Generational Challenges? Church Growth Expert says Churches have to Make Hard Choices

Date Posted: 9/12/2019

By Roy Maynard

Pastors and other leaders face a generational challenge, renowned speaker Haydn Shaw says—many churches have five generations of congregants active and involved, and each generation’s needs are unique.

Shaw will lead an event at First United Methodist Church Sugar Land on Saturday, Sept. 28, sharing with churches how to recruit new members, stop turnover and connect with all generations.

“One of God’s greatest gifts is that we are living 30 years longer than people did a century ago,” says Shaw. “It’s also one of our greatest challenges, because churches aren’t adjusting quickly enough.”

Some churches find themselves in a Catch-22 situation; as they try to create and focus on programs for older adults, they lose younger families. And if they focus on families and children, their elders start falling away.

But Shaw counsels churches to not panic.

“I started a church when I was in my 20s, and at the time, the Baby Boomers were dropping out,” Shaw said. “People were freaking out then, the way they’re freaking out now. The good news is that we eventually figured out what to do; we adjusted our worship, we adjusted our sermons. And we were okay.”

Responding to the generational challenge will require making some choices, he said. That’s a big part of what he’ll be discussing on Sept. 28.

“We’re going to help churches think through what has happened, what has changed, and what our options are,” Shaw said. “Can we do it all? Can we reach them all? And here’s the thing—I don’t believe God calls us to do everything.”

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Churches can focus on their core missions—and those missions may be different for different congregations.

“For one church, it may be to stop trying so hard to have a children’s ministry, if its demographics is Baby Boomers,” Shaw explained. “There may be a church down the road that has a great children’s ministry and is attracting all the young families. That’s fine. What you’ve got to do is find what God is calling you to do now.”

And many churches get locked into multi-year plans, and fail to adapt to new conditions.

“Are we working for an old harvest, or for a new one?” Shaw asked. “Work where God has put you, with what He has given you.”

One of the biggest challenges churches face is the unchurched—the growing segment of the population that has no church affiliation, and little interest in developing one. Shaw refers to these as “Nones.”

“What we know about Nones is they’re uncomfortable with church and with church people,” he said. “We have to change that perception through outreach—missions and contact. They’re not going to come to us; we have to go to them.”

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Business leaders are also invited to Shaw’s event at FUMC Sugar Land, because the same principles apply in business—because the challenges are the same.

FUMC Sugar Land is located at 431 Eldridge Road. The event lasts from 9 a.m. to noon (registration starts at 8:30 a.m.); the cost is $10, and childcare will be provided. 

To register, click here: