The Associated Press reported on the revitalization plans of The Grove United Methodist Church, a struggling church in the suburbs of Saint Paul, Minnesota, on Jan. 23.
Attendance has been dwindling for several years to the point that it is now in danger of permanently shuttering, so church leaders are working with regional strategists to devise and implement a revitalization plan.
This plan involves closing the doors for several months, renovating the building, and relaunching later in the year with a format tailored to appeal to younger people, especially young families with children.
So far, none of this is particularly newsworthy in a time when thousands of churches close or relaunch every year. The aspect of the plan, however, that garnered the AP’s attention is the leadership’s bizarre appeal to current church members — almost all of whom are over 60 — to stay away.
That’s right, the current membership is being told they are expected not to return when the church reopens later this year. Apparently, church leaders fear that having a bunch of old people hanging around will scare all the young would-be members away (my words, not theirs).
Now, I understand church revitalization. I’m sure many current members might not like the changes that are coming. I’ve seen people struggle to get used to new messes that new kids will bring with them, and new styles of music tailored to a younger demographic. It’s one thing for The Grove to enter into this project with the realization that many current members will eventually leave voluntarily.
These kinds of things happen. People change, churches change, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. But to hold up a public expectation like this from day one raises more issues than I could possibly address in 700-800 words.
In the second chapter of Titus, the Apostle Paul urges the older women of the church to teach and train the younger women. A few verses later, he goes on to tell the older men to teach the younger men.
Self-control, the value of hard work, discipline, household management, family and career skills are all things Paul says the older generations can teach us about from their experience.
Our 21st-century culture is steeped in a clueless-old-guy trope. In reality, though, who is better positioned to guide me through the twists and turns that lay ahead than someone who has been through that section of the track?
Who better to bring perspective to a frazzled young mother than someone who once survived life as a frazzled young mother themselves? Who better to navigate a young man through the temptations and pitfalls of youth than someone who once faced those pitfalls, and made it through more or less intact?
To the Apostle Paul, one of the most critical pieces of any plan to reach a younger demographic is a group of older saints ready to pass on the wisdom and experience their years have given them.
Rather than, “OK, boomer?!” with the eye-rolling emoji at the end, Paul is saying, “OK boomer, what can I learn from you?”
And hopefully, it goes both ways. There’s a lot we can learn from younger generations as well. Millennials have a lot to teach us about what it looks like to value passion and authenticity.
If we paid attention, they could be challenging us to drop our façades and admit to ourselves that we don’t always have it all together.
Some have begun gravitating toward simpler practices — neighborhood churches, growing their own food and creating sustainable, locally owned businesses, to name a few.
This trend is an object lesson in the messages of neighbor-love and sustainable economic and environmental practices peppered throughout the writings of the Old Testament prophets.
Generation Z can teach us a lot about diversity. As the first generation in American history with no clear racial majority, their experiences can shed new light on John’s Revelation vision of people from every nation, language and ethnicity gathered together around the throne.
In short, we have a lot to learn from each other. The older generations passing on wisdom to the younger, and the younger generation challenging cultural assumptions and teaching us to re-imagine our practice.
Cordoning ourselves off in the name of revitalization (or in the name of fidelity to tradition) only stunts all of our growth.