Churches mean well when we pursue strategic ways to reach out and help the church become all God wants it to be. Nevertheless, we also sometimes grab a bushel of strategies and consume them without careful discernment. When we do so, we risk a goose chase that can take the church off-track for years.
Great churches typically share similar traits. They have a “big God.” Community is strong. Worship is vibrant and genuine. They have a clear sense of purpose and aren’t easily distracted. Churches that try to grow share a common impulse toward strategic fads. These fads can be recognized if one steps back and simply thinks of the lack of substance they share. However, I continue to hear how much these things matter from churches all over. In my experience and that of my colleagues in healthy, growing churches…they don’t.
We begin with this one: “Older pastors can’t reach young people.”
Hogwash. Balderdash. Poppycock. Bologna.
These days, when people say “older,” they unfortunately refer to anyone over about 45. I turned 36 a couple of months ago and have had conversations with people at New Vintage about the potential imminent demise of my ability to reach young families. I am in my mid-thirties with a 9, 7, and 1 year-old daughter. When I was 33 and Emily was 30, I was informed I was in a completely different generation than a couple that was 29 and 26 respectively, though our children were the same age. That couple needed to be in a different small group with people “their age” I was told. Give me a break.
Here’s what I’ve found…younger people often prefer an older pastor. When I say “older,” I’m referring to someone 45 and up, probably even in their fifties. The reason–they feel the person has experienced enough of life that they can teach them something. The minister is their parent’s age–but isn’t their parent.
Many of the churches that reach the most young people have pastors well into their fifties. Think about these churches with HUGE numbers of college/singles attendees who effectively plug them into ministry.
- North Point Community Church – Andy Stanley (53)
- Fellowship Church – Ed Young, Jr.(50)
- Harvest Christian Fellowship – Greg Laurie (59)
- North Coast Church – Larry Osborne (I don’t remember Larry’s age, but he’s late fifties)
- Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa – Chuck Smith (84) – and the churches he’s helped start are among the best at this.
- Saddleback Church – Rick Warren (57)
Now, some will say, “Yes, but those are some of the most gifted pastors and incredible churches in America.”
A far bigger indicator of your ability to attract and involve younger people over time will be kind of church you are…not the age of the pastor.
Of course, there are some things that will help. The pastor’s age can be a very small one. If the church is completely old, putting a younger minister in there can help build a critical mass of youth in the pews–and such churches really need to find a way to put some younger people in public ministry roles to convey welcome and inclusion. Also true: left to itself, the church will drift toward looking like the people on stage over time. Nevertheless, reaching younger people for Christ is far more nuanced and complicated than that. If you’re not reaching them now, it isn’t about the age of the minister. It’s far more likely he’s not effective in general, the elders don’t want to change, the church doesn’t care about reaching young people, etc.
If you really want to learn how to reach young people, PLEASE do so. We need to do all that we possibly can. Just know it’s a substantial missional undertaking…not a matter of plug-and-playing a younger model in the pulpit. In fact, if you’re older, you might be even better equipped to reach them than you’ve ever dreamed. It’ll take intentionality, but it’s completely possible if your church is willing to do what it takes.
What difference do you think the minister’s age makes?