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As I do Strategic Planning with churches all over the country, one of most consistent priorities churches identify is attracting young families. I don’t think I’ve been to a church yet that said, “We don’t really need to reach young people. We’re doing just fine with an aging population and our old ways of doing things.” (Churches who honestly feel that way don’t usually call The Unstuck Group.)

With that priority in mind, I’m seeing two trends on a regular basis that are each alarming in different ways.

  1. Churches that want to reach young people don’t actually have young people involved in any visible roles.

    No young staff members teaching from the stage. Few young greeters or leaders of groups. No young musicians or singers. Little if any imagery of young families on their websites. (Relevant imagery on church websites is hugely lacking… but that’s another blog post.)The message you send is very clear to a 20 or 30-something: We want you to come and absorb what we’re dishing out, but we don’t want your ideas, your creativity, your culture or your interests affecting what we have going on.

    It’s not a subtle message either. Young adults pick up on non-verbal cues very quickly, especially in your communication channels. If you want to attract young adults, you will have to make the young adults you already have visible. And what that really means is that you need to be equipping and empowering them to do ministry.

    The other issue I’m seeing is the exact opposite:

  2. Churches that want to reach young people have only young, attractive people involved in visible ways.

    A band full of hipsters. A greeter core made of up college students who smile at other young people and get awkward with older folks. Video and photography that clearly reads “We are young, and we like people who look like this. If you’re one of us, you’re welcome here.”I have no doubt they don’t intend to communicate an “exclusive” message.

    The danger is in knowing your audience so well that you create an insider-embracing culture of a certain type of person. All young people in your city aren’t hipsters just the same that all Boomers in your city aren’t country club members.

As I’m sure you can guess, of the two, the churches who are being extremely intentional about the way they brand themselves typically do reach their target market better. But when it comes to who you make visible in your church, it is possible to be intentional without becoming exclusive.

It wouldn’t hurt for us all to remember 1 Samuel 16:7,

“The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

That means not dismissing a potential leader because of how young he looks, and it also means not dismissing a humble and talented musician because she isn’t your standard of cool.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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