Alex and Jenna are the kind of young marrieds every church dreams of attracting: warm, committed to their faith, and regular volunteers in church committees and ministries. Alex grew up in Weyburn Free Methodist, and moved to Moose Jaw First FM in his teen years. As a pastor’s kid, he experienced his fair share of hurts and disappointments in church, but he has never been ‘done.’ His story of resilience and perseverance is an important one for us as we ask the question: how do we develop young people growing up in the church today into engaged adults like Alex?
What Alex values about the church is that they are the people who are there for him in hard times. He was in his early twenties when his father went through a painful transition, and he remembers his family deciding together that they were not going to be done, they were going to hold onto the good they had known in church community and pursue that again. It took time for that wound to heal, but Alex looked for relationships and experiences inside the church to minister to that hurt.
On the other side of that experience, he can honestly say that he enjoys giving time to the church—practically speaking, he says his involvement gives him something constructive to fill his time with other than “sitting at home playing video games.” He is in his first year on the Weyburn FM Board, and is also absorbed with the work of their Welcome:Connect Team. In both cases, he was recruited by an older adult who noticed his potential and invited him into leadership. He chuckles recalling that someone actually asked him to be on the Board three years in a row before he finally said yes.
Weyburn FM faces some interesting challenges. They are a mid-sized church in a small city, with approximately 215 attendees over two services. The Welcome:Connect Team was formed a few years ago to ask the questions: where does a person go from the handshake at the door on a Sunday morning? How can we move them into deeper community? In the first year, Alex and the team interviewed newcomers about their experience visiting their church, and they learned that many newcomers get lost after they’ve been seated. The Welcome:Connect Team tried different things, like brochures or a Communication Center, with limited success. Alex’s tone is wry as he shares they had to conclude that there’s no substitute for a real person going up to a newcomer and saying something like, “Hey, I don’t know you, would you like to go for lunch?”—and the implication that he has to regularly get out of his comfort zone of “young families with babies” to be that person.
Alex’s advice for older folks who want to attract and retain young people in their churches is the same thing he learned on Welcome:Connect Team. “Show interest in their life, ask them questions, invite them over for meals—make friends with people outside of your age group. Be aware that there can be so much hurt in a young person’s life that they’re trying to hide. If there’s a personal connection, young people will have no reason to want to leave your church.”
If he could sit down for coffee with his ‘Done’ friends who grew up in youth group with him, he would want to compassionately listen to where they’re at, and offer them his story. He would want to remind them that “church is a two-way relationship – you have to do your part, find your fit. You can’t do everything, but find what your contribution is and then commit, go for it. There’s good to be found in God’s people—don’t give up!”
Alex’s parents, Wade and Marilyn Fitzpatrick, are currently serving as team hosts Haiti Arise missions organization. They attend Weyburn FM church when they are in Canada.