You have no doubt heard someone at church say, “We must have a strong children’s and youth ministry.” Why? “They are the future of the church!” Many hours are spent discussing how to attract younger families with children. A United Methodist congregation in Grove Cottage, Minnesota decided to shut down one of its campuses and relaunch that church to reach a younger demographic. Part of that process included asking the current members, most of whom were older, to attend another church for twelve to eighteen months. The approach and the reaction made national news.
The many different sides of that story does prompt the question, “Who is the future of the church?” I think it depends on the context. While children and youth may be the future of the Church, they are probably not the future of our church. You see, they grow up, go to college and move to where they find employment. We pray that they will be a part of the Church at large, but they will not grow up to be a part of our congregation.
Many of the people moving to Florida and our community are older. They are retired. They are tired of northern winters. And they are the future of our church. They are the new members, leaders, voices and teachers in our congregation. Yes, there are young families who move to our area, too. It’s an affordable place to live. But they are not necessarily the majority of the folks who come to visit and join our churches. That’s just the way it is here.
That is not necessarily a negative thing. In the pages of scripture, we find God staking the future of the church on a variety of people of different ages. Abraham was 75 when he got the call to move. Samuel grew up in the church. Moses was 80 when he was told to go to Pharaoh. David was a young shepherd when anointed the king of Israel. Josiah ascended to the throne when he was eight years old. Jeremiah had a job before he was born! Noah was 500 years old when he built the ark.
I love the babies, children and youth of the church. Yes, I am in my element when holding the infants, playing with the toddlers, teaching the middle schoolers, serving alongside the high school youth and praying the graduates off to college or the military. But I am also grateful for those who come with a lifetime of managerial, financial, educational and musical experience that fund, lead and drive the ministry of the church.
It’s ironic that some churches with a strong youth emphasis shuffle their young off to nursery and children’s church. It’s also ironic that those who want young families in church get irritated when the little ones get squirmy, noisy and leave Cheerio crumbs in the pew. Don’t you know how Jesus responded when the disciples tried to keep the kids away?
The future of the church will always be the gathering of people who need to hear the gospel, receive God’s forgiveness and be equipped to take that blessing back to their world. There are no age, height, income or experience restrictions on that experience.
Actually, the future of the church is “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-11).