From Generation to Generation
Audrey Chan—Leicester, UK
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Some members also mentioned a language barrier.
You have to speak in a way that they understand. There’s a language
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.
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
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—
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.
At home, I get on very well with my grandchildren.
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.
In Leicester, we could probably benefit from a proper strategy for
succession planning. Nevertheless, we can see progress in a couple of
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,
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.
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mk
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
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)
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
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
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.
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.