As life with COVID-19 continues, churches are returning to earlier conversations about renewal. One challenge many of these congregations face is that they have a majority of chronologically aging members. Renewing an aging congregation has unique challenges. First, there’s often resistance to change. Second, there can be a difficulty in attracting younger families. Third, there’s a diminished level of energy and resources for new ministry investments. Finally, older members occasionally resist handing the keys of ministry to the next generation. Given these challenges, how can aging churches be renewed?
Here are 7 steps to renewing chronologically aging congregations:
Step 1: Provide an Accurate Picture of Current Reality
Aging congregations need to look facts in the face. Through statistical studies of membership trends, older churches must confront the reality that “we cannot stay here.” Often this includes a conversation about what a congregation’s 5, 10, 15 and 20-year default future looks like if nothing changes soon.
Step 2: Address the Fear of Dying
Aging congregations fear the death of the ministries they love and, worse, the death of the church itself. These churches must address this fear so they can live courageously into the future. Christian tradition has long noted that without dying there is no possibility for new life (see John 12). Life depends on death.
Step 3: Have a Heart-felt Conversation About the Grand Kids
Nothing moves the hearts of aging members like their love for grandchildren. Discussion about change should include a conversation about a deep desire that grandkids have a living relationship with Jesus and participate fully in the life of his church. Multi-generational discussion groups are a good way to begin.
Step 4: Involve Older Members in Implementing New Beginnings
Older members have a great deal to offer when it comes to implementing new initiatives. They can provide hospitality, intergenerational care, prayer support, godly wisdom, biblical training, and mentorship. Older members are a vast resource for a new ministry day that should not be overlooked.
Step 5: Make an “All Or Nothing…Go for Broke” Commitment to Turning the Ship Around
For aging congregations there’s no time to dawdle. Every resource must be directed to a focused effort at changing current reality. Typically, this focused effort will include reaching younger families with an eye to a multi-generational and multi-ethnic appeal. Leave nothing on the playing field (i.e. endowments).
Step 6: Have The Courage to Disappoint
Given their love for the church and the next generation, aging members often provide initial permission for new ministry practices. That can change when those new ministry practices are actually experienced. Renewing aging congregations demands the fortitude to withstand some withering criticism.
Step 7: Find New Ways to Bless Aging Members
For renewal to happen older members will be asked to give up a lot of what they love. Churches should strive to bless them for this sacrifice. For example, include seniors on planning teams and consider a pastor-led weekly Bible study that includes a time for singing of favorite hymns.
If you’d like to speak to a leader from an aging congregation that is in the midst of a turn-around, please let us know and we’ll help you make that connection. The Center for Church Renewal is committed to assisting church leaders as they help congregations navigate new ministry realities in a rapidly changing world.