The word “remain” comes from the Greek word meno meaning: to stay, continue, endure, be present. Earlier in John 15, Jesus called His disciples to bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit (John 15:2,5). God calls us to be productive in the kingdom. But what’s the use of bearing fruit if it does not remain?
A few years ago, having learned about a troubling nationwide trend, we stepped out in faith and made some ministry methodology changes. The trend that continues to this day is that the American church is losing more young people than it is keeping. The church is bearing fruit, but has a retention problem.
With much prayer and research, we moved forward and sacrificed the “sacred cow” of old methodology in our pursuit of a better method. Actually, the old methodology isn’t that old. It’s rather new, dating back to the mid-twentieth century. The new methodology isn’t that new. It dates back some two-thousand years to the birth of the Church.
Was it an easy transition? No. Did we encounter some loss? Yes. Are we seeing good signs? Yes, again!
In the mid-twentieth century, church growth experts began offering advice on how to build bigger churches (Intergenerational Christian Formation, p41). The advice centered around a few key thoughts. First, build exciting children’s and youth ministries. This growth strategy reasoned that if children have fun in children’s church and if teenagers have their own “church within a church,” then parents are free to focus on their personal needs and more families will come as a result. Families will go their separate ways the moment they walk through the door, but at least they will be in the same building or on the same property.
This strategy is less than one-hundred years old and is already showing signs of trouble. In spite of the age-segregated/specialized ministries, we are losing the overwhelming majority of our young people upon High School graduation. Interestingly, this method of ministry is still viewed as the desired model. It was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Another growth strategy is based on the American idea of individualism (“I did it my way!”). This strategy encourages the development of multiple services and ministries based on individual interests and preferences. So the youth group can worship to loud music and flashing lights. Another age group can enjoy their contemplative and yet technologically savvy style. Another group can worship to old-time rock-n-roll. And yet another age group can sing traditional hymns and Bill Gaither songs. All this while the children are far removed in a sound-proof room singing “Father Abraham” for the 100th time (Intergenerational Christian Formation, p42).
The unintended consequence of these strategies is the separation of the generations and a fragmented church. Rather than being concerned with what is best for the community of believers, the focus is centered on what is best for the individual or particular age group.
While these strategies enjoyed a measure of immediate success, the nagging question of retention and long-term results is looming. Are we keeping our young people? Is the church a community of believers, or has it become a cloister of special interest and age-segregated groups?
We do not claim to have all the answers. Neither do we project our convictions on other churches who chose different methodologies of ministry. God bless them! We are also aware of the fact that methods of ministry can change to a degree over time, while the message remains timeless. However, we cannot get away from the words of Jesus, “that your fruit should remain.” Apparently, we are not alone. More and more churches are waking up to the need, and more authors are doing research and writing on the subject of multigenerational ministry.
What it comes down to is this. At River of Life, we want to bear much fruit and we want that fruit to remain. If a certain method worked for the majority of Church history, and a relatively new method appears to be at least partially responsible (if not completely) for the situation we are in today….you do the math.
Pastor Todd Weston