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 (Manna 68: Succession: Generation Next)
Generation to Generation
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From Generation to Generation

Audrey Chan—Leicester, UK

Editor’s note:
The following article is a case study, which aims to help readers reflect on succession in their own church. Although each church has different backgrounds and needs, we hope that the article can encourage and inspire.


The year 2011 was a turning point for the church in Leicester, UK. After more than fifteen years of searching for new premises with varying disappointments along the way, we finally purchased a large four-story building in a prime location at the city center. It has been beyond our expectations—all due to God’s wonderful timing and arrangement.

With this blessing in mind, we reflect on God’s grace by looking back over the journey that has led to this point, taking stock of our current situation and thinking ahead to the future. The move to the new building is significant because it prompts us to consider how we can serve God more and how to ensure that the next generation is fully on board.

Past Journey

Not Forgetting Our Roots

“One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.” (Ps 145:4)

Sometimes during our annual Religious Education (RE) Day in Leicester, an elderly deacon is called upon to deliver words of encouragement. Last year, as in previous years, he fixed his gaze upon the youngsters sitting in the front pews and asked them in Chinese, “What did your family use to do?” The children smiled broadly at this familiar question and gave their reply. This well-rehearsed dialogue then continued with the deacon re-affirming their answer in broken English, “Fish-a-man,” to rapturous laughter from the congregation.

The point of the deacon’s question? Well, it was obvious that he did not want the children to forget their humble roots. Also, he did not want them to forget God’s grace: how He has been unceasingly shepherding us from past years to this day.

Profile of the Congregation

The profile of the congregation in Leicester, as in many parts of the UK, is an interesting one. The majority of the members hark back to a tiny island in Hong Kong called Ap Chau. It was here that they and the generations before them eked out a subsistence from fishing. After the gospel reached the island, the islanders experienced the power of God and their faith became strong. Church attendance and service to God became central to their lives. Even though they were poor materially, they were rich spiritually.

Aside from the Ap Chau islanders, there are also members in Leicester who come from other parts of Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and Malaysia. There are also second and third generation members who have been born in the UK. For some families in Leicester, three and even four generations come together to worship in church each week.

Thank God, the church in Leicester is a harmonious one. It is predominantly made up of family units, a few individual believers, and a small number of overseas students. The young and the old come together for services, and attendance has been consistently high over the years. This is indeed a blessing at a time when many churches in the wider Christian community are bemoaning an absence of young people, or are even closing their doors due to dwindling membership.

Lost and Found

Many of the first generation Leicester members came to the UK in the 1960s and 70s. When they first arrived, they had nothing more than a suitcase, a few pounds in their pockets, and little or no grasp of the English language. Yet, they had a great desire for a better life and a strong work ethic. As such, they were willing to toil long hours in the tough and demanding environment of the catering industry. Not only did they manage to make a living, they also raised families and established their own businesses.

In the early days, the members worked hard, but neglected to gather for services. Many also recall bad habits: smoking, drinking and gambling. The turning point was a pastoral visit by a deacon from Scotland in 1975. His words of encouragement spurred the members to start holding Sabbath services. They gathered first in a member’s shop in the city centre, and then, as the congregation grew, in a rented hall in a local Anglican Church.

In 1983, the church purchased its current place of worship on Humberstone Road, a Victorian building that was formerly a Methodist chapel. Finally, the members had a permanent place of worship.

In hindsight, we see how God used the first generation members to lay the foundation for His church in Leicester. Many of these members are still active in the church today, working alongside a new generation of workers to undertake the next phase of God’s work.

Current Situation

In this section, we will look at how well the older and younger generations relate to each other, focusing on issues such as communication, working relationships and the generation gap. Local members were asked to contribute their views.


Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

(Rom 12:16)

The congregation in Leicester reflects all age groups, and there is a slow but steady increase in the number of young families with babies. Most of the members are related in one way or another, and the younger ones generally greet their older relatives when they come to church.

We say, “Hello”, or “good morning.” If you’re related to them, you’ll talk more…If you know they’ve been on holiday, you’ll ask, “When did you come back, did you have fun?”

Intermediate Youth, Senior Youth & Teacher Training Class

However, not everyone has family members in the church, and for one or two people, there is a different perception.

The young people don’t notice the old people…no one does. They need to respect the older people.

Retired Sister

An issue may be that members of a similar age group quite naturally gravitate towards each other, and this can give the impression or lead to a sense of physical segregation.

You can see at tea time—the youngsters sit on one side, the old people sit on the other.

Retired Brother

I don’t think the younger people speak to the older people. At tea time, you see the younger lot standing up, the middle-aged sitting with the middle aged…

Intermediate Youth Class Student

It may seem like segregation, but it’s not intentional…more of habit.

RE Teacher

Some members also mentioned a language barrier.

You have to speak in a way that they understand. There’s a language barrier.

Senior Youth Class Student

The old people talk in their Ap Chau language and the grandchildren speak English. They each have their own homes and don’t spend much time together. They can’t really talk at a deep level, to say what’s on their mind. In the past, the older generation shared testimonies about God’s grace. If they [i.e. the different generations] have lived together, the relationship is different.


Inter-Generational Working Relationships

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.

(Rom 12:10–11)

In Leicester, the opportunities for joint-working between the generations include things like leafleting, choir, cleaning, cooking and preparing for special events such as convocations and weddings. Most recently, the different age groups have come together to do the planning and the practical work relating to the refurbishment of the new church building.

By and large, the different groups work harmoniously together. Sometimes, there are differences of opinion, but these occur within and between the age groups; it does not appear to be an inter-generational issue. Moreover, thank God, these differences do not lead to conflicts.

The church board is also quite harmonious. It comprises members in their thirties, forties, fifties and above, and three out of the nine board members are sisters. The good working relationship is evident during meetings: there are constructive discussions, dialogue is respectful, and the meetings are generally quick and efficient. The more experienced members are happy to help the new ones fit into their roles.

You don’t hear any big arguments. Those who can take part [in the church work] take part. Others don’t have many opinions.


Is There a Generation Gap?

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.

(Ps 133:1–3)

The backgrounds of the older and younger generation could not be more different: one has had limited educational opportunities, experienced poverty, and toiled for most of their working lives; the other has grown up with a comfortable standard of living, a good education, and by God’s grace, a future of endless possibilities. Therefore, to say there are no generational differences would be untrue. However, what is striking is that there is no discernible impact. In other words, there is no unbreachable gap. This observation is supported by the following views:

Thank God, in Leicester, the old and the young get on together.

Retired Sister

At home, I get on very well with my grandchildren.

Retired Brother

The new and the old generation have different cultural backgrounds, but it is not a problem. The older generation is open-minded—it’s not like they don’t accept new things (they do). The younger generation is also good. They understand why the older people think like they do. In church, it does not really matter whether you come from a western or eastern culture, there should not be any distinction. You should have a new culture, which is Christ’s culture—the teachings of the Bible. We should have that culture. So, if there is something in the western culture that does not fit with the Bible, we can reject it; likewise for the eastern culture. In that way, we can live a Christ-like life. It’s like the Israelites, when they left Egypt, they had to leave behind the culture. And when they entered Canaan, they had to be careful not to be affected by that new culture. They had to be holy and separated out to God.


The situation in Leicester is very blessed, but we must be careful not to take it for granted. All of us need to be diligent in our spiritual cultivation, to learn from the gentleness and lowliness of Christ (Mt 11:29); to respect and to forbear (Phil 2:3; Col 3:12–13) one another; and most important of all, to be filled by the Holy Spirit so that we bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23). In this way, there will not be any dissensions, and everyone can enjoy an environment that reveals the culture of Christ.

Next Generation Succession: Work in Progress

And the Lord, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.

(Deut 31:8)

In Leicester, we could probably benefit from a proper strategy for succession planning. Nevertheless, we can see progress in a couple of areas.

Training for Service

In Leicester, the weekly RE classes, Youth Fellowship and Campus Fellowship provide most of the training opportunities for the young members. It is there that they develop the skills and confidence to serve God: leading hymnals, playing piano, training sessions in interpretation, leading activities, and leading Bible studies. These forums also act as spring boards, enabling the young to get involved in other areas of church work, such as choir and leafleting.

The believers are being trained from young in RE. So, if they attend services, the church can train them to serve and give them opportunities to do so. It takes time.



Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching.

(Rom 12:6–7)

Due to a dwindling number of middle-aged members who remain active sermon speakers, the church board has, in recent years, been looking to the working-age youths to take up this area of work. With the help of preachers, a number of youths have been trained to deliver sermons. We thank God that this is making good progress, which means that the church now has more workers to help in this area.

The church board has also been assigning brothers and sisters to lead the first Sabbath service—putting them in at the deep end, as it were, since these are their first attempts at pulpit ministry. Some have been responsible for conducting hymnal sessions, while others lead Bible studies and talks. We thank God for their added input and the application of their gifts that benefit the church.

Family Bible Services

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

Another opportunity for members of all ages to serve God is in the Family Bible Service groups. In Leicester, members are allocated to one of a number of groups, depending on where they live. Once a month, members gather in each other’s houses or in the church to study the Bible. Those who are willing and able lead the sessions in rotation. The younger members are often called to lead the pre-service hymnals and to play the piano. The Family Bible Services have been going on for a number of years now and have proved to be a good opportunity for members of different age groups—from children to grannies and granddads—to worship together in informal settings, have fellowship, practice hospitality and learn the word of God. Over time, we have witnessed the members growing together: in their knowledge of God, in their confidence to serve Him, and in mutual understanding.

Evangelism Planning

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15)

For over ten years, Leicester has had an Evangelical Planning Group (EPG). It plans and organizes the bulk of the church’s evangelistic activities—publicity, leafleting, programs for evangelistic services, and follow-up. Although the membership has changed over time, the group has always comprised a small core group of working youths. As necessary, they enlist the help of other members of the congregation, but again, the majority of the volunteers, apart from the speakers, are youths. This is particularly evident during leafleting sessions.

The EPG is very active, and the members do their work faithfully and consistently. It is a good example of succession in practice, for the youths have really taken ownership of this work. If anything, the rest of the congregation—and specifically the older members—need to get more involved to complement their efforts. After all, evangelism is everyone’s responsibility.

Looking to the Future: What could we do better?

Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, the younger as sisters, will all purity.

(1 Tim 5:1–2)

Improve Communication

By God’s grace, Leicester has a lot of positive points. However, there are also some areas for improvement. One area is communication between the generations—to go beyond the polite greetings to have more meaningful dialogue, for example, on how to progress the church work and on God’s grace in our lives. The sharing of testimonies in particular will serve as a lasting legacy for the new generations.

We also need to show special regard for those members with few or no family ties in the church, irrespective of their age. In this way, every member can experience the joy and comfort that comes from being one spiritual family in Christ as we gather each week (1 Cor 12:12; 1 Pet 2:5). To achieve this, we need to be willing to break out of our comfort zones.

Develop a Succession Strategy

During one group discussion, I asked a group of RE students, “Do you think the next generation is being adequately prepared to take up the church work?” One of the Senior Youth Class students asked, “Who’s the next generation?” She wondered if I meant people like her RE teacher—those in their late twenties and thirties. This anecdote perhaps highlights a need for the church workers to let all the RE students know they are the next generation.

Also, the church may not be doing enough to get RE students involved in the church work early on, or at least not in the areas that they are interested in.

I’ve heard from other churches that they start quite young, doing evangelistic planning work, whereas in Leicester they start quite old.

Senior Youth Class Student

Sometimes, you don’t know who to approach about evangelistic planning work and other things, like interpretation.

Senior Youth Class Student

This omission needs to be addressed, as there is potentially a pool of willing members that the church is not mobilizing. Moreover, if the RE students are not involved in the church work from an early age, an opportunity may be lost in fostering a deep sense of commission, and it may also be harder to motivate them later on—especially as other priorities come along.

One solution is to develop a strategy for succession, so that the church is clear on what types of workers are needed in the medium to longer-term, and how we should provide the necessary training. Part of that strategy might look at options such as shadowing and mentoring by experienced workers.

A couple of the older members who were interviewed happen to be regular cooks in the church. They said that they were more than happy to share their skills and wanted to see more young members getting involved in this area of the church work.

It’s good for the young people to help and to learn from the cooks. The most important thing is that they are humble enough to learn and accept, and also not to be lazy. The work should be passed from one generation to the next. You can’t expect those in their eighties to do the cooking. I hope that the young people will cook for me in the future. If they don’t know what to do, they can ask.

Retired Brother

In terms of succession planning, we have a good example in Jesus Christ, who at the start of His ministry, chose twelve disciples and trained them to minister in God’s kingdom and to succeed His work. Jesus not only imparted spiritual knowledge, He also allowed the disciples to gain experience by sending them out to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons (Mt 10:1, 5–8)—a true apprenticeship in today’s terms.

PASS ON Elijah’s mantle

So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.

(1 Kgs 19:19)

Succession planning is vital for the future of the church. The church workers today have a responsibility to create the right conditions for succession, which, at a basic level, entails promoting good communication and positive relationships across all age groups. They should also plan more systematically in order to nurture and train the next generation. In this way, young members will have a better opportunity of growing up with a sense of commission and be equipped to take on the mantle of service and leadership in the future.

May God guide all the churches to make this a reality.

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Author: Audrey Chan