“How do we get younger people in our church? How do we engage Millennials and Gen Z?”
These are vital questions for all of us. Millennials, Gen Z, and younger, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are the future of Kingdom expansion on the face of the earth until Jesus returns.
We are not talking here about propping up dying institutions; instead, we are seeking ways to pass on the faith in Jesus Christ that has been delivered to us. The word “tradition’ stems from the Latin word traditio and tradere which means to pass on to, like the passing of a baton in a race or the transference of legal authority.
We are talking here about passing on LIFE in abundance found in Jesus Christ alone. The other option is decay and death. Like Moses we are imploring the next generation to “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30: 19-20).
In order for the next generation to choose life, it is vital that the older generations choose life.
As an evangelist, I spend a good deal of my time leading workshops which equip and ignite the church to engage in evangelism. For the past few years, my workshops have been packed with people over 60 and many in their 80s. Often, I would go home praying for God to send me younger people—people whom I thought could “do more ministry” and “make more of an impact for Christ.”
God has indeed sent me more Millennials, but perhaps even more importantly, the Lord has shown me the unique and vital plan he has for retirees. God is raising up an army of Baby Boomers and older believers who are strategically living longer for such a time as this!
Approximately 10,000 baby-boomers retire each day in America. This is over 3.5 million people annually. According to the U.S. Government, most people live on average 20 years after retirement.
The U.S. Census estimates that people over 65 will outnumber those under the age of 18 years by 2035. From a human point of view, we can chalk this up to medical advances. However, missiologists, those who study God’s mission in the world, see God giving the length of days to older people for his Kingdom purposes.
I would like to highlight three purposes God has for seniors in the work of evangelism: witness, wisdom, and work.
The average person encounters three new people on a daily basis. Over the course of “retirement,” a believer could reach over 21,000 people as he or she intentionally and missionally goes about day to day life, from the grocery store to a doctor visit and everything in between.
Many Americans under 65 years of age, are consumed by the time constraints of work and family life.
Retirees not only have more hours in the day, but greater quality time and the capacity to truly be present with others. One of the most powerful ways Jesus revealed himself to people was to see people (think Zacheus in the tree), listen to people (think the woman at the well), ask questions of people (consider Nicodemus), and eat with people (consider Matthew).
Those over 65 have more time to spend engaging people, being present, and in this, being and showing the love of Jesus. Growing up in a small Texas town, we had all ages at our family meals. My favorite dinner companion was a 96-year-old who always had time to listen to my newest ideas.
Americans are lonelier than ever at any time in our history. One of the greatest ways Christians can love our lonely and hurting world is to give people time and presence.
Proverbs 3:13 says, “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” One of the greatest gifts “retirees” can provide others is lessons learned from life. Job stated it well: “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long-life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).
During my 20s, a wonderful woman of God met with me weekly to discuss scripture. Over a lunch hour we looked at Bible passages together and discussed how they applied to daily life. Irene totally changed my life.
When I speak with retirees, they often say, “I am too old; young people do not want to spend time with me.” Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Generation Z (born between 1996-2010) are statistically the loneliest generation. Author of The Passion Generation, Millennial leader Grant Skeldon said his generation is desperate for the older generation to give them time:
When I ask older people, ‘Do you feel qualified to disciple someone?’ people usually will say no. But if I say, ‘Do you have someone younger you feel like you’re spiritually a step ahead of?’ the answer almost always is ‘yes.’ Older generations can say, ‘God’s perfect, but he still loves me even when I fall over and over. You’ll fall too, but I’m going to try to help you fall less than I did.’ One of the greatest gifts you can give is letting other people learn from your mistakes.
The truth is that Christians never retire. Until our last breath, God has work for us to do. Some of my recent heroes of the faith had vital ministries until late in life: the great Bishop and theologian Lesslie Newbigin, who shaped missiology perhaps more than any other in this century, didn’t start writing most of his books until after the age 65, with his last at age 93. My mentor, the evangelist Michael Green, preached the gospel doing university missions until his late 80s and even led people to Christ on his deathbed at age 90.
Some lesser known heroes of mine, but no less impactful, were a group of retirees in Los Angeles whose church became surrounded by night clubs. Instead of leaving their church like most older people in the area, they decided to engage their changing neighborhood.
On Friday and Saturday nights, 60-80-year-olds took a little cart with cookies and hot chocolate and invited clubbers to church. Where other churches in the area died, this church is thriving to this day in Hollywood.
Of course, the greatest work any follower of Jesus can do is to pray, and this work can be done any age. Right now, I have a team of 80-year-olds who travel with me and/or pray for me over the phone.
God is keeping the older generation alive to pray and intercede for us. My primary ministry partner is an 81-year-old mighty prayer warrior. We go everywhere together and are having the time of our lives.
She teaches me so much by her presence. When she feels ill, she prays from her bed. As she draws close to Jesus, so do I. God promises, “Then if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
We need ALL generations! If you are breathing, God has work for you to do until he takes you home. If you are over 65 years of age, these next years could be your most significant and joyful yet.