Posted by: Brian Musser | June 26, 2012

A Cross-Generational Experience

Bob is a 56 year old office manager for a shipping company.  Every morning for the last 30 years he has started his day with a cup of coffee. Until something terrible happened.  This morning as he was going to fill his coffee pot with water the pot caught the edge of the counter and was knocked out of his hand.  Quickly it traveled from his hand to the floor.  From the floor it travelled into a million pieces scattered across the entire kitchen.  Bob’s world was in chaos.  He couldn’t function without his coffee.  He had developed a 30 year habit.  The twitching started quickly.  However; a small glimmer of hope came to his face.  Bob could stop by that new coffee shop on his way to work.  He would only have to survive driving four minutes without caffeine.  It was possible.  He didn’t have to call in sick.

As Bob pulls into the coffee shop’s parking lot.  His SUV barely fits into the space, but fortunately the tiny hybrids on either side of him allow him to open his doors with ease.  He chuckles to himself as he imagines this coffee shop is frequented by elves you drive tiny elf cars.  The sign on the door announces that this coffee shop is celebrating its tenth anniversary at this location.  Maybe it’s not as new as Bob remembers.  His server behind the counter seems to have been attacked by a porcupine that was learning how to use acupuncture as torture.  The server corrects Bob announce that he is a barista and not a server.  The server seems to be confused when Bob just asks for a large black coffee with no cream and no sugar.  But he’s not as confused as Bob was when the price is $3 and way too many cents.  Tip must have been included.  By the way what size is “Venti?”

Bob decides that he has navigated this quickly enough that he can sit down and read the paper.  He looks for a place to sit and notices that everyone else is adhesively attached to an electronic device.  There is a corner table that is open next to a young professional looking adult in jeans that seem to be designed to limit circulation.  Bob nods a greeting.  The other person reacts surprised.  The only person that talks to Bob is a young teenage girl that asks if she can charge her phone in the outlet at Bob’s table.  Bob barely manages a confirming grunt before she has already plugged in and back to the music in her ear buds.

Bob reads his paper for about five minutes before he realizes that he is watching the people around him more than he is reading.  He is the oldest one in here. He is the only one in here actually reading something printed.  He is the only one in here who hasn’t used his phone multiple times.  He is the only one that isn’t pierced in multiple places with multiple forms of indelible ink on display on his body.  The amount of differences that Bob notices makes him uncomfortable.  He decides that today might be a good day to get to the office early.  Bob also makes a mental note to buy a new coffee pot immediately after work today.

How do we get more young adults in our church?

I share that humorous fictional story to illustrate the idea that cross-generational encounters within our culture may be as strange as cross-cultural missionary experiences.  There is such a thing as a generation gap.  There are differences in how we live, interact and communicate.  I personally think that our educational system is greatly to blame for this.  We have trained ourselves for several generations now from kindergarten until the senior year of college to be most comfortable among those within our own age bracket.  We have created a culture where we only have meaningful interactions with a few “experts” outside of our age bracket.  Both the older and younger generations have been educated to sense that the most natural environment is one with a bunch of people their same age.  This means that when an older generational church asks a questions like “How can we get more young adults to be part of our congregation?” that church is actually asking a question that is counter-cultural.  We are thinking about doing something that isn’t normal in our society.  In fact I think that the church is the only major institution within our society that is attempting to be multi-generational. Most other institutions have decided that it is perfectly fine for them to be separated by age.

The church believes that it best functions when there are multiple generations within the same body with one generation relationally passing the Christian faith onto the next.  The church believes that it is the duty of the older generation to disciple the younger generations.  This is great except when there are none from the younger generation hanging out in the church to be disciple.  So how do we get more young adults in the church?  That is the question that most church folk and pastors tend to ask me.  You would be surprised by how many people are actually wrestling with that very question.  How do we get young adults to attend our church?

We need to change the question

I was once doing a quick survey on campus asking students one question.  What would your life be like if the church in America completely disappeared tomorrow?  I remember one answer vividly.  The student immediately responded that their life would not change at all.  Then they thought for a second.  They said, “Well, I guess the church employs a lot of people, so that many people without jobs would be bad for our economy and I guess that would be bad for me.”  That quote in my mind illustrates how disconnected some young adults are from the church.   Dennis Pethers, my favorite British guy says, “He didn’t even know that he didn’t go to church.”  My intended target and hopefully yours as well is this vast sea of young adults that are completely disconnected from the church.  So how do we reach them?  How do we bring young adults to church that are not connected to church and that really are not connected to us?  This sounds like a job for a missionary.  Dun, dun dun!!!

Reaching out to those who are disconnected from the church has always been a mission experience.  The first step is mission is to go.  The first step is to get out of the church and into their lives.  We need to go the places where young adults are.  We need to hit the mission fields all around us.  The one place that we can’t reach young adults who aren’t connected to the church is from within the walls of the church.  We can’t reach those out there from inside here.  We have to go to them.  We need to change the question from “how do we get them to come to us” to “how can we go to them.”

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Responses

  1. Well said. I thought the note about people being trained to become comfortable with people of their own age bracket was interesting and insightful. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the encouraging comment and the re-post. I really think that the idea of multi-generational realtionships within the context of the church could be a point of engagement with our entire culture.


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