By Sean Johnson
Josiah enjoyed eggs, hash browns, sausage, and a liberal bowl of strawberries, as he intently watched the e-mail icon on his iPad. Pastor Johnson’s last blog post brightened his countenance, and he looked forward with great anticipation to continuing the discussion of maintaining community while building a multi-generational congregation. How did Soul-Winning do it? Can it be done at South Haven Church? The waitress placed another steaming cup of coffee in front Josiah, and before he could take a sip, “Bing!” Up popped the second blog post from Sean G.L. Johnson, associate pastor of Soul-Winning Church of God, with the subject line, “Four (More) Keys To Establishing Soul-Winning Church of God as a Multigenerational Congregation: Part Two.”
Last week, we looked at four areas I identified as needing attention to correctly establish Soul-Winning Church of God (SWCHOG) as a multigenerational congregation. I shared SWCHOG’s Value Statement, which acts as our compass as we navigate this continuous process. You were privy to our Break Bread Week, designed to help us build bridges to God for the unchurched. We spent a good amount of time discussing how encouraging small group participation is a catalyst for numeric growth. And creating community within the community was our final discussed key.
As any congregation seeks to transform into a multigenerational church, leadership must keep an eye on unity, the cornerstone of community. Dr. Robert Whitesel suggests that measuring unity is subjective; however, an analysis of common identity, shared goals, and church-wide vision (Whitesel, R., 2000, p. 208).
I found, as SWCHOG continuous in establishing and executing a multigenerational model for growth, there were four keys to building community: valuing discipleship and evangelism equally, doing more than teaching, seizing discipleship opportunities, and employing technology for ministry.
Valuing Discipleship and Evangelism. Churches make the mistake of labelingthemselves as a teaching church, or a fellowship with an evangelistic focus, or a congregation that makes disciples. Dr. Jerry Root, of Wheaton College, suggests that asking, “Why must evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand?” is like asking, “What came first, the chicken or the egg? (Root, J., May 2007). Christ commanded us to do both those activities in Matthew 28:17–20, and they are not mutually exclusive, but interdependent (NKJV). You must evangelize to make disciples!
SWCHOG evaluated our evangelistic and discipleship approach, and concluded that small groups was simply the most effective strategy for these two critical, interdependent activities. Each small group is an “engagement opportunity” (see Part One) for the congregants and the unchurched.
Mark Howell suggests a church should have easy, obvious, and strategic small groups (Howell, M., September 30, 2014). For example, SWCHOG is establishing a class for new members. The class for new members has a diversity of maturity levels, but the purpose of the class is to provide an overview of the Christian faith, what you can expect from SWCHOG, what is expected of you as a member, a preview of engagement opportunities, and other pertinent information.
At the end of the new members’ class, individuals are sent to a Sunday small group with content that matches their maturity level. As individuals participate in these small groups, the ultimate goal is for them to be disciples who can make disciples.
Do More Than Teach. “You impress people from afar, but you impact their lives up close.” David A. Cunningham, Sr., senior pastor of Soul-Winning, is fond of reminding the community of believers that we cannot teach anyone to observe what Christ taught us to observe if we are untouchable and they never have an opportunity to observe us.
Hospital and prison visitations, delivering grocery to a senior and similar engagement opportunities are viewed just as critically as educational opportunities at SWCHOG. “The pastor’s job is to equip—or teach—the saints for the work of the ministry or to serve. So teaching that does not produce acts of service both inside the church and out is simple an academic exercise” (Cunningham, C., March 9, 2015).
Seizing Discipleship Opportunities. The sevenfold inspired ministry found in Titus 2:4–5 is an essential biblical foundation for multigenerational engagement opportunities (NKJV). SWCHOG has developed three promising, easy-to-execute discipleship opportunities. First, our mentoring effort is connecting the younger generation with the older—men with men, and women with women. Mature, seasoned men and women gain the opportunity to speak into the lives of young boys and girls. Dennis Kidd, senior pastor of Front Street Church of God, states “Discipleship isn’t just knowledge. It’s also about gaining perspective. And perspective only comes through life experience” (Kidd, D, March 7, 2015).
Second, we encourage seniors to “adopt” a college student. A college student, living far away from home and dealing with some pretty daunting challenges, is ripe for discipleship! We have found the overwhelming experience of college can open a young person’s mind to wisdom and input that they may not have been open to previously. And often the blessings for the seniors is in the companionship found in a “new” child.
Lastly, SWCHOG’s couple ministry has developed informal mentorships between the folks who are veterans of marriage (married for at least fifteen years) and those who are still navigating matrimony (married for fewer than fifteen years). These particular engagement opportunities strength the core of the church, because “as the family goes, so goes the church” (Cunningham, D., March 9, 2015).
Technology Tools. The church must speak up in the digital space or no voice will be present there. While I don’t think the church needs to adopt every new technology that comes along, an objective examination of what is available, while seeing how it can be used to further the Great Commission and reach new people, is wholly appropriate.
Whatever technology tools are employed, they need to focus on driving engagement with diverse audiences. The right tools can help you know how to gather intelligence on your audience in a much more intimate fashion. Once the intelligence has been gathered, it can help you tailor communications to an audience based on that intelligence. When you are more purposeful about what you communicate, people respond in far greater numbers (NH Communiqué, 2011).
SWCHOG has lagged in this particular aspect of building community. We have invested in three primary pieces of technology: a mixer board to produce audio CDs of weekly worship celebrations and other essential events; and a video camera to produce DVDs of the aforementioned events. There is a need to reinvest in the church website and add a store for donating to receive audio/visual files of messages.
Our deficiencies in this area spring from a lack of human capital. We simply don’t have anyone who can consistently develop, distribute, and monitor digital content. As personnel are identified, SWCHOG will embark upon a digital engagement journey.
I’m confident that, as you begin to steer you ministry into the vibrant waters of multigenerational strategy, you, your congregants, and your surrounding community will prosper for the kingdom. Godspeed!
Josiah leaned back in the booth, giving himself a chance to digest his breakfast and the spiritual nourishment he’d just consumed. His mind was full and satisfied. “This is doable at South Haven,” he thought. Then he smiled and chuckled to himself. He had the topic for the leadership summit he was planning for late summer: “Eight Keys to Establishing South Haven Church as a Multigenerational Congregation.”
Whitesel, R. & Hunter, K. (2000) House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Root, J. (2007) “Why Must Evangelism and Discipleship Go Hand in Hand?” Retrieved from http://www.lausanneworldpulse.com/themedarticles-php/717/05-2007
Thomas Nelson Publishers (1982) New King James Version
Howell, M. (2014) “5 Ingredients That Build Pervasive Community in Your Church,” Retrieved from http://pastors.com/5-ingredients-build-pervasive-community-church/
Cunningham, D. (March 9, 2015). Personal Interview.
Kidd, D., (March 7, 2015). Personal Interview.
New Horizons Computer Learning Centers NH Communiqué (February 2011). Printed Co. Newsletter.