June 21, 2023

Pressing Questions: Increasing Engagement & Reaching the Next Generation – Episode 301 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

increasing engagement & reaching the next generation 301

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Pressing Questions for Pastors in 2023 (Part 3)

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Our goal for The Unstuck Church Podcast is to answer the most pressing and relevant questions that pastors are asking. That’s why we’re dedicating a whole series to “Pressing Questions for Pastors in 2023″ and answering some of the known questions pastors are wondering about in this season, based on our experience serving hundreds of churches:


In this episode, we’ll continue our series by answering pressing questions around getting new guests connected to our church and developing a multi-generational ministry.

We spend a lot of time on our podcast talking about systems and strategies, but they’re all a means to an end of achieving one goal: helping more people meet and follow Jesus, develop meaningful relationships with other believers, and get involved in the mission of the church. Tune in this week as we unpack:

  • Focusing on relationships over attendance
  • Developing a simplified engagement path
  • Age-segregated vs. multi-generational churches
  • Steps for becoming a multi-generational church

How to Re-Engage Your Church in the Mission

Your congregation today is not your pre-pandemic congregation. And your mission is more than just a statement on your wall. In this webinar, Tony Morgan & Amy Anderson will teach you the practical strategies needed to reignite your church’s passion and purpose for living on mission in this season.

Our systems and strategies are all a means to one end: helping more people meet and follow Jesus, develop meaningful relationships with other believers, and get involved in the mission of the church. [episode 301] #unstuckchurch Share on X Rather than creating separate programs for separate generations, our whole church needs to be designed and staffed to reach and minister to young adults and their kids. [episode 301] #unstuckchurch Share on X Instead of focusing on attendance at gatherings and events, we should focus on helping people connect with other people, primarily through joining a team or connecting with a small group. [episode 301] #unstuckchurch Share on X Relationships are one of the key reasons that people who attend our church stick around. And more importantly, relationships are the context in which Christian discipleship and fellowship happens. [episode 301] #unstuckchurch Share on X

This Episode Is Sponsored by PlainJoe Studios:

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PlainJoe: A Storyland Studio partners with churches, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and educational environments to create unforgettable strategic, digital, and spatial stories that lift the Spirit. Their team of talented designers, architects, and specialists can assist you with services such as brand development, building projects, custom web development, and more. Their approach to designing custom experiences is both fun-loving and professional, enabling pastors and leaders to enjoy the process while advancing their ministry. 

And here’s some exciting news – PlainJoe is hosting the PlainJoe Design Intervention giveaway, where one winner will receive the grand prize: 200 hours of design services from PlainJoe, for free! Visit plainjoestudios.com for more information. And if you’re ready to rethink your buildings, logos, or website experience to take your organization to the next level, consider PlainJoe.

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We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. As The Unstuck Group has assessed now hundreds of churches’ weekend service experiences, two key areas stand out from the data when it comes to church health: the guest experience and a healthy kids’ ministry. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series answering some of the most pressing questions we hear from church leaders with some practical thoughts on connections and Next Gen ministry. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, before you listen, stop and go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe to get the episode show notes in your email. Each week, you’ll get resources to support that week’s episode, access to the resources from all of our past episodes and some bonus resources you won’t get anywhere else. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (01:00):

PlainJoe, a Storyland Studio, partners with churches, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and educational environments to create unforgettable, strategic, digital and spatial stories that lift the spirit. Their team of talented designers, architects and specialists can assist you with services such as brand development, building projects, custom web development and more. Their approach to designing custom experiences is both fun-loving and professional, enabling pastors and leaders to enjoy the process while also advancing their ministry. Now, here’s some exciting news. PlainJoe is hosting the PlainJoe Design Intervention Giveaway, where one winner will receive the grand prize: 200 hours of design services from PlainJoe for free. So visit plainjoestudios.com for more information, and if you’re ready to rethink your buildings, logos or website experience to take your organization to the next level, consider PlainJoe.

Amy (02:06):

Well, welcome back to our listeners as we continue into our series: the questions that pastors are asking right now and then Tony’s take on what pastors should be asking. But, Tony, I thought it was kind of funny this past week when you were serving a church in California. Can you tell that story?

Tony (02:21):

Yeah. So it was my first time flying into Fresno and working with a great church, neighborhood church, which is just south of Fresno and Visalia. But found out another, another teammate, another one of the ministry consultants from The Unstuck Group was gonna be in California. And I asked him where he was gonna be, just outta curiosity, cuz it, you know, we work with a lot of California churches but a little bit unusual for two of us to be working with two different churches in, in California at the same time. And he said, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m landing in Fresno this afternoon.” I said, “And then where are you going?” And he said, well, as it turns out, he was at another church just 10, about 10 or 15 minutes from where I was going to be.

Amy (03:07):

That’s crazy.

Tony (03:09):

So, we had an opportunity to serve two great churches in California in this past week and that was a lot of fun.

Amy (03:15):

Especially, you know, people maybe think travel is super glamorous, but, you know, sitting at a restaurant by yourself for dinner each night, not that glamorous.

Tony (03:22):


Amy (03:22):

But with an Unstuck friend? That’s good news.

Tony (03:25):

It was a lot of fun. Yeah, it was fun to catch up and just compare notes, too, on the great things that were happening at these two different churches.

Amy (03:33):

Yeah, all right, well, let’s dive into the two pressing questions we’re gonna be discussing today. So what’s question number one, Tony?

Tony (03:39):

Well, the first question I want to address today that pastors are asking is, how do we get new visitors actively engaged in the church?

Amy (03:48):

Not a bad question, again. They should be asking. But can you explain why that might be the wrong question to be asking right now and offer us a better one?

Tony (03:55):

Well, I think the right question to be asking is how do we connect new people into relationships in the church? So it gets a little bit more specific, obviously, around relationships themselves, and here’s why. Typically, when churches ask the question about getting new visitors engaged in the church, they’re referring to attendance at services or participating in men’s or women’s gatherings or going to another event or going to a membership class, as an example, or partnership class. They’re thinking about the stuff that keeps busy, people busy at church, but instead, I think the focus should be on helping people connect with other people, primarily through joining a team or connecting with a small group. That’s where relationships have the potential to really develop, and it’s the relationships that will make the church sticky and encourage next steps towards Christ.

Amy (04:51):

That’s good, Tony. And if you’re a regular listener of our podcast, that probably doesn’t surprise you. It’s a common theme around here that we encourage churches to move away from focusing on attendance-driven things like events and move towards getting people engaged in the work of the church and in relationship with one another. And, Tony, since we talked a lot on that topic of serving and volunteers in last week’s episode, maybe today we can focus more on helping people take their next steps in getting connected in relationships through small groups.

Tony (05:19):

Yeah, that sounds good to me, Amy. In fact, you shared with me that you recently had a conversation with one of our other ministry consultants, Chad, Chad Hunt, who’s the senior pastor of Victory Hill Church in Kentucky, and how his church has created a model for nurturing new people in their church towards the big steps of serving and then joining a small group with a series of intentional smaller steps. So could you talk, walk us through that model that he’s using at Victory Hill Church?

Amy (05:49):

Yeah, pastor Chad, you know, he’s, him and his team have worked on this, and a couple things, Tony, that he always talks about is when you’re trying to engage new people, you have to start with low commitment and low relationship offerings. I think, I agree. It can feel like a really big step for people to move from a seat, you know, in the, in the auditorium to a small group or to a serving team. And it’s even a big step to think they’re ready to take a two-hour class or, you know, a three-week class type of thing. I think rarely do people go from attending one gathering, following Jesus, becoming a disciple. Rather, people attend gatherings, right? Plural. And when they do, I think it’s our job to help them take small steps that lead towards bigger steps. And as you’re saying, Tony, relationships have to be a part of that. So when I, I just talked with Chad for a few minutes, and he said when he and his team were trying to tackle this issue of engagement, they asked themselves some questions. They said, first, what engagement steps can we build for, for their mission field (they’re very clear on who they’re trying to reach) that will result in them connecting relationally with someone or with the church? Keeping in mind that time, of course, is this huge commodity for people. And when it comes to meeting new people, we have to remember that about a third to half of the population are introverted, okay?

Tony (07:06):


Amy (07:07):

A lot of, I mean, a lot of senior pastors actually are introverted, and they come off as being extroverted. But when we’re really getting around, how are we gonna help them engage? We have to remember how hard it is for people to take even a small step. Second, how can these steps lead our mission field to our discipleship path? So that still is the destination to get into serving, to get into small groups, that type of thing. Third, how do we create mission-field engagement opportunities that result in connecting people to others, continued attendance, right? That they’re hopefully coming back so that hopefully they can say yes to Jesus as they continue to attend. And then the last question they ask, again, as they’re trying to get these engagement steps right, is what does engagement look like in that first step? Which by the way, Tony, is probably the most important step, right?

Tony (07:54):


Amy (07:54):

And then where’s the right place? Great question. Who’s the right face of that? And what’s the right language? So I love all their intentionality around that.

Tony (08:05):

Yeah. So, it’s, it’s great to hear Chad kind of talk through some of those key questions that they’re asking related to the first steps that they’re encouraging people to take. But, Amy, could you kind of unpack, more specifically, what does that model look like for Victory Hills? How does that play out day-to-day?

Amy (08:24):

Yeah, they kind of have three steps between someone who just attends on the weekend and then really feeling like they’re beginning to engage in the life of the church. So, step one, they call it New to Victory, and it’s a five-minute experience after the service to meet the team to meet some of the pastors. And their goal during that five minutes, which by the way, they offer every week, is just to have people share their name with them. Now, they don’t say that, but that’s their goal when they meet with people for five minutes after the service. Step two is called Discover Victory, and they offer this once a month, again, right after church service. And this time it takes about 15 minutes. And, and by the way, when they cast vision around these steps, they actually tell people how, how long it’ll take. “Hey, this is just five minutes. This is just 15 minutes of your time.” And during that time, they provide childcare, they provide refreshments, and they share information about the church. And they answer people’s questions. I just, I, I feel like they make it so easy, and they talk about it all the time. So, people can be new for months, and they’ll suddenly feel like, “Oo, I’ve, I’ve gotta take that first step Pastor Chad’s been talking about.” And then the third step is called Grow at Victory. Again, it’s also offered once a month right after church, but this one lasts about a half hour, 30 to 45 minutes. And this is where they cast vision around the next steps people can take to get more engaged in the life of the church: serving groups, things like that. And they’re very overt about sharing the purpose, which is to help people find community at the church. And again, childcare and refreshments are provided. So, beyond those three steps, that’s where we start integrating with their discipleship pathway. And again, if you think about those three, it always starts low relationship, low commitment, but each engagement step increases that relationship and commitment a little bit. And, Tony, it’s working; I was just looking at their update from February, that’s when they kind of did their year-end visioning out to the congregation, and they’ve got 54% of the people serving. They’ve got 48% of people in groups, and over 10% of their weekend attendance was baptized last year, which you and I know those baptism numbers show that we aren’t just helping more of the regulars get connected. We’re actually doing both. We’re reaching people and helping people move onto our discipleship pathway. So, that’s just one example.

Tony (10:39):

Yeah. I love the clarity around those three specific steps. All of them with just a little bit more commitment. The fact that they’re communicating upfront, this is how much time this, this step is going to take. And that they’re making it an easy step, too, by, providing childcare and also food. Food always helps, Amy.

Amy (11:00):

Food always works.

Tony (11:01):

To encourage people to take those steps. You know, another church that’s really leading the way in this area is Christ Fellowship in Miami. Now, again, another very large church, but small groups are their primary way of encouraging spiritual growth beyond Sunday morning services. And it’s also a key strategy for encouraging people to connect relationally with others. Their strategy for helping people connect relationally through small groups is really to focus on these three steps. We need to teach it, we need to model it, and then we need, need to make it easy. And for them, that those three steps look like this. First, we need to teach it. In other words, we need to be talking about small groups regularly. And when they teach on topics like community, there’s always a strong encouragement to take that next step towards joining a small group. So community, relationships equals join a small group. Secondly, they model it. And I mean, this may sound obvious, but their lead pastor, their executive pastor and everyone on their senior leadership team, all of them are involved in leading a small group. And this gives the pastors credibility when they preach about the importance of community on Sunday mornings. They’re not just talking about how important it is; they’re actually modeling it with their own investment of time. And then the third step, they make it easy. And similar to Victory Hills’ Grow at Victory meeting, Christ Fellowship offers an experience called Group Connect, where people can actually meet a variety of different small group leaders and join a group immediately. In other words, they’re not only communicating the importance of it. They’re not just modeling it. They’re also making the next step of joining a group as easy as possible.

Amy (12:49):

When you said teach it, model it and make it easy, it made me think of Disney. You know, they’ve got their three Ss; these guys have a nice cadence with that one, too.

Tony (12:57):

That’s right.

Amy (12:57):

Especially the Make It Easy.

Tony (12:59):

That’s right.

Amy (12:59):

Even though these two churches, you know, their models might be slightly different. They both emphasize this focus on the same goal, which is not just getting people in the doors of the church but getting them relationally connected with one another in that “make it easy” way. Cuz, I mean, my experience, your experience, Tony, we know that relationships are one of the key reasons that people who attend our churches end up sticking around. But more importantly, we know that relationships are the context in which Christian discipleship and fellowship actually happens.

Tony (13:28):

Yeah, absolutely, Amy. I mean, we spend a lot of time on our podcast talking about systems and strategies, but they’re really all a means to an end of achieving that goal that you just talked about. It’s just, it’s about helping more people meet and follow Jesus to develop meaningful relationships with other believers and then to get involved in the mission of the church.

Amy (13:50):

Yes to that. All right, well, let’s move on to part two of our conversation. What’s the second question we’ll be addressing today, Tony?

Tony (13:56):

Well, a question I think a lot of pastors are asking in this season is how do we reach young adults and their kids? And of course, this is a valid question, but there’s an even better and maybe more helpful question that they could be asking, which is how do we become a multi-generational church that wants to reach young adults and kids?

Amy (14:17):

Can you explain the difference between those questions?

Tony (14:20):

Yeah. So, while they both might have the goal of reaching young adults and kids, there’s a big difference between how a multi-generational church and an age-segregated church, meaning a church with programs or multiple generations, would approach this. They, they’re two different things. For example, in an age-segregated church, staff are hired for different age ranges of adults. In a multi-generational church, staff are hired to serve all adults of all ages.

Amy (14:49):


Tony (14:49):

In an age-segregated church, they’ll likely have two or three styles of worship services for different age ranges, essentially, while a multi-generational church will have identical worship services, which by the way, we know from the data tend to be more contemporary or modern styles of worship, which are intended for all the age ranges of adults in the church. In an age-segregated church, there are age-based adult groups and classes, but in a multi-generational church, the groups and classes are intergenerational. And then lastly, age-segregated churches typically offer separate weekday programming for adults based on age while in multi-generational churches, all adult programs are designed for all adult generations. And many churches have tried creating separate ministry programs and services to reach the next generation. But we, what we’ve come to realize is that creating separate programs to reach new generations does not work. So, for example, we’ve seen churches that are trying to reach next, the next generation of adults, and they try to hire a young adults pastor. They try to, to create separate young adult services. Then they have separate gatherings for young adults either on Sunday or during the week. And it’s as if they’re, they want to reach the next generation of young adults. But what essentially they’re doing, Amy, is they’re creating programs for young adults rather than being a multi-generational church, all the generations trying to reach the next generation of adults.

Amy (16:34):

And we’ve both seen this, right, in our years of working with ministries. It works for a while, and then, it doesn’t work anymore.

Tony (16:41):

That’s right.

Amy (16:42):

That, yep, the program changes. Well, if creating separate programs doesn’t work, Tony, what does?

Tony (16:47):

Well, to reach the next generation of young adults, we can’t design separate ministries to reach young adults. We have to become a truly multi-generational church that’s designed to reach and minister to young adults. And that includes all of our worship services, that includes our various ministry environments and that certainly includes our commitment to pouring into their kids because we know that the best way to reach the next generation of adults and parents is through their kids.

Amy (17:15):

You know, Tony, you mentioned a few key areas that churches should focus on. One of ’em in just, just a minute ago, you talked about our services, you know, moving from multiple service styles to one contemporary style. And, and side note, Tony, I really don’t like the word contemporary because what we’re trying to say is that we one service style that connects and engages with the people of this next generation, right, that we’re trying to reach. So whatever that is.

Tony (17:39):

That’s right. Along those lines, too, Amy, what we’ve noticed is the, the worship services that are designed for older generations can effectively engage people who are older but don’t tend to then engage with the younger generations. The reverse, though, is what we’re seeing in churches that are thriving and healthy and truly multi-generational churches is they’re designing their weekend services for the younger generations, which then are reaching the younger generations but then also the older generations. And so, the, it’s, I don’t like contemporary either. I don’t like modern. Let’s just call it. “We’re gonna focus on creating a service experience that reaches younger generations and helps us then truly become a multi-generational church.”

Amy (18:31):

And the other key area, Tony, that you mentioned was really about our investment in the next-generation kids environments and programming. We have definitely found that to be true, that if churches aren’t giving their best staffing and resources to kids’ ministry, they’ll never really reach their parents. And that’s one of the reasons why many churches have this growing chasm of missing 25- to 35-year-olds. You know, sometimes, when we secret shop churches, I can’t even tell they have a kids’ area, or, this isn’t so much today as it was maybe 20 years ago, but I’m still finding there’s some kids spaces that are dual purpose, multipurpose for adults, that the kids get to borrow. Churches that are growing, they’ve got dedicated, they’re spending their money on their kids, and they’re making the adults kind of switch around. And overall, the key message here is that we can’t just see our kids’ ministry as the staff members who lead our Sunday kids’ environment and our young adults ministry as the staff members who lead our young adults program. The bottom line is our whole church needs to be designed and staffed to reach and minister to young adults and their kids.

Tony (19:36):

That’s right, Amy. I mean, we just need to continue to double down on that thought. That’s the key, though. Rather than creating separate programs for separate generations, we need to become a multi-generational church that’s focused on reaching the next generations.

Amy (19:51):

Hey, back in the spring of 2022, Tony, we did a series called Simple Shifts, where we discussed some of the key shifts churches needed to be making coming outta the pandemic season. And one of the key shifts was around this area of becoming a multi-generational church. And you offered up some key questions for pastors to reflect on around this topic. Can you walk through those questions again because I think they really hit the heart of this topic today.

Tony (20:15):

Yeah. I’m glad that you actually listened to our content, too, Amy, so that’s good to know. Yeah. So let me, some of those key questions that we talked about, about a year ago were the examples include these, “What would have to change so all generations are in the same style of worship services rather than being segregated by generations in different styles of worship services?” Another one, “What would have to change so that all generations are in the same classes, in the same home groups, rather than being segregated by generations in different classes, in home groups?” “What would have to change so that our entire team is focused on reaching young adults who are outside the faith and outside the church?” “What would have to change so that our teaching is engaging all generations rather than just the needs of the older generations?” And then lastly, as an example, “What would have to change so that we prioritize our financial investments in ministry environments and programming for our kids and grandkids over the ministry environments and programming for older adults?”

Amy (21:25):

I love that. Those are big questions. But this really is a full-scale shift for churches to make because just adding more programs isn’t gonna solve the issue. And although this isn’t an easy shift to make, we always like to add some encouragement to our episodes to show leaders that these shifts are possible. So, Tony, is there a church that comes to mind who really models this well?

Tony (21:45):

Yeah. So, let me just highlight here Transformation Church, great church. We’ve been friends with Derwin and Vicki Gray through the years, Amy, because you and I have both served their church. And not only are they an example of being a multi-ethnic church but they really are a great example of being a multi-generational church. And, of course, I think a lot of that begins with how they’re building their leadership, including their staff team. Their staff team reflects multiple generations. But then it’s this whole, this whole concept that we’ve been talking about. They just don’t have programs for younger generations. Their entire church, their, their design is to leverage the what it all, the benefits of being a multi-generational and intergenerational church so that they can continue to reach the next generations. And when you see the power of what that looks like, again, not just multi-generational, but also multi-ethnic coming together, it really is powerful to see the impact that they’re having in people’s lives. And, Amy, it’s people of all ages. And that’s maybe something that I don’t want you to miss in this. We’re not talking about neglecting people that are from previous or older generations. That is not at all what we’re talking about today. What we’re talking about is, is bringing the power of multiple generations together so that we can reach our kids and our grandkids.

Amy (23:19):

Well, Tony, this is the last episode of our current series where we’ll be talking about two key pressing questions that pastors are asking. Next week, we’ll do more of a rapid-fire Q and A, answering questions on all kinds of ministry topics that have been submitted by our podcast listeners. So I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully, we’ll actually know some of the answers to their questions. But do you have any final thoughts as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (23:44):

I actually enjoy the, the speed rounds when we do them, Amy, so I’m looking forward to next week. But I also once again, want to invite our listeners to register for our upcoming webinar on How to Re-Engage Your Church in the Mission. It’s on June 29th, and maybe the mission you’re trying to engage right now is the idea of becoming a multi-generational church. If so, at this free webinar on June 29th, we’ll be talking about how you can rally and equip your church, your entire church, around your mission for a successful relaunch in the fall. So I encourage you to register through the link in your show notes and join us for what’s going to be a really practical conversation.

Sean (24:24):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Like Tony mentioned, we’d love to have you join us on our upcoming webinar on June 29th. To register, download the show notes at theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new conversation. So until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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