Nine years ago a task force of 17 people met to establish the vision of West Chester Church of the Nazarene (WCCN). Our community (northern Cincinnati, Ohio) consists of growing suburbs that include every age group. Dominated by younger families, there are still many older people who have lived here for years. When we surveyed the congregation to find out what our people thought were the most important ministries of the church, we were not surprised to find the top two answers were ministry to families - 72 percent, and ministry to children - 69 percent
We are burdened by statistics that speak of young people leaving the influence of the church as they transition from children's ministry to youth ministry, from early youth ministry to senior high, and then the huge drop as students enter the post high school years. Even more alarming are trends that show over 90 percent of young adults abandon their faith by their mid-20s.
Passing Our Passion to Every Generation was a no-brainer for us. We walk a dangerous line trying to reach all age groups but that is who we are. We are a family church. Our worship is a blended service, with all age groups appreciating, and sometimes tolerating, the differences. Purposefully, we began to target specific age groups with ministries.
We hired a pastor to focus on young adults ages 18-30-something. In addition to a college and career class, there are now activities for those beyond their early 20s and for young married couples. We offer small groups and Bible studies on weeknights since many young adults don't want to be part of a Sunday morning class. We also began another Sunday evening worship service targeting this group. Social gatherings and service opportunities are keys to making connections with them. We have seen the most new people enter the church through this ministry.
Traditional youth ministry has been enhanced by a mentoring program. WCCN is blessed with great senior adults. Every youth has been adopted by a senior adult who gets to know and prays for the teen. The youth provide a dinner for the seniors during the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday season, along with game nights where the two groups interact. Some senior adults have celebrated birthdays with their sponsored teens giving cards and gifts. My mother was in the hospital and her teen brought flowers. That is impressive.
Children's ministry is dependent on adult workers, which provides natural relationships for our kids to know the 'big Christians' in the church. We provide ministry opportunities for children to interact with adults and youth. We believe that every age group must engage other age groups for the touches that will influence young people so a living faith will happen. A vital relationship with Christ and personal relationships with other generations will make the difference in a faith that will last.
I'm sure you've been asked, 'Who are the people who have most influenced your life?' The answer is not a president, sports hero, or entertainment celebrity. The key to retaining youth is found in the investment of time by people in your church.
Our desire is to reach all people for Christ and see them grow deep in faith. It will only happen as we are Passing Our Passion to Every Generation.
Bob Mahaffey is pastor of West Chester, Ohio, Church of the Nazarene. He and his wife, Elaine, have three young adult married children and five grandchildren.
Holiness Today, July/August 2011