I've been doing this thing called ministry for nearly a decade now. While this doesn't make me an expert with all the answers by any stretch of one's imagination, I have noticed a few things.
I've noticed that, despite a church's position on women in ministry, a congregation could not survive without a dedicated group of women who really make everything happen. I've noticed that most churches have sacred cows without any clue as to why they hold them sacred. I've noticed there are folks who love the pastor no matter what he or she did, does, or will do, and I've noticed there are folks who despise the pastor no matter what he or she did, does, or will do. I've also noticed the latter kind typically like to stick around just to complain and make folks just as displeased as them. I've noticed that churches, despite all the junk that comes with a religious institution filled with people and all their junk, are wonderful places-wonderful congregations-where people who are searching for wholeness, fulfilment, love, acceptance, or just a place to land can find what they need.
I've also noticed that churches, no matter what denominational name is on the sign out front, no matter what "style" of worship they hold, no matter how many people fill the pews, chairs, or couches, tend to have the same demographic in mind when they talk about "outreach" or "church growth." As a pastor, I've heard it a few different ways, but it's the same thing: "Preacher, what we need in this church is more young couples (sometimes simply referred to as "young marrieds"), preferably with children."
There are some church members who see young couples as a silver bullet, answer-to-all-our-problems. It seems to me churches want these young families for some rather obvious reasons: they have money (whether they'll give it to the church or not is another story); they have children (read here "future youth, future college kids, future young marrieds"); they have years ahead of them (you know, so they'll be the "old folks" in the church one day).
I've seen deacons get giddy with excitement at the thought of outreach programs targeted at "young marrieds." I've seen church members flock to visiting young people in the sanctuary as if they were pigeons attacking a child with a handful of bread. I've seen church members get so wrapped up in the idea that young, married adults are the key to solving congregational woes, that they overlook communities of aging, hurting, lonely senior citizens who are looking for someone who simply cares enough to notice them. I've seen church members get so caught up in the notion that young, married adults will come pouring into their buildings with their children pouring out of minivans, that they overlook the "drop-off" kids whose parents barely stop the car to let them out at the church door for youth activities. I've seen church members get so enraptured with the future possibilities of young marrieds filling the Sunday morning pews that they fail to see the opportunities for ministry right in front of them with the folks who've been there the whole time.
I think it's high time we put this notion of "the biggest church, with the most young people wins" behind us. I think it's time we followers of Jesus begin doing what Jesus called us to do (and I'll give you a hint: it's not building bigger churches just for the sake of getting more people, in order to build bigger churches, so we can get more people...).
As a pastor, I cringe when I hear people say, "We need to get more young people to join the church." I'm sure your pastor does too. Instead, what if we all said, "We need to minister to those people who need us right now, no matter their age or status in this world?" May we all begin to transform our congregational attitudes towards ministering to those who need Christ now, and perhaps folks will notice that before they notice anything else about us.