If you work in a church, I’m sure you’ve heard it before. “Those young people don’t understand the way we do church,” or “Those older people are really holding us back from growth.”
It’s so easy to let our preferences build a gap between us. But today we’re talking about how we can bridge that gap between generations at our church.
Sam DeZeeuw: Why do you guys think, just off the top of your head, why do you think that we have such a gap between generations? Like, what is the root of this problem?
Matt Vollmar: So I just honestly think it’s a lot of it is being comfortable and a lot of it is just how you’ve grown up in the church and your experiences and people having a problem with change. And so I’m trying to be very delicate how I say this. I think we all know we have Jesus in common. Like we all know that. And so sometimes instead of focusing on the most important thing we have in common, which is Christ, we just go to all those random other things of like, well, how do we preach Christ? How do we minister to people? And everybody’s got different ideas that I feel we think are so different. And I don’t think they’re that different at all. That’s, I what my experience has been.
Brian Caringer: I would totally agree with that. I think like, especially in terms of like one of the things that usually gets brought up in that, that gap is music styles. And one of the things that I really find when I look at it is, yeah, the music styles have changed a little bit, but at the same time they’re not a whole lot different from one to the other. So like one service uses in organ, which is essentially like a synthesizer and now in modern times we use a synthesizer. The sounds are a little bit different, but there’s actually probably about 85-90% crossover in sounds that are used. They’re just used in a slightly different way. So you’re filling this space of music with something that’s slightly different. The styles may be a little bit changed, but in reality when you look at the overall, like if you were to go and and look somewhere else in a different country or you know, way back and you know, 1500s or something, then you can look and say, yeah, the music style has changed quite a bit there. But from like right now what most churches are doing, this styles are not a whole lot different. So yeah, we can squabble about, you know, we like electric guitar, we like loud drums or we like in organ. But in the end it does come down to that it’s about Jesus and worshiping Jesus is all about your heart. Put in the right posture and the right place and giving him all of your life.
Matt Vollmar: Can we Amen things on this podcast?
Sam DeZeeuw: But I wonder how much of it too is we’re pointing fingers at problems and we’re pointing fingers at the other generation about those problems that is that at all because maybe we just don’t know that generation very well. Like we don’t know their story where they came from. And a lot of times we don’t even know their name, but we like to point fingers they’re the problem!
Matt Vollmar: Because it’s easier. That’s the easy thing to do. So like if you know somebody, if you really know them, I don’t think you’re as apt to get angry at somebody because I what you just said, I know their story. If I don’t know them, I don’t know where they’re coming from. I don’t know why they feel that way. Another example, hats and church. Okay. It doesn’t bother me if you wear a hat in church. And I would go as far as to say God doesn’t care. However, when I talked to an older person who says, I grew up with a military background and it was a sign of respect to take your hat off around a woman. So now I know that it’s honestly coming from this different place that kinda doesn’t have as much as your church, but I know their story.
Sam DeZeeuw: I grew up knowing this is respect.
Matt Vollmar: Right? And so they look at a young person who wears a hat and where they go to is they don’t respect Jesus. They don’t respect women. That was probably the things. And the young person’s like, “I just like hats.” So I mean…
Brian Caringer: “I don’t like to do anything with my hair in the morning, so I put a hat on.”
Matt Vollmar: Yeah! It could be laziness! But I think what you’ve just said is if we take the time to know people’s stories, I don’t think we’d be as upset about a lot of it.
Brian Caringer: It is a lot easier to respect and to figure out, you know, where is that person coming from? Why are they saying these things? And then to be able to relate with when you know the backstory.
Matt Vollmar: Yes.
Sam DeZeeuw: So how can we get to the point where we do understand those people? One thing that I thought of is encourage intergenerational small groups at our church. We try to intergenerational worship. That might work for some churches. It didn’t seem to work for ours just because of the preference thing. You’re forcing people to like other things that they don’t. But in intergenerational small group where you’re just learning from each other, what do you guys think of that?
Brian Caringer: I think that’s the key, whether you’re talking about a small group, whether you’re talking about a worship service, whatever it is, it’s all about building the relationships. When you get those opportunities in those places where you can build the relationships, that’s where all of that comes out of. That’s where the respect and the understanding comes out of is when you know who someone is and what they’re like, what their story is, what makes them tick. That’s when that relationship is formed and built. And I think that’s one of the respect comes.
Matt Vollmar: And what you said about, so like we tried this at our church and it didn’t seem to work for us. The, you know, bringing the generations together and having that worship service. I don’t like blanket statements. So to say “So that won’t work at your church”, like you said, find what works for your people because there are some places where when I say we have a contemporary service and a traditional service, they look at me like I’m weird because we have a traditional service. In their entire area they go, no one does, no one does traditional services. But then here where we are like in the Midwest, it’s way more common and the splits are more common and honestly probably traditional services without having a contemporary service or more common. So find out what works for you. But it still comes back to relationships.
Sam DeZeeuw: One thing that I found interesting in doing the research for this and when I say research that literally meant going on Google and saying, “How do we bridge the gap between generations?”
Matt Vollmar: But that’s research in today’s society!
Sam DeZeeuw: A lot of those places said start a mentor/mentoree type of ministry or relationship thing happening there. But as I kept digging deeper, this is one of the stats that blew me away. A lot of people said that when they have intergenerational relationships they did not, or at least less than 20% said that they came from a formal program through like a mentor/mentee program. Um, so it seems like that idea doesn’t really work. So it’s almost like we have to start looking at more creative ways to get to these generations to bond.
Brian Caringer: It’s kind of gotta be grassroots like it has to happen organically. You can’t start something and force the, you know, we want these old people and these young people… we want to force them to go mingle and come together and, and you know, form these relationships and then everything is going to be good. It’s like, yeah, no, but it doesn’t really work. A lot of it I think is just based on doing life together. Yeah. Is, that’s what it really comes down to a lot more often is let’s go and let’s just have fun. Let’s go to a movie as a church. Let’s go and do this thing. Let’s have a trivia night, let’s have, you know, whatever else that brings people together. Usually in a social fun setting that allows you to foster those relationships naturally.
Matt Vollmar: Well, because one thing you just talked about, a couple of things we’ve tried. So we did a movie that we all went inside together and if you looked at the ages, it was, it was across all across the board. We did a trivia night that was hosted by the youth. But if you look who came out, it was across the board. And the thing, like I’d say, again, every church is different, but the older people at our church, they love our young people. Like they, they support a financially and not just financially but they loved them. And I think sometimes they’re like, we miss seeing them. So I think that’s something you also have to remember is like when you are splitting for preferences, having those types of things that the walls are kind of down a little bit more because let’s, I mean for whatever reason music is just that hot button thing. So if you like what you like, that’s fine. So I like the stuff you’re talking about. And organic ministries, I never realized the value of that until I started sitting on a couch and talking to people at our church. It wasn’t a Sunday school class, it wasn’t a devotion, it wasn’t anything. It was having a conversation.
Sam DeZeeuw: And I mean going off the same idea, what about having church wide service projects where you all go out into your community and do mission trips? Very mini community mission trips where it’s not age specific because we have these older generation mission projects or they’re all traveling together. We have these youth group mission projects, but not age specific. All of our churches going out. And isn’t that a good way to kind of blending generations
Brian Caringer: Oh absolutely. Serving together? Yeah, there’s a huge, that builds relationships so quickly.
Matt Vollmar: And it gives you an opportunity to talk to each other and find out their story.
Sam DeZeeuw: Another creative way that I thought of. I can’t even say that I thought of. I saw someone else do it. I can’t take all the credit. Having testimonials of different generation, like video testimonials of different generation people, featured in a church service because that goes back to getting to know, getting them to know their stories. You get to hear their backstory, where they came from, you know, the whole hats thing. I understand respect because of this. And um, and having that featured in a church service I think would be super helpful.
Brian Caringer: A great example of that is I help lead on Friday nights for our celebrate recovery group. And, um, our pastor asked us to do a video testimony of this lady who had given her testimony several weeks prior to that about the series he was doing on “Doors” and he was talking about this “revolving door”. This lady had given her testimony about essentially that concept. She didn’t use that word, but he was like, I heard that and it’s gonna fit so well in the sermon. So I got to spend the time with her and her daughter shot this testimony, video, did all of that. And it’s like, I now have such a cool relationship with this lady because I get to sit there and listen to her story as I’m filming, I’m doing my job, but I’m listening to here’s what she did, here’s what she was like, here’s how Christ has changed her life. Here’s the things she went through and, and now it’s every time before it was like, I knew who she was. She was always there for the past, you know, year. Every Friday night I’d see her, but now it’s this, we know each other. We’re friends at this point, Because it wasn’t just I’m going to shoot this video and listen to you and I’m getting out of here. We dialogued during the shooting and got to know each other. So, and that, that was huge. And now it’s like I have this friend because I just was able to sit there and listen.
Matt Vollmar: And you said about testimonial services. One of the most powerful services I’ve been to here was at Thanksgiving. We have a new pastor and he had a new idea and he’s like, I would just like people to stand up and say what they’re thankful for. And we played one song and everyone around the room stood up and just said things that they were thankful for. And it was one of the most powerful services I had been a part of. Because we had an eight year old say I love Jesus and my mom and dad. And then we had a 90 year old say I’m dealing with cancer, but I know God’s going to heal me of it. And it was just people telling their story. And just like seeing different people go, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that. And it brought us together. So back to what you’re saying about communication and talking and knowing where people are coming from.
Sam DeZeeuw: And just having those church wide events that aren’t specific to an age group and something that everyone can be a part of is super valuable. Kind of to wrap this idea up, one statistic that I found very I guess hopeful, uh, when we’re talking about this topic is we kind of feel like churches do a very bad job of having this generational gap. But I feel like this might give us a little hope because of a large group surveyed, some Christians, some non of the Christians, 28% said that they don’t have any sort of relationship with someone outside of their generation. But on the flip side, 41% of non Christians said that they have no relationship with someone outside of their generation.
Sam DeZeeuw: So that might give us a little bit of hope that like, we shouldn’t not focus on this because we are doing better than non Christians, but I mean that does give us a little bit of hope. We’re not doing all that bad.
Matt Vollmar: And I think it’s, we’re just aware of it more. Yeah. You know, I travel all over the country to different denominations to different areas. This is brought up everywhere I go and everybody saying we know it’s an issue, but they’re doing something about it. They’re not just going, well, whatever. Yeah. I think doing that. Right. I think that’s where that why that stat is not as horrible as I all thought it would probably was because people are going, we’re going to be proactive.
Sam DeZeeuw: Yeah, for sure. Well, that will do it for the Smart DeZign Church Today podcast. The very first one might I add?
Matt Vollmar: The inaugural podcast!
Sam DeZeeuw: I like the inaugural! Well, thank you guys so much for being a part of this. First one, make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, whether that’s Google play, Spotify, iTunes, or even YouTube. Make sure to subscribe. All the links to everything we talked about are down in the show notes. Thank you so much for listening to the Church Today podcast, where we help churches communicate the Timeless Gospel in the 21st century. We’ll see you in the next one.