I recently asked the question on our Replanters social media streams: “What are some of the questions you have about replanting?” We received some fantastic responses that we’ll be addressing here on the blog in the coming weeks.
However, one of the questions asked in that thread – and that I hear on a regular basis – was this: “How do you reach and retain younger families in your church when you have no other young families?” I connect with this question on a deep level because I’ve been the pastor who asked that question and then, by the grace of God, I saw our church begin to reach and retain younger families for a period.
I became a senior pastor at age 29 at a church in a community in rural New Mexico. My wife, Michelle, is five days older than I am. That meant that, for many church gatherings (especially Sunday night), I – as the pastor – was the youngest person in the room. That created an interesting dynamic.
Three and a half years later, we moved to a church around the same size in a community that was more than 10 times the size of where we had just served. While I was no longer the youngest person in the room, I was still one of a handful or so of folks under 40. This time, we were serving in a community with an Air Force base. That meant there was an abundance of younger families and young, single men and women serving in the Air Force. The field was ripe for the harvest!
When I arrived, the church only had a handful of younger folks, and I had no way to get on the base to begin building relationships. So I started praying, “Lord, send us a young couple.” Just a couple of weeks in, we had a young couple who began attending. Then another. Then another one visited (this one even had young children!). I thought to myself, “This is going to be so easy.”
After about a month, I began noticing a pattern, however. Plenty of young couples and young families would visit us on a Sunday morning. Rarely would they return for a second Sunday. So I called one of the couples who visited and set up a meeting with them. What I heard broke my heart: “Pastor, we like you and we like the church, but we want a church with other families with young kids. You don’t have any.”
And it was true. We had a handful of teenagers and a handful of older kids, but we had no babies or toddlers. This particular family was only stationed in our community for a few months, and they wanted to connect with a church where they could fit in immediately. Sadly, that wasn’t us at the time.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, we began to retain some of the young families who visited our church. Through that experience, I learned some lessons that I would love to pass on to you.
Lesson 1: Pray. This may seem obvious, but don’t underestimate the power of prayer. As I said, when I was new to the community, I began simply praying that the Lord would send us a young family. And, over time, He did! Then He sent more. And, over the course of about three years, we slowly grew in young families.
Lesson 2: Prepare. I believed that, if we were to retain young families, we needed to be prepared for them. That meant having some Sunday School teachers in place who knew that for weeks at a time they might not have anyone in class. It also meant having nursery workers ready to go even if there were no babies in the nursery. This may seem silly, but because we were praying for the Lord to send young families, I believed we needed to be prepared for them.
Lesson 3: Pursue. Whenever we had a young couple visit, I would send a handwritten note, an email, a text message or make a phone call (or sometimes all the above) and try to set up a meeting with the husband. When I got that meeting, I would lay out what they already knew to be true: We didn’t have many young families. But then I would share the vision that the Lord laid on my heart for the church, and I would extend an invitation for them to be a part of that vision.
Many did. Some did not. Rather than lose sleep over those who decided to plug into another church, I prayed that God would bless them and the local church they were attending, and I chose to run with those who felt led to come alongside us.
Over the course of about three years, our nursery, which had been empty on most Sundays in the beginning, would have 10 to 15 children under the age of 2! There were Sundays it was crazy, but it was a wonderful crazy!
So, pastor, don’t get discouraged if you’re not currently seeing young families visit or return. You can begin today by praying and preparing, then pursuing those the Lord sends your way!
Published August 11, 2021