Article after article has been written about how the church can reach millennials. Many of those articles make good points the church can and should incorporate; however, is anyone asking what millennials can learn from older folks? 
Many say millennials want authenticity. I like what authenticity means, but the word has worn out its welcome. Authenticity is a buzzword much like “missional.”

Everyone is saying it, but what does it mean? Everybody wants everybody to be authentic, except I’m not sure that’s what we really want. 

Rather, we want authenticity on our own terms. The kind that jives with our preferences, attitudes, opinions and beliefs. In other words, “I want people to be my kind of authentic.”

Despite the overuse of the word, let’s think about its actual definition. According to Webster’s dictionary, authenticity means “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.”

Let’s use that definition to frame the question: “What is ‘worthy of acceptance’ in the lives of older folks?” The short answer is: a lot.

So what can younger generations learn from older folks?

  • They don’t retire from missions.

There is a 92-year-old lady who works at the clothing closet and food pantry every week at Scottsville Baptist. I wish you could see how she treats every shopper with dignity and respect. I am learning about how much God loves the poor by watching her. It’s inspiring.

  • They give sacrificially to the church and nonprofits.

Statistics tell us young people are less likely to tithe to the church. “But they give to other worthy nonprofits!” you say.

While this is fantastic, do you know what we can learn from older folks? They tithe and give to nonprofits, such as Heifer International. They give sacrificially and support a child through Compassion International.

They believe in the work of the church and they demonstrate this belief through their tithes and volunteer service.

  • They are loyal to the church.

Many are members of one faith community for decades. They don’t run away when the going gets tough or flee at the first sign of conflict. They recognize the pluses and minuses of the community in which they worship and serve.

Older folks understand commitment, and many can’t wait to get back to church following an illness or a stint in the hospital. They are eager to return to church and get back to work.

  • They do what needs to be done.

I’m a big fan of the emphasis on calling thanks to the writings of Frederick Buechner; however, some things need to get done whether we’re called to it or not.

Someone has to change the light bulbs. Someone’s tithe has to buy toilet paper. Someone has to be the treasurer. Someone has to serve on the nominating committee.

The faithfulness and loyalty of older folks teach us that not every task is something we are called to do (or want to do!), but it needs to get done. Everybody has to take turns being the “someone.”

  • They built a foundation for us.

I’m grateful for the older folks who taught me about Jesus. Faithful older folks have given time, resources and love that have shaped me into who I am today.

Perhaps some new models work better in the church today. Perhaps we need to rethink missions and absolute quiet during worship, but older folks have taught us so much. Don’t forget their sacrifices for the kingdom (and us).

  • They’re willing to try new things.

Not all older folks are willing to try new things mind you (not all young folks are either), but many are. Don’t assume every older person is against change.

Scottsville Baptist counts many older folks among its ranks, and they called me as their pastor. I happen to be a young, single lady. They are willing to try new things.

Any time we categorize or stereotype an entire generation, we’re bound to miss the mark at least a little bit (as I’m sure I have here).

For example, an older person might like to listen to a Chris Tomlin song while a young person might relish the sound of a pipe organ in worship.

So any time we say “This is how we reach the millennials” or “This is what we can learn from older folks,” it’s not going to be accurate for everyone.

Every person is different, and this should keep us humble when discussing groups of people.

Like most people, I have ideas on how to reach millennials, but I don’t want to miss out on what the older folks have given us.

Focusing solely on one group or generation (be it older or younger) causes us to miss out on the wholeness of who God’s people can be together.

Sometimes older and younger folks are guilty of simply stomping their feet and demanding their way. 

If that’s what authenticity means – getting our own “authentic” way – then I’m not very comfortable with that.

However, if it means honoring what is “worthy of acceptance” in every age, I can get behind that.

Millennials have much to learn from older folks, and older folks have much to learn from millennials. So, let’s be sure to include everyone’s voices in the conversation.

Katie McKown is the pastor of Scottsville Baptist Church in Scottsville, Va. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Hermeneutics in High Heels, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @KatieEMcKown.

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