Perhaps you’ve heard this little saying,
“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
What begins with a thought concludes in the setting of a destiny. The things we do repeatedly tend to define who we are and what we ultimately become. Little things lead to big things. Big things always start from little things.
When you were young, your parents probably did all they could do to help you understand the power of habits. They tried their best to get you to do certain things regularly (say please, brush your teeth, use good manners, etc.) and they tried to keep you from doing certain things (cracking your knuckles, whining, interrupting, etc.). What they knew was any behavior done repeatedly can and does become habit forming. It’s far easier to avoid forming a bad habit than it is to break one once it’s established.
Have you ever given any thought to what sort of behaviors become habit forming in the life of a church? Again, there is a positive and a negative aspect of this. Churches can form good habits, such as being friendly, being grace giving, treating others with respect, etc. And churches can form bad habits, such as being judgmental, exclusive and gossipy. In either case, habits form from consistent and repeated walking down the same path. Good paths lead to good habits, bad paths to bad.
It seems to me that one of the worst habits a church can form is allowing itself to grow inward. This is a very natural and powerful temptation and it seems like there is almost a gravitational force causing this to happen. The church experience can become simply for those who are already “in,” while forgetting entirely about those who are still “out.” Whenever you see a church place more attention on those whom they’ve reached than those whom they’ve yet to reach, the church is on the path to developing this bad habit. You know you’ve formed a bad habit of being inward whenever the church goes into “preserve” mode—preserve the peace, preserve the status quo, preserve the tradition, etc. A habit has formed.
Here’s the kicker: Whenever a church goes down this path it quickly begins to age. It grows older… quickly. If the average age of the average church member is going up… the church is on the path to dying. I realize this sounds extreme but we must understand that aging out is a grave threat to life of the church.
For a church to thrive, it MUST continually grow younger. It must attract and it must retain young people, and as it grows larger it must do so by attracting an ever increasing number of young people. It must become a place where young people feel welcome and where they have a place. The problem is, unless the older and more mature people in a church intentionally cause this to happen, they will (unintentionally or otherwise) prevent it from happening.
One author I’ve been reading lately, James Emery White suggests three things which must happen in the church for it to attract youth. These are three keys to reaching the next generation. Let me list them for you:
- The church must not be afraid to hire young adults onto the staff of the church. We might argue that older staff offer more in the way of experience, but if you want to reach young people, you must be willing to be instructed by young people!
- Young adults must be put on the platform of the church. You tend to attract the same kind and age of people you put on the stage of the church. If young people never see young people, young people will never be seen!
- To attract young people, we must acknowledge and affirm young people. We must give them a voice and create a place for them. They must have a purpose. We must create an environment in which they feel most comfortable and where they would most likely bring their friends.
So here’s the interesting paradox: The future of the church lies in the hands of the young, and the destiny of the church is in the hands of the aged.
What will the future hold for Central? May I suggest we give serious thought to all the ways we can reach and retain young people? Will we allow the church to grow younger instead of older?
There seems to be a great future in this–and it would prove to be God-honoring destiny!