Closing Generation Gap Should Be Priority for the Church
PEORIA – Conference Lay Leader Ken Miller offered some advice to the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference on how to bridge a growing generation gap in The United Methodist Church during his laity address June 7.
“I think the most glaring reality is that while the median age of United Methodists is approaching 60 the median age of our culture is 35,” Miller said. “That’s an age gap of nearly two generations between the average United States United Methodist and the local mission field.”
Miller said the gap includes differences in perceptions over spirituality, musical tastes, uses of technology and cultural values. “Our population is becoming increasingly younger and more diverse while our churches, in decline, are becoming older and less diverse,” he said. “Brothers and sisters if we don’t do something to reverse these trends no one else is going to. I think that for far too long we have chosen to ignore and minimize the severity of the trouble we are in. I think that sometimes we view the situation as what we would like it to be rather than what it really is.”
Miller offered the following steps for bringing about a reversal of the current trend:
- We have to want to change. Change cannot come from the outside. It must come from within.
- We have to be willing to listen to our younger brothers and sisters. Let their voices be heard. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone put you down because you are young.”
- We have to develop a clear path and mission. A plan that is outward focused-future oriented and committed to the next generation. “When we are unclear about our purpose and direction we are measuring input rather than outcomes,” Miller said. “Today, most people are seeking more than membership. They are seeking real community-a changed life. We have to answer the question of how are we reaching those people who are touched by loneliness-poverty-violence and racism.”
- We must offer an open hand rather than a closed fist.
- We need to keep God front and center in all that we do and continue to strive to accomplish our mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ. We should put God first, pray for one another, strengthen one another, watch over one another and hold one another accountable in Christ. John Wesley wrote “let us have an especial care to set God always before us.”
Currently, there are 12 million United Methodists in the world. Four million are in Africa; 159,000 in the Philippines; 80,000 in Eurasia and 7.5 million in the United States. The U.S. median age within the church is 57 and women outnumber men, 58 percent to 42 percent.
“So what do we do to change? How do we offer a fresh approach?” Miller asked. “As we work through the rest of this annual conference let us remember that our mission begins and ends in Jesus Christ.”