“If you don’t reach young people your church is going to die”.
I have heard that sentiment quite frequently when thought leaders (whatever those are) get together and discuss revitalization in local churches. Logically it’s absolutely true. If an organization does not perpetuate it will not survive into the next generation. It is right for a church to be concerned if they only have gray heads. But there is an underlying theology within this statement which I believe will lead to death instead of life.
Peel off a layer of that onion and you see what dominates the conversation is self-preservation. It’s not unnatural to not want to die. It’s quite normal to not want a beloved organization to die. In fact, God can use a drive for self-preservation for His glory. A church which realizes it is dying is far better than one living in denial. A church which says “we’ll do anything to not die” is in better shape than one which says “we won’t change even if it means death.”
But a church cannot stay there. Because a church focused upon its own survival is a church just waiting to die. The church, just like disciples, is meant to be self-denying for the sake of the kingdom. Doing things which are motivated by self-preservation are opposed to the ethics of God’s kingdom. A church might even “turn around” by a good focused mission. But if the foundation is self-preservation instead of kingdom-expansion, don’t be surprised when the good news of Jesus becomes more explicitly secondary.
What about rather than saying “your church is going to die” we say “your church is going to lose its impact on the community for the sake of Christ’s kingdom”? This is getting at the real tragedy behind a church closing its doors. It’s not simply that a beloved institution which once gave great memories is now terminated. The real pain is that influence for the kingdom is no longer happening in this sphere.
There does need to be a focus on reaching young people with the gospel of Jesus. (Just as there is a focus on reaching for Christ all those made in God’s image). But if you start with self-preservation that focus is only going to go so far. Because what happens when you actually begin reaching “those” people and it changes the dynamic within your beloved institution? That old impulse of self-preservation is going to rear its ugly head.
The key question isn’t “do we want to reach the young people in our community?” Rather, the key question is whether or not our hearts are kingdom focused instead of self-preservation focused. That will help with asking the right questions about what our Lord calls our particular local church to do well. A particular local church might not ever be the church which reaches hordes of young people. Or it might. That’s up to Jesus. Our job is to be faithful with what we have been given in the place in which God has called us to serve.
Ask kingdom questions. Don’t ask self-preserving questions. That changes everything.
This article originally appeared here.