How To Build A Multi-Generational Church

In this article, Sharon McCarter, associate pastor for the Vineyard Church of Maryville in Maryville, TN, shares some of her leadership journey learning how to welcome and raise up many generations in a church family.


Sharon McCarter

Associate Pastor, Maryville Vineyard, Maryville, TN

A very kind, but skeptical man came to our church several weeks in a row. His name was Roger and he was in his fifties and his hair was turning gray. We were church planters in our twenties, and we looked younger than we realized. He usually came with his kids who were just slightly younger than we were. 

One Sunday

But one Sunday, he came without his kids. He walked in the door and felt a little exposed coming on his own, and he sheepishly said, “I’m usually here with my family, but they couldn’t make it today.” I looked straight into his eyes, and with a very big smile I said, “Roger, we’re your family!”

That moment changed everything for him because he realized that he was finally home. He smiled. We hugged. And he’s been talking about that moment ever since. From that day forward, he jumped in whole-heartedly and has been serving and leading for the past 12 years. His kids attend off and on for years, but Roger became one of the most incredible, reliable, light-hearted, and missional leaders we have ever had.

We wish we had hundreds of Rogers! Roger was older than us, but he still needed us. And boy, did we need him! 

That’s the thing about family – we need each other, we need every generation. 

Families At Their Best

When families are at their best, it’s because they love and serve one another. They put each other first and try to put themselves in one another’s shoes. For example, when family get-togethers go well, it’s because they were planned with each and every person in mind. As a church family, we need to do the same. We know this, but we are still learning as we plan each and every service, gathering and event… with each and every family member in mind.

Just last month I failed to do this when I floated the idea of hosting a dodgeball tournament as our Spring Community Event for all of our small groups. That was a terrible idea! Thankfully, we quickly realized that, and scratched it altogether. We have to constantly think about the whole church, and not just pieces of it. There is a time for parts to get together for different things, but nothing is greater than the whole church family coming together, loving on one another.

Generations Attract Generations

Senior leaders have to be very intentional in order to build a multi-generational church. We have to intentionally build relationships, and constantly raise up leaders from every generation. We have to make sure that we give voice to each and every generation because there is beauty and fullness and fruit in diversity.

The reason that this is so fruitful is because, the truth is, even though we want to be diverse, people are still generally attracted to people who are like them. So the more leaders we have who are older, the more older people come and get involved. The more leaders we have who are younger, the more younger people come and get involved.

Intentionally building and empowering leaders from every generation is essential to becoming a healthy, growing, multi-generational church.

Break Down Walls Of Insecurity

One other reality about building a multi-generational is that in our experience, when you are a young pastor and have a relatively young church …people who are older are often insecure about being older. They are not sure they want to be the older people in the church. Often they have just come from a church where they are still perceived as being young, so that often makes them insecure. 

And insecurity, of any kind, is a difficult thing to overcome – both for the person struggling with it, and for the person who is trying to break through the wall that is built because of it. 

But we need to constantly do the work to break down those walls.  We need to speak into that insecurity and fight against it and work extra hard to help people overcome it. That will often take thick skin and the willingness to go the extra mile, but it’s all absolutely worth it to love, include, care for, assimilate, and empower people who are different than you.

In a word, building a multigenerational church is about being family – doing whatever it takes to love and care for one another, valuing one another, and putting the interest of others ahead of your own.

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To learn more about the Vineyard Church with campuses in Knoxville, Maryville, and Springbrook, TN, visit their website here.