I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans. It’s true. I’m sort of, well—there is no easy way to say this—kind of skinny. I’m well muscled, as my aunt described me way back (I hang on to that statement hoping its actually true), but well muscled in a skinny sort of way. So the jeans fit and look good. I plan to wear them preaching some time. I share this bit of family reality for one simple reason. Christianity Today recently published a study done by Fuller Theological Seminary. The article was entitled “Put Away the Skinny Jeans.” “But I just bought mine!!!” I protested. Let me unpack this more.
The article debunks what many in the Christian community have assumed for years—that youth are reached by a relevant service, modern music, hipster dress, a cool place to worship, youthful staff, and coffee. The key issue in reaching youth isn’t any of those things. The article lists several areas that are necessary: (1) They want to be the best possible neighbors within their cities. The churches that were “growing young” were showed high involvement and creativity in their commitment to be good neighbors (2) The goal is the gospel. Other things are good, like racial reconciliation, or social justice. But the ultimate goal is the gospel and engaging people as an expression of the gospel. (3) Key chain leadership, meaning senior leadership is avoiding leadership models that focus on personal charisma and moving towards giving the keys of power over to the younger generation. (4) Focus on youth has little to do with hiring a good youth pastor and giving them domain of a part of the property but is seen in everything from how the budget’s made to programming to planning and community life. In short, younger people are made a priority. They are needed and they feel needed! (5) Finally, older folks willingness to be part of the lives of younger folks including showing up at football games, learning their names, and supporting their endeavors.
The irony of this has to do with the demographic of Moses Lake Alliance Church where I now work as a pastor. It’s made up mostly of the kinds of people who have the biggest impact on the lives of younger people: older people. You read it right! Older folks like me (gasp—did I actually write that) who are just not yet retired (or even sixty) can have a meaningful impact on the lives of younger people by doing several simple things: (1) Caring (2) Releasing authority and responsibility into the hands of those who are ready to have it. (3) and focusing on the gospel instead of other superfluous issues.
The big challenge for any congregation is whether or not they want to do this. What I’d tell people is, “Don’t wait around for the staff to tell you how. Figure out a way to care for younger folks in the community and do it.” They’ll start inviting their friends to church, church activities, groups, and mid-sized events simply because they are cared for, loved, and respected.