A church service is one of the few environments that’s expected to engage people of all ages.
If you think about it, most places don’t have to consider quite as drastic of an age span…
- Chuck E. Cheese’s is not trying to engage the married couple in their mid-forties.
- The concert venue downtown doesn’t care what an 85-year-old thinks about their loud music.
- Bingo night at the community center isn’t exactly trying to appeal to the younger crowd.
When it comes to church, however, we’re not only expected to engage people of all ages. We’re encouraged to.
The younger generation needs the older generation to pass on the wisdom, insight, and guidance that only comes from age and experience. The older generation needs the younger one to carry on the ministry in their community after they’re gone.
“Having one age demographic without the other means you won’t reach your maximum potential.”
We need 18-year-olds in our church. We need 85-year-olds in our church. And we need everyone in between. Cultivating a multi-generational congregation starts by understanding the tension, then attracting and engaging a diverse age group.
Here are 10 practical steps that you can take to engage everyone in the room during your worship service, from 18 to 85.
1) Give examples for each age group when you preach.
Engaging everyone in the room starts by making an effort to speak to everyone’s unique season of life. If this Sunday’s message is about choosing our words carefully, use examples that will speak to teenagers and seniors.
For instance, you could first bring up an example about the way teenagers speak to their siblings and parents. Then you could give another example about the way husbands speak to their wives, wives speak to their husbands, and how they both speak to their kids. That’s one of the reasons we added sermon illustrations to our Ministry Pass membership earlier this year. We want to give you resources to reach people of all ages.
By providing a wide variety of examples, you’re giving everyone in the room a reason to stay engaged with your message.
2) Play hymns, but put a fresh spin on them.
If your church is navigating tension surrounding the worship music, you’re not alone. Everyone’s musical tastes are different, and there’s perhaps no greater difference between an 18-year-old and an 85-year-old than their musical preferences.
This can make picking out songs for Sunday morning a big challenge.
One simple way to help bridge the gap and engage everyone’s musical tastes is to put a fresh spin on old hymns.
A quick look at the “Top Songs” in the Christian music section of iTunes will show you just how effective this strategy is. Hymns like “It Is Well,” a song the seniors in your congregation undoubtedly know and love, can sound fresh and current, engaging the younger ears in the room.
3) Pay attention to the quality of your production.
If the hymn your worship team has revamped for this Sunday sounds like it’s being played in three different keys, it’s probably still not going to be effective in engaging everyone in the room.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the quality of your production. This doesn’t mean you need to buy a new sound system or hire a full-time production crew.
On the contrary, the best way to improve the quality of what happens on Sunday morning is simply to give it more attention.
Perhaps your worship team needs to put in an extra hour of practice during the week. Perhaps the announcements and lyrics need to be compiled and reviewed prior to Sunday morning, so there are fewer typos.
Poor production is distracting; quality production is engaging—for everyone. This church does a great job of talking about the quality of their production on their website, while keeping multiple generations in mind.
4) Be intentional about which traditions to keep and which to discontinue.
Planning special sunrise services, lighting candles on Christmas Eve, and singing the Pittsburgh Steelers fight song every Sunday morning during the regular season are a few traditions that might be special for your congregation.
- if we fail to reevaluate the traditions we hold,
- and fail to make room for new ones,
… we run the risk of losing engagement with the next generation.
Do you remember when you and your spouse were first married and started your own traditions? You felt motivated to stay engaged with those traditions and make them meaningful, right?
Why? Simply because of the feeling of ownership.
The young people in your church need to feel that same sense of ownership.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to abandon all of your current traditions. After all, those traditions are part of what keeps longstanding members of your congregation engaged. But it does mean being intentional about which traditions to keep, which traditions to discontinue, and which new traditions to develop.
5) Diversify the age range of the people involved in your service.
From greeters and ushers to the worship team and childcare volunteers, it takes a lot of people to make a service run smoothly.
Every one of those roles on Sunday morning is a chance to engage people of all ages.
When a young person greets a young person as they walk through the church doors, they’re subconsciously communicating, “This place is for people like you.”
In the same way, when an older man or woman shares the weekly announcements, he or she is communicating, “This place is for people like you” to the older people in the room.
A person that never sees the church utilizing their age group on Sunday morning is a person at risk of disengaging.
“To every age group, your worship service needs to communicate: This place is for you.”
When you communicate this, you’re inviting everyone to lean in and engage in what’s happening.
6) Make your small groups and Sunday School classes multi-generational.
When small groups and Sunday School classes all lean one direction generationally, it has the potential to create a “that’s not for me” mindset in the other age groups.
For instance, if your Sunday School classes only engage the older groups, younger men and women may be tempted to disengage, viewing Sunday School as an “old person thing.”
However, when you make an effort to make some of your small groups and Sunday School classes multi-generational, it not only encourages all age groups to participate, but also invites each group to pour into one another.
7) Encourage the older generation to invest in the younger generation.
If you really want to engage people of all ages on Sunday morning, you can’t do it alone. You need some help. You need buy-in from your congregation to make it a reality.
That’s why it’s crucial to make engaging all age groups part of your church’s vision, strategy, and messaging.
Ultimately, it means encouraging the older generation to invest in the younger generation.
When you ask the older people to invest in the younger, what you’re really doing is asking them to engage.
If they can tell the younger generation things like, “I want to give you some advice on making a wise career choice,” or, “I want to share with you what I’ve learned after 40 years of marriage,” that’s a difficult proposal for a younger person to pass up.
8) Interview an 18-year-old and an 85-year-old side-by-side.
Perhaps the best way to engage everyone in the room with your worship service is simply to ask them.
Invite an 18-year-old and an 85-year-old to dinner or coffee. Ask both of them what they need to see and experience on Sunday morning that would help them stay engaged. Ask them what’s working. Ask them what’s not working.
Learn about the people in your congregation. Chances are, some of their thoughts and ideas will overlap. And those ideas are great areas to start as you continue striving to engage everyone in the room on Sunday.
Or, better yet, briefly interview both of them on stage when you preach.
Personally, I’d be fascinated to hear what both age groups have learned about subjects like prayer, accountability, worship, thinking, humility, and discipleship.
9) Don’t go overboard.
Depending on the way your current congregation is leaning (to the younger side or older side), you may be tempted to make drastic changes to your service.
Making drastic chances is a surefire way to make your current attendees feel like you just pulled the rug out from under them.
Instead, make slow, intentional changes to your service. Making slow, meaningful changes will not only give your congregation time to adjust, but also feel more authentic as you engage a new demographic.
Be sure to communicate the why behind each change, so that everyone is on board and on the same page.
If we’re being honest, most of us probably have a tougher time engaging the younger demographic than the older.
It’s no secret that phones and technology are causing our attention spans to wane, and the next generation is on the forefront of this phenomenon.
But instead of getting mad at technology or shaking our heads at “those distracted millennials,” what if we tried to meet them where they’re at? Using more visuals as you preach can help you do that. Utilizing more stage props and putting verses, pictures, and other visuals on the screen can go a long way in keeping everyone—especially younger people—interested and engaged.
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