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Needed & Known, No Matter Your Age

Posted by Gwen Hattaway on

Prejudices and discrimination happen in the most unlikely places. And, they’re not all based on skin color. Why is it that people in their 40s or older are hesitant or unwilling to join a church that primarily has college students? New Life not only wants older members, they're needed.

“We’ve had people our age tell us the church is too young for them,” said 59-year old member, Anne LeGare, about New Life.

Some mistakenly see New Life (NL) as a college church but it’s more diverse than it may appear at first glance on a Sunday morning. An approximate breakdown of the 300-plus members is:

You may not notice the gray hair that’s diluted among the youth but, it’s there. To label NL as simply a college church is giving it a bum rap. Still, some say they’re not interested in visiting because they want to be with more people in their own age range and NL is not only predominantly young, but it also takes a multigenerational approach to church.

“It would be much easier to segregate everyone in the church so they’re only around people like them. But we believe that the friction that comes from being around people from all walks and seasons of life is part of our sanctification process, and is a great witness to the lost. We’re trying to swim against the current because we believe that’s how we can be most faithful to the Scripture’s teaching. And while some people visit New Life and do not commit to our philosophy of ministry, we’ve found that many people — particularly the younger people — are starving for meaningful relationships with older believers. It’s the older men and women who have pushed back over the years,” said Allen Duty, NL Preaching Pastor.

He wisely reminds believers that there are costs and benefits to being multigenerational. 

One cost can be a sense of isolation.

“I find myself being able to learn from and to serve all ages at NL,” says 59-year-old Debi Stone. “It is nice to have a least of a few who are in the same life stage where you go to church — simply due to shared life circumstances and challenges. Being in the least represented group at a church can be lonely, and sometimes uncomfortable.”

Anne added, “I don’t feel like I am part of the group sometimes, younger folks refer to songs, shared movies, etc. all the time. I rarely know what they are talking about, just as they wouldn’t know my ‘lingo’ and era. Not having common ground can be isolating. I’m not even an Aggie … so that puts me out right away.”

Both Anne and Debi emphasized, several times, that they love NL, the multigenerational worship and that they find the younger members a blessing.

In Thom Rainer’s book, Autopsy of a Dead Church, he says the number one reason a church dies is that it refused to look like the community. College Station has a median age just slightly over 22. And, rightly so, New Life membership reflects the younger population.

“There is life, and fun, and joy, and excitement about God among the college kids that never fails to challenge me and remind me of the impact you can have on students who are figuring out what God is asking of them. I love students, young professionals, young marrieds and all the other age groups represented at NL. When I fight being lonely or discontent, I find myself needing to remind myself of how God brought us here, the blessing of NL and step out and get to work serving together,” said Debi.

“I discourage those who think they can only fellowship and be understood by a peer,” she added. “Some of my sweetest friendships have been with those much younger or older than myself. Our society says our needs should be met. But, scripture teaches about stepping out of our comfort directly into the hard and the not so easy.”

That’s opposite of what the world tells aging adults — that they are entitled to comfort, to retire and to spend the rest of their lives serving themselves. But, they’re needed in church and they’re needed by the younger generation.

D.A. Carson, in a Desiring God article, said, “There is a beauty to seeing ourselves not just in relation to our own generation but in the train of God’s people through the ages spanning generation after generation. We should not only think about receiving the gospel from the generation ahead of us, but also of passing it to the generation after us — and in such a way that they are equipped to pass it on to another generation who will pass it to another.”

“When you ask students why they love New Life, they might mention the music or the preaching or some particular program,” says New Life pastor, Allen Duty. “But nearly all of them will say it’s the relationships they have with older men and women. Again, a lot of them didn’t have Christian parents, so they are hungry for discipleship and mentoring from older people.”

For people to stay at a church, feeling known and needed is important, said Allen. To really get to know each other, join a Life Group.

Get out of your comfort zone and be purposeful in getting to know each other. Work to engage in personal conversations. Really listen. Get to know people spiritually but get to know them in other ways too. Listen to each other’s stories.

“I try to set an example by deliberately going around and meeting people on Sundays who look different than me — older men and women, people from different ethnic backgrounds, people from all walks of life. The second you stop teaching and modeling multigenerational ministry, you start to drift away from it. That’s how strong the current pulls in the direction of homogeneity”, said Allen.

“At New Life, we’re simply trying to be a faithful, biblical church that invites all ages to one and participate in the beautiful, messy life of the local church. And if a lot of college students hear that vision and get excited about it, that’s great. But hopefully, any Christian who is 40, 50 or 75 would also be excited about that vision.”