse for us to gather together, so we go deeper in our relationships, and ultimately, in our walk with Christ.

Alan Kahn is the high school youth pastor at Calvary Chapel Old Bridge in central New Jersey.