Have you ever been stuck in a place you couldn’t wait to get out of? Recently, I found myself on a fifteen-hour flight from Atlanta to South Korea en route to Thailand to help some of our college students catch a vision for ministry with our church’s campus near the University of Bangkok. I did my best not to consider my current reality, but I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that, no matter how hard I tried, there was literally no place I could go to get away from that plane or those people. I was stuck—and, quite honestly—incredibly uncomfortable.
Why is it that when we begin to talk about multiple generations engaging with one another in the local church, we often have the same thought—What can I do to get out of this?
In 2017, I completed a study on a group of churches in the southeastern United States regarding their current practices for developing young adults in their congregation. To be clear, this was not a study on how to get young adults into a church, but what to do once they show up. I was astonished at some of the things the data showed. Two of the four outcomes from the study related to the need to engage older adults in the spiritual formation of young adults.
Below are two ways I believe this can happen, and, according to many of the churches I surveyed and others, it can have incredible benefits.
There’s no universal way to do it, but every church needs a mechanism for older adults to disciple and mentor young adults. Some do this through Sunday School or small groups, while others pair older members with the younger members based on vocation or some area of service in the local church. No matter the mechanism, a context for young adults to learn from the mountains and valleys of those further down the road in life reaps great rewards for both. Young adults seem to want and need this, while older adults are often interested and willing to participate. Someone just needs to create the way for them to connect.
I know this can be a touchy subject in some churches, but when the generations worship together, not only is there exposure to each other and the opportunity for awkward handshakes, but there is also a real chance to see Psalm 145 come to life. In Psalm 145, David paints a picture of multiple generations each proclaiming the greatness of God to one another. The result of that proclamation is other generations being blessed and responding with their own declarations of God’s greatness.
When college students or young adults ask me when our young adult worship service is, I always say, “We have one at 9:00 a.m. and one at 10:30 a.m. at each of our campuses every Sunday morning.” Now, this isn’t a cop-out or only because our weekend services are so good we couldn’t provide something better or more attractive for young adults (though, that is true for us). It’s because of how powerful it is when the generations gather to mutually proclaim God’s greatness and benefit from hearing one another.
Not every church is going to develop young adults as leaders and disciples the same way, but Scripture (2 Timothy 2, Psalm 145, Titus 2) and this research suggests that one of the most important factors in developing young adults in our congregations is to avoid isolating them, and instead to develop creative ways to connect the generations. After all, even if it feels like something we want to avoid, we need each other far more than we know.
Steven Ackley, his wife Emily, and their four kids live out their love for anything sports and Cookout milkshakes in Murfreesboro, TN where Steven serves as the NextGen and College Pastor at LifePoint Church. Steven holds a D.Min and an M.Div from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter.