Our church is typical of many established, small town churches. Three years ago, our congregation was made up mostly of older adults. Of course, older adults are the backbone of many congregations. They provide a higher-than-average amount of financial support, they attend with above-average faithfulness, and they love their church.
Our senior adults are wonderful, and they realized that for our church’s future we needed to reach out to younger adults and young families. But the mass mailings we had tried did not produce new visitors. To add to our difficulty, the region in which we live has been in an economic downturn for several years. Few jobs exist for younger adults, and few young families were moving to our area.
But three years ago we started a younger adult Sunday School class with about 5 younger adults. I’m using the term “younger” because age is a relative thing. We needed to reach folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, but we weren’t going to do that all at once. We believed that if we started lowering the age-range, we would eventually reach young families with young children.
Yesterday at our church-wide covered-dish lunch, 12 children were running around the fellowship hall while the adults finished eating and talking. Six of the 12 were preschoolers; 5 are elementary schoolers; and, 1 is a middle schooler. These are our class members’ children. As the sound of giggles and laughter bounced around the room, all of us were glad to see children playing around us, again.
Our class also had a record attendance yesterday with 19 present. A couple of our class members were out, so the number could have been higher. These younger adults have already begun taking leadership positions. One was elected a deacon last year, another takes a turn once a month leading our children’s time during worship, and 6 of the class members are leading our new Family Ministry Team.
Three years ago we started with five. Now there are over 20. Our class with their children now account for 20-30% of our attendance each week.
Starting a new class or small group isn’t glamorous, and it’s not a new idea. But, starting a new class is a strategy that works. I remember years ago Lyle Schaller, author and church consultant, saying “new people need new groups.” If you want to attract new people to your church, start a new class, be patient, practice hospitality, and watch as the group grows and matures. Small groups are still the building blocks of small churches.