(Editor's Note: This article was first published in the September 2022 print version of The Stand HERE.)
“If youth wasted on the young is sad, then age wasted on the old is tragic,” said co-founder and president of The Legacy Imperative (TLI), Dr. Robert A. Petterson.
Petterson and the TLI staff are determined to prevent that tragedy by inspiring the nation’s oldest generation of Christians to leave a legacy of faith to the youngest generation.
With headquarters in Naples, Florida, TLI is a nondenominational Christian ministry focused on equipping and mobilizing older American Christians – especially grandparents – to evangelize and disciple their Millennial and Generation Z grandchildren.
Bridging the gap
“We’ve inherited a legacy of faith from those before us,” Petterson explained to The Stand, “but we’re losing this next generation of young people, those we call natives of Digital Land.”
Petterson’s latest project, The Legacy Imperative: Reaching Digital Land, is a film series that details TLI’s mission to evangelize the young people of America’s most savvy technological generations. As citizens of Petterson’s so-called Digital Land, these young people are also one of the largest unreached people groups in the world.
With over 150 million Millennials and GenZers who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, Petterson acknowledges the difficulty in bridging the generational faith gap between grandparents and their grandchildren.
Accordingly, TLI offers grandparents unique tools, including reading materials, podcasts, a hot-button issues video series, a 10-session grandparents’ summit, and faith-centered travel tours for grandparents to book with their grandchildren.
Those tools are rooted in various surveys indicating that grandparents are the favorite individuals in the lives of many young people. One study even showed that Millennials would prefer to vacation with grandparents over parents.
Petterson wants grandparents to recognize and utilize this strategic advantage wisely. “This is a nonreligious generation, with only one in five attending church,” he said. “More than 15 million of them identify as atheists, and a large majority also embrace moral, sexual, gender, and family fluidity.”
Even so, the TLI team is undaunted. They believe grandparents and their peers are the greatest untapped resource in most congregations nationwide, with more than 60% of today’s church members over the age of 50.
Utilizing the potential
Petterson discovered this reservoir of potential during the two decades he pastored and helped build one of Naples’ largest and most dynamic congregations. The current 2,000+ members of Covenant Presbyterian Church began with only 120 congregants.
When Petterson and his wife first assumed leadership of the Naples congregation, the prospects for growth were disheartening since the original 120 members were mostly older, retired people. Petterson soon realized he was sitting on a gold mine of potential.
“I call them PIP’s, Previously Important People,” Petterson explained. “They were once on the school board or were the head of the company or were someone important in the work world.
“Now, they’ve gotten older, they’re no longer out there anymore, and people have forgotten who they were.” Petterson added, “There is as much of an identity crisis with older people as there is with younger people.”
Like most older people, these PIPs had worked hard, raised families, and contributed to the community. They achieved success and earned respect at home, work, and church. Retirement offered no real challenges, meaning, purpose, or identity. Many PIPs were left questioning what to do with the rest of their lives.
Petterson and TLI have a ready answer to that question. They tell older Christians that their true identity will be found in the same place it has always been – in God and in His calling to build their homes and raise their children according to His words.
“I tell older people that America is not what it used to be,” said Petterson. “You’re living in Babylon. You used to live in Jerusalem, now you’re living in Babylon. You want to go back to Jerusalem, but God has put you in Babylon right now for a time like this.”
Reaching the lost
In fact, Petterson believes these are the greatest days ever for sharing the gospel because young people are not pretending anymore; they openly admit to not being Christian.
Christian grandparents are well aware of this sad fact because statistics show that one or more of their adult children have walked away from the church and possibly even the faith. To make matters worse, two or more of their grandchildren have walked away from church, have never been in church, or have no semblance of faith.
“We’re losing the next generation,” Petterson stated. “There’s still time, but the time is in our hands as grandparents. So it’s imperative to be involved in the lives of our grandchildren. We are the ones best positioned to reach this generation. We have an identity, and our identity is the story, the legacy of our faith.
“But we’re the last generation that remembers. We still remember the gospel. We still remember the stories of family and faith … the stories of the faith that have built people in the past. That’s why we’re called Legacy Imperative.”
Truly, this mission field is ripe for harvest, but Christian grandparents must attend to the harvest now if they want to leave a legacy of faith for generations to come.
There’s no time to waste.