“Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” Psalm 71:18
According to the US Government’s Health & Human Services Department we live in a country with a dramatically increasing population of older people. At this moment, almost 50 million people in the United States are 65 years of age or older – and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. This demographic trend will definitely impact church ministries and programming as we consider how to reach and serve this growing cohort.
Even though most of us have been raised believing there is a considerable “Generation Gap”, I am absolutely convinced that the different generations in the church need each other and that both sides of the generational divide actually want the same things in the church. Younger people and older people alike desire to serve and worship God in a local church environment that honors God, that teaches and preaches the life-changing Word of God, and that effectively reaches out to the unsaved and un-churched members of the surrounding community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Bible teaches the unity of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-16) and that older people can and should mentor and encourage young people in the church (see Titus 2:1-10). Today’s young people need Godly and loving encouragement from the older people in the church – and actually current research points out that this generation of young people is very, very receptive to building close relationships with older people. (See https://www.barna.com/research/multigenerational-friendships/?mc_cid=5df38c9891&mc_eid=bfbee3c1fa.)
If you, like me, are one of the “older” generations in your church, please join me in doing all we can to encourage emerging generations to grow up and go on for God. Here are 5 simple things older adults can do to minister to younger people in church:
Pray for them
I highly encourage senior citizens to pray for their church’s younger generations – specifically, by name! It’s probably easy to obtain a list of their names from your church’s youth workers. Take each one to the Lord individually. God will begin to put a burden on your heart for them. You will be amazed at how external things fade away as you pray specifically for them and their spiritual growth. Once you have developed the habit of praying intentionally and individually FOR young people – then take the opportunity to pray WITH them. You will be amazed at how receptive today’s young people are for a time of special prayer with older people.
It’s also important for the older, established people in the church to actively and purposely encourage them in their walk with God. Take the Biblical examples of Barnabas and Onesiphorus to heart. They were exceptional encouragers. Today’s young people hear so much criticism and negativity. Let’s change that trend in the church. Imagine the positive influence you could have on your church’s teenagers and college age young adults just by being a verbal encouragement to them. Ephesians 4:29 puts it this way, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Older people should take the initiative. Just say an encouraging word or two to young people in the church foyer or hallway. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.
Tell your story
Today’s youth love stories. Most of the recent blockbuster movies have been epic tales told as stories. God uses human interest, real-life accounts of real people to touch the hearts of others. I think this is the idea behind the truth in Psalm 78:1-8. Older generations were instructed to tell the next generation “the praises of the Lord. And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done….” So that, “They may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.” This generation loves “God stories”. Seniors should take every opportunity they can to share what God has done and is doing in and through their lives. Practical ideas abound. Invite young people over to your home and take the opportunity to share your testimony with them. Take a few young people out for coffee. Today’s young people love to connect with older people. I strongly recommend that churches use this as a ministry advantage. This simple action step will help break down the Generation Gap.
Minister alongside them.
It should be the standard norm in your church for each ministry position (ushers, Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, work days, etc.) to include a mentoring relationship with a younger person. Our churches must be intentional about becoming inter-generational. So, if you have any kind of ministry position at all in your church, why not invite a younger person to serve alongside of you? Even if you are not a ministry leader you can still minister with teens by asking them to help you bake cookies to encourage someone in the church, or to go with you to visit a shut-in. The key is to demonstrate your desire to serve the Lord to emerging generations.
I believe that every mature Christian in the church should have growing mentoring relationships with younger people. This is the Biblical pattern (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and Titus 2) and it should be replicated throughout our churches today. Over 90% of today’s young people have indicated that they would appreciate an older mentor. Yet, most adults feel like they don’t have time to so something like this. Friends, I have said for years that true mentoring is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. It is doing what you already do, just doing it with someone younger. The best mentoring takes place at church by the way. Begin this Sunday by building intentional, growing relationships with younger people.
It makes sense for older, spiritually mature people to be intentional about personally ministering to younger people in the church. Let’s bridge that Generation Gap!