Imagine the church passing the faith from one generation to the next and involving all generations in the life of the congregation. This is the impetus behind every congregation engaging every generation, the challenge put before the Diocese of South Carolina in recent years. We realize that churches in our diocese are in various stages of engagement with the generations. Some are well rounded while others are ministering almost exclusively to one age group. All congregations want to be vibrant expressions of the body of Christ. So, what does it take for a church to transition into engaging every generation? I’ll offer five essentials that will help us rise to the challenge.
1. We need to know the power of prayer. By this I am specifically referring to corporate prayer in the congregation outside of Sunday mornings. The praying church is a more vibrant church! The pattern we see in Acts was that the early church gathered regularly to pray. They actively sought God’s blessing on their efforts to spread the gospel and serve people. What if all of our congregation held prayer meetings once or twice a month to pray for the needs of the congregation and community? Such prayer meetings are common in churches in other parts of the world and they see lives changed and people come to faith on a regular basis. Transformation in the church begins with transformation of hearts. Corporate prayer is essential to this happening.
2. We need to look to the provision of scripture. We know that God’s word contains all things necessary for salvation, but do we look to it for more? The Bible informs how we pass the faith from one generation to the next. It is the same means by which all believers grow in their faith. We don’t need to look to the mega church for insights on effective ministry. Mimicking the church down the road is not going to help a congregation be the church that God intends. It’s all in scripture. We pass the faith from one generation to the next by telling of the wonders of our creator, by proclaiming the goodness of God and his plan for redemption. Imagine congregations filled with members who are passionate about scripture and the sharing of God’s truth and goodness.
3. We need to think about ministry without programs. The church, broadly speaking, has had a program mentality for far too long. Our default thinking in the church tends to be that we address needs by starting new programs. Programs, while useful organizational structures, too often become the focus of our attention. Sustaining programs takes extensive resources - both human and material. If we prioritize people over programs, we can strategize ways to meet needs and minister to all the generations. The question to ask when considering how to engage a specific generation is not what program shall we start but how can we minister to them. The difference is one of coming or going. When we offer programs, we look for people to come to us. When we strategize to minister to people we look to go to them.
4. We need to focus on the preparation of leaders. So many churches look to clergy alone to lead all aspects of ministry. This stifles growth and limits what a congregation can do. It is worth considering that the task before the local church is to develop leaders for gospel ministry. Leadership development should be a strong focus of every congregation. We need lay people in all congregations who are able to lead others in prayer, the study of scripture, and mission or outreach. The more leaders trained to minister, the more effective the reach of the church. Engaging every generation is going to require a great many people of all ages trained for leadership. Resources are available to help train leaders in many aspects of the life of the church.
5. We need to take seriously the proclamation of the gospel. Evangelism is a foreign word to many of our congregations. We often think that is what other traditions do but not us. Sharing the gospel comes naturally when we know the gospel and we strongly desire for others to hear the good news. Engaging every generation is going to be an evangelistic endeavor in many places. What age groups could be reached out to in your community? If we send gospel-saturated people out to serve the local community, they will find opportunities to share the good news. Fortunately there are a great many tools available for congregations to use in evangelism. Some of our congregations are currently offering training to their members on how to share their faith. Evangelism courses are readily available for use in homes, schools, prisons, and churches. Imagine if all our church members had a passion for sharing the good news with everyone they come in contact with!
Can you see the vibrancy in the life of a congregation that is engaging every generation? It is not only a church that is alive today but also one that is ensuring it’s own future simply by being obedient to God’s instructions in scripture.
We will tell the next generation about the Lord’s praiseworthy acts, about his strength and the amazing things he has done. Psalm 78:4