I overheard an older leader in a church say this the other day, and I'm sure he's not alone. There are few topics in the church today that are as promising, yet as divisive, as engaging the Next Generation.
How do we reach this "burnout," who gets blamed, and what do we do about it?
It can begin with the modus operandi of the modern-day church, which is to engage systematically, and react strongly when the strategy fails or a barrier is met. What does that even mean?
For a church, the discipleship, spiritual formation, and transformation formula is often very black and white. Start a young person out in a strong family and a strong church, teach them Biblical principles, and ground them in the faith. Then, these strong hearts and minds will display the faith outside of the church and change other hearts and minds. Changed hearts and minds equal changed communities and ultimately a changed world.
Millennials and the world they live in have been strongly challenging this assumption. Millennials are leaving the church and not returning, despite apparent discipleship, and the world isn't changing with the pumping out of changed hearts and minds. When that foundation is shaken, the church has traditionally reacted strongly to preserve it.
In terms of "reaching" Millennials, this reaction has looked like a radical move towards upgrading the body and lines of the church, without changing the engine (as I've heard it explained before): cooler church designs, contemporary music and sound, programmatic youth events and services, and technology.
Say hello to burnout: churches then find themselves in the awkward position of not always engaging NextGen with these strategies, while alienating older generations in the process. Nobody is happy.
The blame-game begins. Millennials are despised for causing so much change and noise in the church, whether or not young people actually wanted or asked for it in the first place. And church leadership is blamed for catering to one generation over the others, even if that's only how it appears.
How can we stop the vicious cycle?
Engaging the Next Generation at the expense of previous generations is burdensome. Engaging the generations together is balance.
Here are some ways the generations can be engaged together in your church for balance instead of burnout:
1. Convene to Converse
Using the church as a space to bring generations together to have conversation and relationship is one of its greatest assets. Unfortunately, convening the generations can't include just any Millennial or just any older person in your church. Bridging generational divides requires the right people at the table, and those right people need to be open to other ideas and passionate about togetherness. Fortunately, this attitude crosses generations and is the seed for having conversations about the current state of the church, its future, and what is commonly desired across generations.
2. Converse to Collaborate
Bringing young people into high-level church meetings from time to time is a great start, but ultimately falls short of what it means to have generational discourse and balance. Don't just create a seat at the table - create a table. Aim to curate consistent conversation between a few Millennials and a few older leaders in the church that tackles difficult topics and comes up with solutions that are commonly agreed upon. What should worship and celebration look like? What does discipleship mean? Who is the church for and how does it impact communities? When everyone is represented, heard, and respected about real issues and needs, all generations are the focus and recipient.
3. Collaborate to Cultivate Growth
Collaboration that involves reciprocal mentorship and relational learning roots younger and older generations together. Don't leave intergenerational relationships at just the spiritual or solution-level - seek to have older leaders helping younger people grow personally and professionally, as well. Relationships that grow outside the church will have a boomerang effect back to the church and then back outside the four walls again.
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