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Training Christian youth now to solve the church’s ‘graying’ problem

Churches of every denomination in cities all over the country are seeing a distressing decline of membership numbers. 

An Orange Mound pastor said there is a solution to that challenge.

“What we are seeing is the graying of the church,” said Pastor Willie Ward Jr. of Mt. Pisgah C.M.E Church.

The Rev. Willie Ward Jr.: “There should be an urgency in all of us to train our children and grandchildren to take over the church.” (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

“What churches are experiencing is the loss of our young people. We have them when they are young, up to the age of 18, when their parents bring them, but we’re losing them when they go off to college. They are not returning to church.”

Ward said the mass exodus of young people may take 10, 15 or 20 years to resolve, but the C.M.E. Church is planning one important solution:

Begin a strong focus on child evangelism with children between the ages of 3-5 years old.

“Presiding Bishop Henry Williamson is partnering with an international childhood evangelism program,” said Ward. “Along with the program for younger children is a teen training program for children 11-13, who will be taught to share with their peers about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Ward said the partnership will help stem the tide of children leaving the church as soon as they can make their own decision about whether or not to continue going to church.

“Evangelizing children as early as possible could lead to a lifetime commitment to Jesus Christ,” said Ward. “Not just for the C.M.E. Church, but in every denomination. There should be an urgency in all of us to train our children and grandchildren to take over the church. They will be the new leadership of the church. We are getting older, and we are moving off the scene.”

Ward said that all Christians “are called,” and must serve do everything possible to share Christ with a “dying world.”

“When I go to the grocery store, I hand out cards,” said Ward. “On the front of the card, it reads: ‘Where meeting the needs of people is more important than the church meeting.’ More important with coming to join Mt. Pisgah or any other church should be meeting the needs of people. That’s the purpose of the church.”

Ward said the only way a church can be effective in its surrounding community is to pursue holistic ministry, or ministry that not only addresses the spiritual needs of a person, but also answers physical and material needs.

“Our church is involved with a number of social services organizations,” said Ward. “One of them is Manhood University, where men who have been formerly incarcerated can receive assistance in finding a job and getting resettled on the outside. If I am preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and people are still unemployed, uneducated, hungry, or homeless, then I am not doing my job.”

Ward has been pastor of Mt. Pisgah C.M.E. Church for almost 14 years. July will mark his 14th anniversary. 

Prior to serving at Mt. Pisgah, Ward was pastor for 10 months at Mt. Hebrew C.M.E. Church in Piperton, Tennessee, just east of Collierville.

Following that assignment, he was pastor of Washington Chapel C.M.E. Church in Memphis for 10 years. Mt. Pisgah is only his third assignment.

“Before I was a pastor, my wife and I sold real estate,” said Ward. “I was 44 years old when I accepted a call to preach. It is up to us to do all we can to make sure the church goes on long after we are gone. 

“A man must understand that if he makes the decision to live without the Lord in this life, he makes the decision to live without the Lord in the next.”

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