A client recently posed a staffing question and asked me to address it. “Why should the first hired staff positions be (1) a worship leader for a non-traditional style worship service; and (2) a children’s director?” The answer is as simple as it should be self-evident.
Without a steady influx of young families to the faith, to the church, and to local congregations, the US church will continue to experience rapid decline. This will result in the ultimate bankruptcy of most or all of the mainline denominations as well as the closing of as many as 150,000 churches over the next decade (Lyle Schaller).
Let me explain.
For a church to be sustainable, new adherents to the faith and new members to the congregation must be forthcoming in a sufficient number to eclipse those who leave the congregation for whatever reason. For a church to maintain long-term sustainability, a significant number of these new adherents and new members must be young adults. Fortunately, in the US there is an ample supply of young adults and young families. Unfortunately, the majority of these young adults have little or no church experience whatsoever. The majority of young adults under the age of forty have never been involved in church; have neither an appreciation nor a tolerance for what is commonly called traditional worship, music, or liturgy; and see no compelling reason to attend a worship service, let alone to become an active member of a congregation.
Nevertheless, there yet lingers a national ethos that includes a latent hope that Christianity and the Church may contain answers to life’s most troubling questions. That hope is best kindled when an individual or a family is facing a life transition. During these times, occasionally a young family will find their way to a church in hopes of discovering pressing spiritual answers. However, if they attend a worship service that is irrelevant, does not resonate with their spirit, or does not present words and concepts of hope using an accessible teaching style, or if their children find the experience tedious, boring, and irrelevant, then the family is quite unlikely to return to that church. Furthermore, that church experience may be the only Christian opportunity they’re willing to avail themselves of in their search for a connection with the divine.
Therefore, the most important staff position after the lead pastor is a worship leader who is skilled in developing and leading a worship service that will communicate the hope of the gospel in a style that is not foreign, but that resonates and effectively communicates with these young adults. This would include the selection and performance of music that connects and communicates; the use of technology that addresses a multiplicity of learning style issues; the development of a liturgy that is both seamless and meaningful; and access to the arts – whether tech arts or traditional arts – to facilitate the communication of the gospel message to generations that are increasingly driven by images, experience, and participation.
However, even if the worship is exceptionally appealing to these young adults, if the children find the time tedious, boring, and irrelevant, then they will object to returning. Since we no longer live in a culture whereby children are seen and not heard and have little input to family decisions, experience and studies have shown that if a child “pitches a fit” about returning to church, it’s highly unlikely that the family will return. Indeed, this is one of the primary reasons young adults do not return to a particular church … if the kids hate it, the family simply won’t go back.
The converse is equally true. If children have a positive experience when attending the church, they typically have the power to persuade the parents to return to the congregation for a second or third time. If during those weeks the children find their “place” and are well adopted by peers and ministry leaders, they are likely to advocate for ongoing attendance.
Realistically, rarely does an adult worship service appeal to children, nor is it designed to. Children find the music irrelevant (both tune and words), the prayers and liturgy impossible to understand, and the sermon tediously boring. Indeed, we often remind churches that if they have “worship kits” for the kids, they already recognize they have a problem. The responsibility of the church isn’t to prepare children for adult worship, but to help children become committed disciples of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t happen in an adult worship setting. Most churches can prove this anecdotally by asking how many of the senior members’ children, who were largely raised in the “kids go to big church” programming style, are still involved in church today. By and large, the answer is discouraging evidence that kids should not be obligated to join their parents in “big church”.
Therefore, the second most important staff position after the lead pastor is a children’s director who can develop and implement a children’s worship and children’s discipleship program that will excite and inspire children to return and to get involved. This staff position should be dedicated to multiplying the leadership base for children’s ministries that extends from a Sunday morning children’s worship experience to adaptable and accessible learning-style discipling, including the use of high tech coupled with high touch. This programming must be offered through a multiplicity of ministries held at various times in the week in order to effectively ground the children in the faith and in faith practices.
The church of today must begin its transition from the church of yesterday. No longer do we have the luxury of presuming that “everyone” has a basic understanding of and harbors the need for either Christianity or the church. The average age of active mainline church members continues to increase, and the number of active young adults continues to decrease. The solution isn’t to continue doing what we’ve been doing … as important as our youth are, the tradition of hiring youth leaders in the hopes of reaching families has failed to turn youth into active young adult church members and leaders. The future of the church isn’t in the hands of our youth … it’s in the hands of our young adults. And without making a commitment to reaching young adults with relevant and meaningful worship and reaching their children with effective, exciting worship and ongoing discipleship, the church will continue to age and to decline.
Question: How have you enabled your staff to effectively reach young adults? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.