5 ways to make an aging congregation younger

It is one of the top three requests for help we get at Church Answers: “Our church membership continues to get older. What do we do?” 

The members and leadership see the handwriting on the wall. One church leader with whom I spoke just two days ago summarized their challenge. Ten years ago the church’s median age of church members was 42. Today it is 74. One-half of the church members are 74 years old and older.

Many of the younger members left for a variety of reasons. They have not been replaced with similar age members. The congregation is getting older rapidly. The leader with whom I spoke said his church would not be able to sustain itself financially within three or four years.

Is there a solution to this challenge? Based upon some great insights from church leaders, I do indeed see how God is working to move the aging church forward. Here are the five most common responses we have gotten at Church Answers:

1. Don’t default to hiring someone to make the church younger. Some aging churches have the financial ability to add staff. And some of those churches think the solution is hiring a family minister, a youth minister, a children’s minister, or some combination of the three. It never works. It is a clear indicator the laity have given up doing the work of ministry and have resorted to “hired hands.” It’s ineffective. Even more, it’s unbiblical.

2. Look to the strengths and the gifts of the older congregants. One pastor with whom I spoke said he gathered together about 25 of the older adults in his church. He asked a simple question: What abilities and gifts do you have to connect with younger people? He was amazed at the results and the energy in the room. That one meeting became a launching point for many efforts by these older adults to reach beyond the walls of the church.

3. Find places where older adults can connect naturally with younger people. One senior adult became involved in an ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry. Another older adult became a math tutor. One senior adult in the church owned three local fast-food restaurants. He became highly intentional about connecting with the teenagers and young adults he hired.

4. Pray for opportunities to reach younger people and families. Another pastor shared his church’s initial success at getting younger. They simply prayed for opportunities to connect with younger people. As they prayed, the opportunities came. As they prayed their eyes opened to those opportunities.

5. Get outside eyes to make your church aware of opportunities. One of the elements I value most in church consultation is the fresh set of eyes it offers. Sometimes, a new perspective can be paradigmatic in moving the church toward reaching more young people. Let us know if we can help by contacting us at [email protected].

Hear me clearly. An older church is not an inferior church. Older Christians have much to offer in both wisdom and experience. But if a church’s membership ages rapidly, the congregation is indeed in danger of losing its effectiveness, and potentially seeing its doors close.

Can an older congregation become younger? Absolutely.

And it’s an incredible story of God’s grace and power when we see it take place.

Originally published at Church Answers 

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Rainer has written over 30 books, including three that reached number one bestseller: I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and Simple Church. His new book, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation, is available now.

Megachurch leader who allegedly made sex videos with minors to face trial in September

Naasón Joaquín García. | La Luz Del Mundo

Naason Joaquin Garcia, the controversial leader of the 5 million-member Light of the World, who’s accused of multiple sex crimes, including making sex videos with minor girls from his flock, will go on trial in Los Angeles on Sept. 27.

An attorney from the California attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, expects the trial could last about five to seven weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, had argued during a hearing Monday that he was “not prepared to announce ready for trial” due to discovery issues and asked for “a little bit more time.” Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen set a date for his trial nevertheless and ordered his alleged accomplice, Susana Medina Oaxaca, to also appear in court for trial.

The 51-year-old megachurch leader, who is considered by his followers to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, was arrested in the summer of 2019 at the Los Angeles International Airport. In a release that also highlighted the criminal complaint against Garcia, other individuals associated with the church, including Oaxaca, now 26, were named as co-defendants. Alondra Ocampo and Azalea Rangel Melendez round out the list of Garcia’s co-defendants.

Garcia and his co-defendants were charged with human trafficking, production of child pornography, forcible rape of a minor, and other felonies committed between 2015 and 2019.

A group of girls were told that if they went against Garcia’s desires, “they were going against God,” according to the criminal complaint. Children were allegedly told to perform “flirty” dances for García while wearing “as little clothing as possible.” García also once gave a group of children “a speech about a king having mistresses and stated that an apostle of God can never be judged for his actions,” the complaint adds.

State law enforcement officer and forensic examiner Steven Stover testified in 2019 about a video found on an iPad seized from Garcia, which allegedly shows the church leader having a threesome with a woman and an underage male.

Stover also testified that he found child pornography on an iPhone taken from Garcia. One video found on the phone shows females “of a very young age” performing sexual acts.

Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges against him at the time and was slapped with a $50 million bail, believed to be the highest ever imposed in L.A. County. He is now being held in lieu of a $90 million bail, the LA Times reported, even as some of his followers have maintained that he is “100% innocent.” 

In a statement released on the church’s Facebook page Monday, officials noted: “To our sisters and brothers around the world: We inform you about the outcome of the hearing this day. We trust that righteousness will prevail, for the truth is this: The [a]postle of Jesus Christ Naason Joaquín Garcia is innocent, his integrity is known to millions of people.”

Ocampo, who is also being held without bail, pleaded guilty to four counts Oct. 13, 2020. These include three counts of contact with a minor for a sexual offense, involving three Jane Does, and one count of forcible sexual penetration, involving a fourth Jane Doe, the LA Times said. Oaxaca, who claimed to be innocent of the charges against her, has been released on bail.

California lifts ‘mandatory’ COVID-19 capacity limits for churches

Demonstrators holding signs demanding their church to reopen, protest during a rally to re-open California and against extending Stay-At-Home directives on May 1, 2020, in San Diego, California. | Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

California will no longer require houses of worship to adhere to capacity limits, changing its COVID-19 gathering policies after multiple Supreme Court rulings have gone against the state.

In an update made Monday to the state’s COVID-19 website, under the category of “Places of worship and cultural ceremonies,” California’s Department of Public Health changed the language on capacity limits from “mandatory” to “strongly recommended.”

“In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended,” the website explains. “The linked guidance is in the process of being updated. All other restrictions in the guidance remain in place.”

The listed standards vary on a tier system based on county infection rates. For the strictest category, known as “widespread” or “purple,” indoor worship is “strongly discouraged and should be limited to 25% of capacity.”

For the lowest tier of concern, known as “minimal” or “yellow,” indoor worship and other activities are recommended with a 50% capacity.

Also, singing and other musical activities involving voices “are permitted subject to the restrictions” listed in each tier category of infection.

For example, the purple tier says singers “must wear face coverings at all times” when indoors, be no more than 10 in number and “maintain at least 12 [feet] of physical distance from other performers and 24 feet of physical distance from visitors or congregants.”

After the conservative legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel filed a request for an emergency injunction on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest Rock International Ministry, the government assured Monday that “mandatory limits on attendance are no longer imposed on houses of worship.”

“After five reprimands from the U.S. Supreme Court, Governor Gavin Newsom has finally dropped his draconian restrictions on churches,” Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver said in a statement.

“While we are happy that all churches and houses of worship no longer have any restrictions, Liberty Counsel will continue our case in the Ninth Circuit in order to make sure this tyranny and abuse never happens again.”

The Center for American Liberty, a law firm that filed multiple lawsuits against California over the various worship restrictions, celebrated the update.

Center founder and CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon said that she believes Newsom “should have done this a long time ago” in a statement to The Daily Wire.

“For over a year, the state of California has targeted the faith community for discriminatory treatment depriving them of their fundamental right to worship,” stated Dhillon.

“It shouldn’t take a decision from the Supreme Court, much less five decisions, for Gov. Newsom to realize that what he has been doing is unconstitutional.”

California has been the subject of much litigation filed by several churches and other religious groups over its gathering restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Last Friday, in Tandon v. Newsom, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision granting injunctive relief to Rev. Jeremy Wong and other plaintiffs. They sought to hold in-home worship events attended by more than three households.

“… government regulations are not neutral and generally applicable, and therefore trigger strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause, whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” stated the court’s decision.

“It is unsurprising that such litigants are entitled to relief. California’s Blueprint System contains myriad exceptions and accommodations for comparable activities, thus requiring the application of strict scrutiny.”

Justice Elena Kagan authored a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. She insisted that the state already treated religious and secular entities equally.

“California limits religious gatherings in homes to three households. If the State also limits all secular gatherings in homes to three households, it has complied with the First Amendment,” wrote Kagan.

“And the State does exactly that: It has adopted a blanket restriction on at home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike. California need not, as the per curiam insists, treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons.”

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John Piper’s son Abraham Piper skewers evangelicals as his star rises on TikTok

A screenshot of Abraham Piper’s popular TikTok page. | TikTok/Abraham Piper

Abraham Piper, an artist and son of desiringGod.org founder and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minnesota, John Piper, is a rising star on the social network TikTok for his irreverent and quirky videos on a random mix of subjects, including growing up evangelical.

In video snippets on his evangelical upbringing, such as his Christian education, Abraham Piper, whom his father revealed in 2012 had become an unbeliever at the age of 19, has attracted a following of almost a million followers as of Monday evening after posting his first video in November. His videos have also amassed nearly 15 million likes.

“What is something they told you in school which you found out was a complete lie?” a fan asked of Piper in one video.

“In a real class at a school that charged real money to parents to give their kids a real education, I was taught that the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin all had satanic messages in their music. But this was the ’90s — 25, 30 years after these bands were in their prime,” he said with wincing sarcasm.

“So let’s say my teachers were telling us the truth and it wasn’t just fear-mongering propaganda from another little ‘ministry’ hiding out in Colorado. Why didn’t the devil have anything new to tell us? Shouldn’t we have gotten that demonic head nod from Green Day or Nirvana? Maybe Garth Brooks?” he asked. “Anyhow, these lessons took place between teaching us how to defend Young Earth Creationism and protect ourselves from secular humanism which, in case you didn’t know, is the root cause of every single atrocity that took place in the 20th century, if you went to my high school.”

John Piper speaks at the Cross for the Nations Conference on Dec. 29, 2020. | Cross for the Nations 2020

In another video posted early last month, he responded to an accusation that he was “attacking Christianity.”

“Is one of my themes attacking Christianity? No. I don’t attack Christianity. I berate evangelicalism. Fundamentalism. It’s a destructive narrow-minded worldview. And one of the most destructive, narrow-minded aspects of it is that its adherents feel as if they are the entirety of Christianity rather than the tiny sliver of it that they actually are,” he argued.

“Evangelicalism is a toddler tradition that’s cousins with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and the snot-nosed little sibling of mainline Protestant denominations. So yes, I’m out here saying that fundamentalism is bizarre anti-intellectual bulls–t. But that’s not me attacking Christianity. Christianity is a big family. I’m just saying that one of the kids is being kind of a brat. And most of the rest of the family agrees,” he added.

Abraham Piper shares other glaring videos online, including suggestions that the Bible says having kids isn’t a good idea, advice for doubting evangelical kids who still live with their parents, and Bonkers Bible stories. He also confesses that memorizing the Bible was not worth it for him.

Groups like the newly formed Mid-Ohio Valley Atheists & Humanists had high praise for his content: 

“I follow @abrahampiper on TikTok and he’s amazing. I identify with a big part of his journey away from Christianity,” a statement from their Twitter account noted Monday.

Four years after Abraham Piper was excommunicated from his father’s church for turning away, he returned to the faith and was restored. He later walked away from his faith again and has not returned to it since.

Taylor Brown, a New Testament Ph.D. student at Baylor University opined on his dislike for both Pipers in a comment on Twitter Monday: “Abraham Piper seems just as bad as his dad with saying dumb stuff but just in an insufferable exvangelical way instead of an insufferable hyper-Calvinist way.”