By Steve Wyatt
Our church serves a master-planned community that’s evenly divided between two very different demographic groups. Parkside surrounds a huge community and is teeming with young families. Country Club is designed for boomers and beyond (many of whom we affectionately call snowbirds) and is nestled at the base of a mountain with two top-rated golf courses and all the amenities to boot.
Those two groups are our community’s demographics. We don’t have many singles and fewer college students—a reality our church has found rather frustrating. Yet, try as we did for years, that’s how it was. We decided if college students don’t live here, it’s not likely that we’re going to reach them just because we really want to!
Instead we made reaching the Parkside families the top priority of the Country Club crowd. Please don’t misunderstand—we still want to reach every person for Jesus. But the way our founding fathers designed this community uniquely positioned the retiring generation to aggressively and passionately pass the Jesus baton to an emerging and rising generation.
We even not-so-creatively named this new strategy Leaving a Legacy.
By the way, Moses was the first to recommend this approach when he said, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
What’s a heart of wisdom? I’m probably not the right guy ask, but here’s the opposite of wisdom: being stupid. Moses basically said to the Lord, teach me to number the days I’ve got left—so I don’t fritter them away being stupid! When you are fully aware that you’ve got a limited window of time, it tends to make what matters, matter even more.
Wisdom hears the clock, and it’s ticking. It’s a warning designed to make you reprioritize and refocus on the goal that matters most of all. That’s what our church decided to do.
Focus On What You CAN Do, Not What You CAN’T
We knew that not everybody could keep the same pace—that would be unwise (and maybe even harmful). So when we launched Leaving a Legacy, I told our congregation, “Our assignment is to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t—and then trust God to do what he alone can do. So that the families of the rising generation will receive our love and want to follow in our footsteps and choose to look like, love like, and live like Jesus. Not because they have to but because they learn to love Jesus every bit as much as we do.”
Another key? We realized that life change won’t happen through us unless it has first happened to us. After all, how can you teach a child the power of a controlled tongue if your tongue is always spouting off? Or transfer the value of compassion if you never show compassion? How can you convey the need to always depend on God if you never model such dependency?
An active senior pulled me aside after we’d been pursuing this vision for a few months. “Pastor, I’ve learned that you can golf only so much. I can’t begin to thank you for giving me a purpose again.”
That’s the objective—to use the time we have left to intentionally impart to a rising generation our values by building their faith, offering them hope, and showering huge doses of love. We just show up and be present. And we keep showing up and keep staying present—until we draw our final breath. After you’ve exited your old, worn-out body, you’re going to get caught up, rest assured, on the sleep you’ve missed! Eternal rest will be your eternal reward.
We reminded our seniors that today’s parents have a much tougher assignment than we had, primarily because the values of our faith receive precious little support in the twenty-first century. Instead, most believing families have to deal with almost relentless opposition. Plus they’re facing financial strains and time constraints. But what would happen if we stepped in?
Find a New Sense of Purpose
So in October 2015 we made our first step out into the deep. We are a small group church. We do a fairly good job of underscoring the need for every disciple to be involved with other believers. Yet a hurdle immediately presented itself: What do we do about a babysitter for these young families? Who can we trust? How can we ever pay for it?
That’s where the Legacy team came in. Seniors stepped in and served Jesus by meeting this need. We had one humongous night for family groups at the church. Some Legacy servants volunteered to prep a meal and clean up after so that moms and dads could grab a plate and eat with their kids before group time.
Then when the parents scooted off to group time, an amazing army of Legacy builders played with, fed, diapered, sang, bottled, taught, read, and in some cases put PJs on those kiddos so that all Mom and Dad had to do was grab ’em, click ’em, and tuck ’em at the end of small group time.
No one was asked to do more than they could do. Yet several servants deep into their 80s worked circles around the rest of the volunteers. Because there’s something energizing about stepping into a calling to leave a legacy to a rising generation.
Buoyed by our success, our seniors enlisted for other projects. One was a Christmas carnival at the mall that reached over 10,000 kids and families with the love of Jesus.
Another was assisting our kiddos in building a float so we could publicly thank those who have served in the military. We taught our kids something about liberty that day and the need to speak gratitude. We had asked one octogenarian on our Legacy team to be our guest of honor and ride in one of the cars. But Don was so thrilled to be asked, he came in his original uniform (that still fit!) and marched crisply alongside the car—much to the delight of our kids and the rest of us as well.
We have also hosted a huge free community-wide Easter picnic—complete with bounce houses, Easter egg hunts, live music, superheroes, lunch bags, and more. Our most recent picnic reached nearly 3,000 people.
There are many more stories I could share: Grandmothers Who Pray is a group that meets to pray for the young families in our community. Ironmen is a group that provides muscle for projects whenever we need heavy lifting. Plus one more: We are a fairly new church. But we are currently raising money to buy our first building—a building we plan to use for these ministries. Because God has not only given us some available time—he has also given us funds that younger families might not have.
The point is, instead of allowing the dichotomy in our demographics to divide us, we have bridged the divide by leaning in to generational discipleship. We’ve carved out important niches where senior saints can serve—each according to their ability. We’ve established a lasting bond between many in the retired generation with those in the rising generation. We’ve given our oldest generations a new sense of purpose.
Steve Wyatt is lead pastor at The Crossroads Church in Anthem, Arizona.