Indeed, every church struggles with the challenge
of passing on the meaning of the faith
to each succeeding generation.
– George Hunter III (1)
At birth, a church is usually full of vibrant characteristics, innovative initiatives, committed participation, and passionate vision for reaching neighborhoods with the message of Jesus. The founding generation of a church invests much of its time, social activity and money into making the new congregation a growing, dynamic faith community that impacts the people around them. But typically, as these new churches and the people within them grow older, the initial missional momentum that so defined their existence tends to diminish. As a church community ages, innovation can evolve into an entrenchment of structure, risk-taking can develop into protectionism, and shared vision can fragment into competing outlooks of direction. Over time, a local church can struggle to …
…actively engage with the rapidly changing communities and culture around them. Among the older members in these churches distrust can develop towards for the younger generations, who are generally more highly influenced by trends in culture, and who are generally less experienced in life than the older generations. Likewise, younger generations can experience frustrations with the scope of ministry owned by the older members. As a result, over time generational tensions can develop that strain against the original optimism of the founding members. If generational tensions increase, the purpose of a local church can tend to focus upon maintenance rather than vision, the ministry can tend to become segmented rather than inter-connected, and the traditions can tend to become rigid rather than adaptive. Gradually, perhaps even unnoticeably, many churches that once could have been described as vibrant, outgoing, or laden with potential gradually become imbalanced bureaucracies that cater to either the aging preferences of their founders or the youthful appeals of emerging generations.
Every generation, younger or older, seeks a voice and a belonging in a local community. Unfortunately, in North America there seems to be a struggle to transfer ownership of ministry leadership to successive generations. The voice of one particular generation often becomes the sole proprietor of the workings of a church and fails to lend an opportunity of influence to others. In such churches there is an inevitable breakage in the lineage of faith. It is no wonder, then, that many young adults find themselves uninspired by the ecclesial expression and commitment of their inherited churches. In fact, the generational divisions in the local church seem to be a growing reality in North America. More and more, the emerging generations in the United States and Canada are rejecting a pattern whereby faith would be transferred to them from the prior generations.