Does Age “Really” Matter in Your Pew?
If you walk through the doors of most any community church, you will notice one of two things: a mix of many ages and life stages OR no one who “looks” like you.
Today’s population is comprised of individuals separated by four and even five distinct generations and, while many factors contribute to how and why someone chooses your church, it is important to recognize that your church also has a generational personality. This personality has a lot to do with who attends and participates in your ministry.
Here’s a quick bio of each generation:
Folks 65 and older are part of the Veteran generation. They were heavily influenced by the Great Depression, WWII and the rise of labor unions. Those strong events yield values of respect for tradition and authority, hard work, honor and delayed rewards.
Baby Boomers (ages 49-64) experienced the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, women’s and civil rights movements and the job market boom. The importance of professional identity, fairness, and “paying your dues” defines many from this era.
We saw a slow shift in the 70’s and 80’s as Gen X (ages 29-49) grew up. Corporate downsizing, the tripling of the divorce rate and AIDS shaped this generation to value autonomy, mobility, personal independence and results.
Finally, Gen Yers (ages 18-29) have grown up in a digital world. The information age has exploded, 9/11 and schoolyard violence have influenced a generation who values diversity, civic duty and immediacy.
So, what does this mean?
The values and behaviors that we hold in our communities walk into your church (or perhaps don’t) each week. So for ministries intent on truly reaching your community and growing, it is important to know how these 4 different groups think and behave.
This is a topic worthy of much more than a short blog post but here are a few items to consider:
- Who is in your pew? Do you know who is showing up each week? And better yet, do you know who visits one time and never walks through your door again? It’s impossible to plan a strategic ministry if you don’t really know who you are attracting. It starts here. You must understand the attendance habits of your people and in return, who you are not currently reaching.
- Are your messages getting through? Tried and true may not be so tried and true. Have you ever stepped back and thought, “What does the person in the pew really hear from us?” You can bet it’s not always what you intended. A 62 year-old will tune in to your message in a very different way than a 30 year-old. The question here is: how predictable is a Sunday morning for you? Same “order of service,” same announcements each week, same personalities asking for help? Mix it up! Have a young mother ask for preschool workers and give her the chance to share how it impacts here life. Ask a 30 something to share about the blessing of a weekend mission trip. The congregation engaging the congregation. Now people are listening.
- Every generation sees “giving” in a different way. A young family wants a church who invests in their children. A retired couple is looking for ways to create a Christian legacy. A single 25-year-old wants activity and community. These are just examples, but they illustrate the filter people view every activity, event or plea for help from the church. This translates to the time and energy a member is willing to volunteer for as well as how deep their pockets are when the plea to give is heard. When churches recognize the diverse needs of its members and what “connects” with them, it can be intentional about every message it sends.
- There’s a place for EVERYONE . . . and our job is to define it. Each generation wants to see someone who “looks like them” in the church. Unfortunately, many churches fall into the trap of making dramatic changes in an attempt to appear “relevant” to certain people groups. Instead of drastic changes, identify the benefits each group brings to your ministry then ask the purpose questions: Who are we trying to reach? Who visits us and never returns and why? Those answers will lead you to the solutions that will help you sustain each generation in your ministry.
Every ministry wants to reach others. This generational dynamic is just one more piece to your strategy. I encourage you to take a closer look at really “who” is in your pew and discover how to reach and engage those folks. The result? An amazing ministry people are drawn to.
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