Reimagining Old Legacies For the New Generations
I was sitting at a table with a few colleagues recently when we began talking about the younger generations coming up behind us.
The central point of the discussion was just how much trouble traditional "legacy institutions" are increasingly finding themselves in as these generations mature, and it's forcing many of these institutions to rethink business models.
Talk to anyone affiliated with a college or a church and they'll tell you how very worried they are. The up-and-coming generations do not have the same loyalties and attachments to institutions that prior groups did. That lack of connection is evident in diminished giving at schools and empty pews at churches.
Regardless of industry - church, bank, college, newspaper - your future success seems to be coming down to two things: product line and customer service.
This is where we pick up Ben Lawson and his small Calvary Chapel of the Sandhills on South Street in Aberdeen. For the past 16 years, he's been working out of the old Martin Motor Co. building, pastoring a small congregation that is all about product line and customer service.
"That's all we've been talking about - this generational shift," he says.
While some folks still go for tradition and hymns and structured services, Lawson has built a modern ministry at Calvary Chapel. He's one of the first to admit that a growing number of young adults don't want the traditional trappings of worship. So he converted the old car-dealer showroom into the Potters Cafe for live music and socializing.
The sanctuary has a sound board, full drum set and guitars on the wings of its raised stage. When you take a seat, you're sitting in old chairs that once served at Delta Air Lines waiting areas.
In the back along the wall and beneath the crucifix is a tithing box. Lawson doesn't believe in passing the plate - doesn't even really lecture much about money and giving. He says people don't want to hear about it. The money situation, he says, always works itself out.
What drives the church is members like 37-year-old Damon Friedman. He is a U.S. Air Force major who has all the energy of a lightning storm. He burns with a passion for mission and outreach, and he leads this small congregation of about 80 members on several projects. Last month, 16 of them spent a week in New Jersey helping clean up from Superstorm Sandy.
"Sixteen!" he says. "And that was a Monday through Friday, so many of them took vacation time or borrowed against time they hadn't yet earned."
Members have worked food banks in New York City, run health and wellness seminars in West Virginia, and are planning a trip to Peru to work with the poor on the outskirts of Lima and indigenous populations in the Andes mountains.
The membership, though small, can do so much because of its relationships, Friedman says. "It doesn't matter where you come from. We take you in as you are and let God work from the inside out."
Little Calvary Chapel isn't done expanding its product line. This past Sunday, the church rolled out its newest project: WAOG, 100.7 FM, a new community Christian Top 40 radio station run out of a little corner room outside the main sanctuary. In that room, and in a recording studio across the hall, station manager and church member Lindsay Johnson pulls together everything she needs to keep the station going 24 hours a day.
The radio idea isn't entirely new - the church has had an FCC license for nine years - but its tower was usually far away and virtually useless. One year, the church used a tree for an antenna. Lawson jokes about a large number of squirrels that were converted. Today, the antenna is on a real tower in Aberdeen, and the church will stream broadcasting over the Internet as well.
"It lets everyone know that church life is not boring," says Johnson, a former Moore County paramedic who immersed herself in how to run a radio station.
That message might be the biggest takeaway. As the generation that preached "My Generation" grays into that good night, the newer generations are taking the legacies handed down and modeling them into something completely their own.
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.
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