My wife and I have three children. They are all fairly close in age. I remember when all three of them were preschoolers, it seemed like our entire lives revolved around feeding times, nap times and diaper changes. We rarely had a free moment and life was always hectic. Life got a little calmer when they were all three elementary school aged, but then the teen years came and we had three teens at once. Life revolved around driving lessons and sports events and how late they could stay out on a school night. That was surely a wild period! Then they all went off to college, and suddenly, the hectic rush was over, the house was quiet and our evenings were often free. We had entered a new phase of life called Empty Nest.
During the time in which our kids were growing up, so many of our choices revolved around the well-being of our children. We chose a home in a neighborhood that was safe and in a community with lots of opportunities for kids. We chose friends who had kids of similar ages. Because we are Christians and our faith is important to us, many of the choices we made about the kind of church we wanted to be part of involved our children too. If the churches we were connected to during those years did not have programs for children, then we started such programs ourselves. It was important to us to pass our faith on to our children.
But when the children all left home for college, it began to occur to us that we could live anywhere without having to think about how it impacted the kids’ daily lives. Likewise, we could go to church anywhere, and it did not matter what type of programs they offered for children because that phase of our lives was over. Many Empty Nesters are tempted to start skipping church once the kids are gone from home. Sunday often becomes a day to play golf or engage in other recreational activities. But for us, that was not an option, our faith is too important to us, but clearly we no longer had to be part of the same type of churches that we once did.
We soon realized that passing our faith on to the next generation was still important to us. Though our own children were grown, that desire to impact the next generation remained. When my job shifted and we moved to a different state, we still wanted to find a church that impacted the next generation. We bought a condo near a university, where we already knew some students. We invited them to our home for a couple of Bible studies and before we knew it, we were part of a new church being formed on the University of Hartford campus. My wife and I are more than 20 years older than the next oldest couple at church, but we enjoy investing our lives in the next generation. Whether it is holding a Bible study in our home, or storing all the church sound equipment in our garage, we still have a role to play in shaping the next generation. For us, Empty Nest means using our free time to invest in the lives of young adults, not riding a golf cart around a course or taking part in some other recreational activity. Touching the lives of young adults is very meaningful to us, and keeps us feeling young.
The need for investing in the next generation is huge. Studies show that up to 70% of young adults will leave the church during their college years. Empty Nesters can change that statistic by becoming involved in churches that care about young adults. Empty Nesters can offer to mentor, encourage, guide and teach that generation about the importance of faith in daily life. We want to encourage other Empty Nesters who no longer need a nursery, or a children's program, or a youth group, to consider a new adventure. Find a church near you that reaches out to young adults and join it. Use your life skills and experience to invest in the next generation. And if there is no church near you that reaches out to the next generation, become part of a core group that starts a new church on or near a college campus. It’s a lot of work, but it’s far more fulfilling than riding a golf cart around in circles for the next 20 years!
Terry Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter and denominational worker in New England since 1993. He and his wife are the proud parents of three adult children and one grandchild. Terry is the author of several books including "Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation though the Small Church." You can find all of Terry's books at: http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY