Everyone wants to feel like they belong. As Simon Sinek said, “The most basic human desire is to feel like you belong. Fitting in is important.” You see this in the way we, as humans, seek out companionship and camaraderie through organizations, such as, sports teams, civic clubs, fraternities/sororities and clubs for every kind of leisure activity one can imagine. It starts as young as Little League and continues through every season of life. Many find this through church community.
One place many find this sense of community and belonging is in the church. A study done by the Austin Institute of the Study of Family and Culture found that 45% of the individuals who attend religious services on a weekly basis would identify themselves as “very happy” while only 28% of those that never attend religious services would identify themselves this way. The local church is intended to help fill this basic human need for community.
However the challenge for church leadership is helping members and attendees become engaged in their church. When a member finds a volunteer role or opportunity that he/she enjoys and fits his/her passions, they also begin to establish relationships with other volunteers that evolve into friendships. These relationships bring community, accountability and connectedness. This secondary benefit to becoming involved is exactly what the pastor hopes will happen. Engagement leads to relationships which leads to community.
A church body includes members from many different age groups and finding ways to engage each group can be distinctly different.
1) Involving Children and Youth
Activities that interest children and youth are usually vastly different than volunteer opportunities or social activities that would interest the senior adults. While God speaks and listens to everyone no matter their age or interests, the way a pastor gets each engaged is very different.
Children and youth enjoy being active and having opportunities to serve. Food drives, bake sales, clothing collection and even church clean-up days are excellent ways to teach young people the intrinsic reward of helping others while creating a culture of service. The difficult part can be gaining the commitment of their parents or guardians to bring them to attend.
2) Communicating with Millennials or Gen Y’s
A common way to engage Millennials or Gen Y’s is through social media. Their strong presence on social media creates almost constant opportunities to communicate information, cast vision and create community. Many will initially only engage online through forums and conversations, but these can evolve into “real life” relationships and eventually physical attendance and engagement.
It is easy for many Gen X pastors and church leaders to initially dismiss a church’s presence on social media as inconsequential; but it is by far the most significant way that Millennials communicate and obtain information. Twitter and Instagram are two easy places to post pictures of church events and allow for communication and questions.
3) Engaging Gen X’s
Gen X members may be the most difficult to engage. They usually are not only balancing their own schedules, but those of their family members as well. At times the best way they feel they can participate in church life during this season is through monetary donations. In addition, providing volunteer opportunities through many different focuses is beneficial for this group, such as, children’s ministry, holiday serving times, food drives, special events, greeting team, taking meals to members, and so much more.
Allowing Gen Xers to be involved not necessarily every Sunday, but at individual events as they have time, creates positive experiences while not creating a culture of guilt or expectation. These members will also be the backbone of the lay leadership roles in a church, so giving encouragement and showing appreciation for their service is so essential. They will be the ones inviting their neighbors and friends to become involved as well.
The Gen X’s are often the parents of the youth and children in the church and they are working to not only be involved themselves but also have their children involved. This is where social media and a strong church website can be beneficial. When the information needed for being involved in an event can be found on the website or facebook page, this increases the likelihood of attendance and decreases unanswered questions. Keeping online information updated is vital.
4) Encouraging the Elderly or Retired
Elderly or retired church members are also an important group that desire engagement. They have much to offer each age group in the church. They usually have a bit more time on their hands and long to be involved and give back. Some may be newly retired and welcome the chance to do part-time volunteer roles. They come with experience and life knowledge, which should be valued. It is important to communicate with this group differently and they tend to appreciate phone calls and bulletins in the mail.
The beauty of a church body is the diversity in age and seasons of life. The leadership has the privilege and challenge of working to not only engage this wide range of membership, but also build relationship. Engagement that leads to relationships is the goal. Whether these members serve one time, give weekly, or volunteer every Wednesday night the hope is that engagement leads to relationships and results in community. That is success.
How do you communicate with the members of your church body?