Monday Morning Insights

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    How do we get young people to come to church?

    How do we get young people to come to church?

    "To get the young people to come, you almost have to cooperate with their tastes."  That's the quote from 92 year old Ethel Sprague.  Ethel joined First Baptist Church of Stevens Point in 1937.  She's been attending ever since...

    An article in the Stevens Point Journal gives us the story.

    Ethel says "You can't imagine what it was like years and years ago. We had the church jammed full of people in the balcony, in the gym -- young people, college-aged kids, young families. It was really hopping... It has gone downhill tremendously in the last few years. We've lost a lot of the congregation to other churches and because of death and a lot of families are moving."

    In fact, the once thriving First Baptist Church of Stevens Point is now down to 25 people.

    Enter Kelly Knauss, the new pastor at FBC.  His goal:  to restart the church and watch it emerge as a viable church that once again reaches the Stevens Point community.  He knows he only has 18-24 months to do this, or the church will be shut down.

    How many times could this story be written about churches in America?  Once thriving churches that are dying (literally).

    Ethel's quote caught my eye:  "It's not the old-fashioned church service that we knew as older people with the organ and the get the young people to come, you almost have to cooperate with their tastes."

    After attending FBC for more than 73 years, Ethel wants one thing:  for FBC to be effective and to reach people.  Her conclusion:  things have to change.  She's come to the realization that the organ and choir are not the best ways to reach people (or to keep FBC alive).  Even though that would be her preference, she's faced reality that the gospel is more important than her own style preference.

    Notice that she said that the tastes of the church need to change; not the message or doctrine have to change.

    Ethel is a very wise lady.  I hope she gets what she is hoping for:  a church that is vibrant and once again reaching her community.  A church that is 'hopping'.  And I hope that God will give her a few more years so that she can see that dream become a reality.

    Because... I'm guessing... there is NOTHING that would make Ethel happier.  A couple hundred people who know Jesus, even if there's no choir or organ.

    Take a moment and pray for Ethel today; and for Pastor Knauss and FBC Stevens Point.  They can use our prayers...




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    1. Art Good on Wed, September 22, 2010

      Amen Ethel!  If the church in America is going to survive, the older generation (the ones that supposedly are more “mature”) are going to have to set aside their preferences and allow the church to reach out to the younger generation.  If they don’t, when they die out so will the church.

    2. Peter on Wed, September 22, 2010

      I’m glad that there are people like that who get it and hope I have the same level of maturity to set aside my personal preferences in order to reach a world that desperately needs Jesus, not religion or music styles or a “club” to fit in. I don’t think musical style is the only thing that hinders people, but sadly it’s probably one of those things that people look at pretty heavily.

      Sadly, we’re finding ourselves in a similar situation and hoping that we can also get back where God wants us to be so we can do His work in our corner of the world. I think we’ve gotten the “broken” thing down so now we need to give it all to God and move with Him, not with our personal preferences.

    3. Robert Whitecotton on Wed, September 22, 2010

      What the churches in American are missing is not entertainment, exciting services, beautiful building, or exciting presentations of the Gospel message, what were are missing is the Holy Ghost (KJV).  If we preach Jesus then people will come.  The Bible teaches that miracles are for the unbelieving heart�  We are seeing less and less miracles in our churches today, why, because we spend to much time in our presentation and deliberating of the message and less time at the alter praying.  I was told yesterday a beautiful quote �A day without prayer is a boast against God�  Food for thgouht!

    4. Leonard on Wed, September 22, 2010

      I am praying!  Thanks Todd for posting this.

    5. Josh Hatcher on Wed, September 22, 2010

      Robert said, “if we preach jesus, they will come”
      - how’s that working out for you?

      i FULLY agree that JESUS has to be at the CENTER of everything we do.

      I also agree that we need to be cooperating with the Holy Spirit in the work we do.

      I also agree that MIRACLES change hearts.

      But it’s not sitting at the “altar” praying that causes miracles.
      It’s us acting out our faith - laying hands on sick people and praying for them (and then God heals them) it’s us interacting with people.
      In my 18 years in ministry, I’ve NEVER seen a GENUINE miracle happen IN church. They’ve ll been OUTSIDE of the church building….

      I have no problem with a message or a worship service that’s “entertaining” - (i bet even you throw in a joke or two)

      i have a problem with it if entertainment is the focus….  but to be honest… i don’t think i’ve personally ever seen that. I’ve seen sermons preached using “superman” as an allegory - sermons preached about sex - secular songs whose lyrics could be about God used as worship music - and i’ve NEVER seen entertainment as the FOCUS…. because in those instances, it’s STILL all about jesus.

      “1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (New International Version)

      19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

      if my culture is fixated on entertainment. If my culture is consumer driven - then i must reach them where they are…

      Just like Paul did at Mars Hill - when he quoted PAGAN poets and referenced their PAGAN ALTAR to an unknown god. He reached them ON THEIR TURF and pointed them to Christ.

    6. Peter Hamm on Wed, September 22, 2010

      We have people in Ethel’s age bracket that don’t mind when we crank up the guitars. God bless her! She must have God’s heart in her to think this way.

      Just prayed for you guys!

    7. Shelton on Wed, September 22, 2010

      I’m a 27 year old pastor of a similar Baptist church in a similar situation, although not nearly as far along on the life cycle as FBC Stevens Point.  Which is dangerous because we have just enough life left that our older people haven’t quite arrived at Ethel’s conclusion.  We are certainly making changes, but lately two thoughts have been working on me.

      First, as we are beginning to move more and more contemporary in order to reach the younger generations, as are most churches around us, I have seen the great need to offer the “old time religion” to reach the older folks.  We have over 5,000 people in a 2 mile radius around our church that are above 65, many of whom are unchurched and unreached.  Should not the same cultural approach be applied to reaching them as it is being applied to reach the younger generations?

      Second, one day, God willing, I will be elderly, you will be elderly.  We will have our preferences and some group of younger “know it alls” will be talking to us about the importance of contextualizing the gospel into their generation.  How will we respond?  One would hope with the same missional heart we are so willingly and ardently applying to the situation now that it is our generation we are trying to reach, however, I know myself enough to not always give myself the benefit of the doubt.  What makes me think I’m going to respond any differently than the elderly of today.  Ultimately is it not the responsibility of every generation to hand off the church and the faith to the generation behind it?  As life expectancy increases, so to will these types of challenges.  But may we remember: John 12:24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

    8. Andymcadams on Wed, September 22, 2010

      Ethel is my new hero.  What a heart for God.

      Robert:  I am in dozens of churches throughout America helping them to turn things around to reach people for Christ and be a healthy church.  I must say, “In none of them is preaching Christ an issue.”  But being relevant to the culture of their community almost always is.

      Shelton:  I am 62 and guess I fall into that elderly class now.  (ouch)  But what I have found is that most elderly people seldom leave a church because of changes in music or other things.  Why?  Because it’s their church no matter what.  But what I have found is that younger people will all too often leave due to the lack of change. 

      In my home church I did a study of the community and discovered that a huge % of the population was over 55 and out of the 30 churches in town, only three offered a traditional hymns only service.  So we started one.  We worked for 5 months on promoting the service with mailings and phone calls and the results were overwhelming.  It bombed within 3 months of it’s beginning.  Yet Sunday after Sunday I look around and find that 50% of those in the worship service are “elderly”.  Their hands are raised with praise to God.  Their lips sing praise to Him and their hands clap with joy…even to worship music that they may not be used too.
      Oh…I must add.  We always have a hymn or two led by the praise band.

    9. shelton on Wed, September 22, 2010

      Andy:  May I ask what city your church is in?

    10. CS on Wed, September 22, 2010

      My church is a conservative, bordering on fundamentalist, Baptist church.  By modern standards, with the lack of contemporary music, flashy programs, and young, hip culture (the same type that the pastor in this article will be employing), we would be declared, “irrelevant,” and should be dying in the same way.  Yet we continue to grow, and our congregation size is up almost 100% in one year.  How is this happening?

      The reason for this is because we preach the Gospel, go to people in the community, and share Jesus Christ with them.  We reach out to people through evangelism and then they want to come to our church, instead of making our church the source of enticement to draw in young people.  Our pastors preach the same cross-focused message week after week, even when it ties into topics like family or money.  We’re seeing souls saved almost every week and it is wonderful seeing how the Lord is blessing us.

      If this church is being obedient to God and it is shrinking, that is not a bad thing at all.  It’s the obedience that’s important more than anything else.  If they’re obedient and their church grows by leaps and bounds, same thing. 


    11. Jan on Wed, September 22, 2010

      I appreciate this woman’s heart and her attitude and yes, often times things need to change.  But I don’t think that is what “young people” are looking for.  They are looking for community and relevance, real spiritual truth and family.  People like Ethel can have a huge impact by just being a Godly grandma to young people.  I knew a woman in her 80’s who would meet with a group of 6th grade girls… to do what?  listen to their music?  have a relevant program?  no to TAT.  Yes, to TAT and to sit at the feet of this woman who cared for them and spent time investing in their lives.

      The youth of today are hungry, starving actually for real family.  And when we offer that with what only God can give, Godly family, it’s gold to them.

      We have more youth in our church then adults btw.

    12. Lee on Wed, September 22, 2010

      I do not agree with the title of this blog, although I like the story about the elderly woman realizing that it is not her tastes that are at issue but the Gospel. 

      I greatly resist labeling anyone by their generation.  While there may be some generalities, there are never absolutes.  I am in a liturgical church where there is always a great debate between “contemporary” and “traditional” with the underlying issues of getting more youth to come.  And, yet, in every church at which there is both types of worship, there are always older people who like “contemporary” music and there are kids who like traditional church liturgies.  In the Seattle area, there is an Episcopal Church that does a traditional chanted Vespers on Sunday night and hundreds of young students, studs through the nose and all, come to it regularly.

      I will also say that you have to “do” what you do with integrity.  You cannot simply slap a couple of musicians together and create a praise band any more than you can buy a pipe organ and expect your pianist to know how to play it.  This is why so many mainline denominations attempt praise bands in worship and more often than not falls flat on its face and leaves people scratching their heads as to why it didn’t work.

      You have to know your calling and your place in the community.  One town over from our congregation, there is a very successful warehouse style church with praise bands and such.  Although we do attempt a variety of musical styles in worship, we do not have the resources or talent to “compete” with them in that area nor should we for two reasons: 1. why proselytize to people already in a relationship with Jesus Christ and in a Christian community of faith; and, 2. to copy what they are doing would definitely go against our theology as a sacramental and liturgical church.  We are not called to be them and they are not called to be us; and, yet, we can all still be the one church together.  The Holy Spirit can use us both.  And, due to a recent baby boom in our community, it seems more kids and young adults are coming anyway.  Who could have guessed?

    13. jud on Thu, September 23, 2010

      CS is right on the money.

      If “church” is about conforming to my “style” then it’s off the tracks.

      If “church” is about conforming to the culture’s preferences then it’s off the tracks as well.

      It’s about simply preaching the GOSPEL to the lost AND the saved.

    14. Peter Hamm on Thu, September 23, 2010

      jud, I think you’re confusing method with message… In fact, I’m reasonably sure you are.

    15. Art on Mon, September 27, 2010

      I must say, �In none of them is preaching Christ an issue.�  But being relevant to the culture of their community almost always is.

      - And that’s the issue.  I am so tired of hearing how churches aren’t preaching about Jesus, or sin, or whatever.  That simply isn’t the truth (except for some mainline denominations).  The issue is that churches are unwilling to change to reach the people that are living around them.

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