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Relationship is key to building church

Building the churchby Elizabeth McBride

Last year, I attended a convention with the Women of the ELCA in the Southwestern Texas Synod. When I walked into the building, no one asked, “Are you new?” or did anything that made me feel like an outsider. I simply showed up, and my participation was valued.

Many congregations and women’s groups are inclusive, spanning a few generations. Yet sometimes when I hear people say, “We need/want younger women in our church/women’s group,” it seems to come from a place of fear, rather than a place of mutual relationship building. Sometimes there is a belief that individuals born in the ’70s and ’80s are going to somehow save the budget, help meet membership goals and ensure that the church or women’s group is more relevant.

When we focus on how someone looks—young or old—we miss out on building authentic relationships. When we spend too much time trying to “invite them” into our group, we’ve already positioned ourselves as the insiders and them as the “other.”

On the other hand, when we focus on meeting women of any age where they are—where their unique gifts can be added to the collective—we evolve as a faith community based on mutual belief and respect.

All we need to be relevant for younger generations is to be in authentic relationship with each other.

Rather than focusing on filling pews with a particular type of face, let’s live out our call by seeking places to put our faith in action. Let’s leave our comfort zones—going out to meet others where they are—and together build the church. Let’s learn what Jesus’ ministry taught us: that the church is built on relationships.

Jesus is calling us out of our narrow human perceptions and our desire to categorize people as insiders and outsiders. Jesus is challenging us to get the real work done.

Elizabeth McBride (elizabeth.mcbride@elca.org) is the director for intergenerational programs and editor of Café. A longer version of this article was published in the May issue of Gather.



Build new multigenerational relationships Here are some ideas to celebrate the multigenerational relationships we already have and build new ones as we do Christ’s work together.

1. Identify entry points. All events are opportunities for participation. Think about the advocacy projects that your group is already doing. For example, do you have a quilting group that sends quilts to Lutheran World Relief? If your quilting group meets at times that conflict with women’s schedules, work hours, nap times for small children, etc., why not reschedule to get the most participation?

2. Increase your visibility. Have you thought about taking your meetings out of the church building? For example, what if you held your Bible study circle at a local café?

3. Accessibility is inclusion. Is the location of your event easy to get to—even if people do not own a car? Are there events that could take place in a retirement home or in other locations? Many church buildings do not offer entrances for individuals with mobility issues, so consider this when planning an accessible location.

4. Look for partnerships. Are there other ministry partners in your community and synod you could connect with? For example, is there a local campus ministry group that addresses bullying or human trafficking? When coordinating with other groups, find a time when you could have the highest participation. Ask different generations what times would best for them.

5. Be realistic about the level of participation. Don’t expect newcomers to participate immediately at the same level you do. We cannot know the demands on another’s time. The object of intergenerational events is to build relationships.