Marching to Different Drums
In 2014, father-son pastors Randy and Ryan Visconti unveiled their vision for sparking growth and building unity in the Mesa, Arizona, church where they served as pastors: separate services, based on generational worship preferences.
It involved more than just adding a contemporary-style service — aimed at the 20-40 age demographic — to the existing more traditional and established one. The Assemblies of God congregation, known as Celebration Church under founding pastor Randy, not only relaunched as Generation Church, but did so with his son Ryan designated as the lead pastor.
The switch raised a few eyebrows, and not only among a number of parishioners.
Other area clergy saw it as a risky move, and one megachurch pastor flatly predicted it would never work. Separate services, the doubters fretted, in effect would widen the generational divide, and inevitably the congregation itself might unravel in disunity.
“About half the people in the church were excited about the plan to relaunch,” Ryan says. “But a large percentage probably didn’t understand exactly what we were talking about. But, by God’s grace, doing anything great requires risks.”
Having gained leadership patience as an Iraq War veteran, Ryan, a former U.S. Army captain, moved ahead, with his father’s resolute and calming support.
Randy believes pastors are most effective in reaching people within 10 years of their age.
“I was getting into my late 50s and it was becoming more difficult to reach young adults and young families, but Ryan was at a perfect age to reach people from 20 to 40 years old,” Randy says. “It was key for me to fully endorse Ryan’s new position as lead pastor, and recognize that God would use him to lead our church into its next season.”
That appears to be exactly what has happened. Opposition faded, and Generation Church has proven the skeptics wrong with an undeniable currency: growth, and newfound unity.
The new Live services, where contemporary music and Ryan’s multimedia-assisted preaching style are featured, average 630 in attendance. The Traditions service, aimed at the senior demographic, is steady at 225. Children’s ministries account for another 200. In all, typical attendance tops 1,000, roughly twice the total of just two years ago.
However, to assume the Traditions service is solely the domain of seniors, or that Live services caters only to Generation X and millennials, would be wrong. Some seniors like the energy of the Live services; some younger worshippers choose the Traditions gathering. All generations find common ground in various church small groups and activities.
“We feel there is more unity in our church among different age groups than at the average church,” Ryan says. “The key is harmony between my dad and me. We are on the same page: our mission is to reach as many people as possible.”
Could Generation Church’s approach to bridging the generational divide through multiple services be a template for other AG congregations? The Viscontis think so, accounting for adjustments to local church demographics and needs.
“With this model the existing pastor and congregants can stay, continue doing ministry, remain relevant, and support the next season of ministry, all while the church moves forward and reaches the next generation with effectiveness,” Ryan says.
IMAGE - Randy Visconti preaches