10 Ways to Connect with Older Congregations
By: Lane Sebring
My church has two Sunday services. The earlier service is a more traditional worship environment. This service tends to be attended by an older demographic. From my experience of preaching this service I have made some observations about preaching to older crowds:
1. Older crowds are way more receptive to young preachers than you might think.
Sometimes when I preach about a topic that I don’t think they’ll be comfortable with (social issues and vices), they surprise me with how positively they respond to it.
2. They appreciate straight-forward, tell-it-like-it-is kind of preaching.
If you don’t hold back, but just really give it to them, they’ll like it. As long as you’re not a young, know-it-all jerk about it. They’ve been around long enough to see through that stuff.
3. If you are funny, humor works with older crowds.
If you’re funny, they’ll laugh at your jokes. But not all of them. You’re speaking to a different generation so you have to learn what makes them laugh. Humor can be a great way to disarm them toward you and establish common ground. If you’re not funny, learn to be.
4. You get the added benefit of them squeezing your cheeks afterward.
They think you’re cute and sweet. It’s flattering.
5. Older crowds are super encouraged when they see a young person who loves Jesus.
Nothing brings more joy to older faithful people than seeing younger faithful people serving Christ. Don’t underestimate the blessing you could be to an older person just by ministering to them through your sermon.
6. Ask your grandparents for appropriate pop-culture references.
We have two services. The later one is more modern and has a younger demographic. When teaching a passage in Ecclesiastes at this service about Solomon’s extravagant living I talked about how Solomon had Beyonce and Jay-Z performing at his house parties. This probably wouldn’t have worked at the earlier service. Talking about Elvis performing might have. References to the Andy Griffith show work fine too.
7. Older people appreciate authenticity like everyone else.
Don’t try to become someone you’re not for them. If you’re young, be young. If you’re passionate, be passionate. If you’re conversational, be conversational. You’re the most effective when you are truly you. Unless you stink, in which case you should work to improve (that’s what this blog is for – keep reading:).
8. If you’re going to be biblical in a way that confronts tradition, walk them through it.
All of us come to the table with presuppositions. It’s just that the older folks have had more decades to let theirs brew. This is why if you are going to preach something that defies tradition but is still biblical, then you need to acknowledge their hesitations and walk them through it.
I preached a sermon on what the Bible teaches on alcohol. I knew that a lot of the older crowd believed it’s a sin for a Christian to drink in any amount in any context. This idea is not biblical, but it is held strongly by some. So, I kept that in mind and navigated them through a more biblical approach. As I challenged assumptions, I acknowledged the tension in the room and the difficulty of abandoning strongly held beliefs.
9. Believe it or not, preaching on sex to an older crowd is a big hit.
It feels kind of like talking about sex with your grandparents, but if you can get over that it works.
I gave a sermon on sex as part of a series we were doing on marriage and family. I thought the earlier service would be offended that we were addressing it so upfront and honestly. To my surprise, they responded well. I got lots of great feedback from older people who said they wished the church would have talked about this stuff forty years ago.
10. Like any other situation, you need to be faithful to God’s Word and approach it with lots of prayer and preparation.
Preaching is supernatural. If God is glorified and people are pointed to Jesus, then it’s a win no matter the age of the crowd – or the age of the preacher.
What have you found helpful when preaching to older crowds? If you’re older, what do you want to hear from younger preachers?