Reaching people under 40 - do we really want to?

Brian Hammons


57. That’s the average age of United Methodist members. It’s been going up for many years. The average age. And that’s actually lower than the average for many congregations in Missouri. My home church’s average age is 65. What about your congregation? Does it really matter?

Most of us will say “of course it matters. We want to have more children, young adults and young families in our church. But we just don’t know how.” Or something like that. It’s the same thing we’ve been saying for a long, long time. Yet as our communities and our world change, we’ve continued to get older while reaching fewer and fewer people under 40.

What difference does it make in our congregations? Most importantly, what difference does it make in the lives of those younger people and in the communities, the world, in which we all live? And what will the future be like if we don’t effectively reach youth and young adults with the timeless truth of the Gospel in ways that are culturally relevant and life-changing?

Certainly people numbers would continue to decline as we fail to replace those who pass on from this life. And financial numbers will decline, perhaps to the point of serious trouble, as older faithful givers die but we fail to teach financial stewardship to young people. It’s something that Lovett Weems has called “the coming death tsunami.”

I’ve been reading a book, recommended by our two Associate Conference Lay Leaders (Shannon Meister and Kevin Buckrucker), called Reaching People Under 40 while Keeping People Over 60 by Edward Hammett and James Pierce. It has several insights about our current situation, how we burn out our pastors while churches age and decline. It also discusses points of tension between generations, especially those over 60 and those under 40. Then it reviews several ideas to find a “win-win” for the church. Many of these ideas we’ve seen before, as countless books have suggested – even urged – similar steps. I won’t go into all those ideas here, simply remind you of the importance of prayerfully considering what we’re doing or not doing as it relates to reaching younger generations.

Finally, the title question: Do we really want to reach younger generations – people under 40? As many congregations consider ideas developed through their participation in the Healthy Church Initiative – consultations, small church initiative, PLD and LLD, etc. – I urge you as leaders to dig deep and determine whether we really are committed to leading younger generations to active faith, to being disciples of Jesus Christ. I still believe that if we’re really serious about that, truly seeking God’s guidance and yielding our own comfort, then God will move in unexpected ways. And over time, if we open the door wide enough and go “out there” enough, the timeless truth of Jesus Christ and the life changing way of God that he taught, lived, died and rose for, will pierce hearts and produce abundant fruit.

A new movement can occur through the United Methodist Church – IF those of us who are between 40 and 60, and all those over 60, can really get serious about reaching people under 40. Thanks for your vision, your ministry, and your leadership!