Resources to Encourage the Next Generation

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March 2019

Reaching & Ministering to “Spiritual Orphans” in Your Community

in Going On For God/Mentoring/youth ministry by

The rise of “spiritual orphans” in our communities is a reflection of the true state of the family in today’s American culture. I define this category of student as those who have come to Christ, but who do not have the spiritual support system in place to grow in Him, or they are young people who do not have any Godly adult influences in their lives.

According to a recent national survey, almost 65% of Americans come to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14[i]. This is an important reality for any church to think through. If your children’s ministry and student ministry are reaching young people for Christ, you undoubtedly have connections with spiritual orphans as a part of your ministry.

Plus, we are living in a culture today where most likely the “good, Christian family” does not exist. According to recent statistics, more and more couples are living together without being married; the number of single-parent homes in the US is growing dramatically; there is a changing definition of “family” and there is a growing number of households in America that do not fit the classification of a “traditional” family; and the number of dysfunctional or fractured families is also increasing[ii].

Theologically, of course, there’s no such thing as a spiritual orphan:

  • God loves us so much that He sent His Son so that we can have a relationship with Him – John 3:16 and 1 John 4:10.
  • Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family – Ephesians 1:4-5.
  • Also, through a personal relationship with Christ, we become children of God, and are actually “heirs” of God – Romans 8:16-17.
  • God Himself cares deeply for human orphans – Psalms 68:5.

Humanly however, the likelihood of us having the opportunity to minister to spiritual orphans is great. If we are seeing kids come to Christ, there will be several of them who are from households with very little Godly influence. This fact presents our ministries with a huge responsibility to help these young people become assimilated or integrated into the Christian community.

Ministering to “Spiritual Orphans” –

Here are 5 strategic suggestions for your church to consider:

  1. Creatively and effectively present the Gospel. We must never forget the truth of Romans 10:15, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” God brings people into His family through His Word, and people grow in Christ through His Word. Because we are very likely to have a growing number of kids without any other spiritual influence in their lives, it will be imperative for us to make the clear communication of God’s Word a top priority in our ministries.
  2. Provide Godly adult mentors. Most of today’s students will respond positively to the influence of significant adults who care enough to build growing and healthy relationships with them. (Of course, it is imperative to build safeguards into our ministries including a well-defined and implemented “child protection policy[iii]”.) However, Godly mentors can provide a new layer of inter-generational relationships in your church’s ministry to young people[iv]. Many of the kids you reach for Christ today will be from households without the positive influence of significant adults. This is one of the reasons why is it so important for the church today to be inter-generational[v] in its ministry philosophy and programming.
  3. Show them God at work in the lives of their peers. One of the key advantages of any local church is the larger community of God’s people. Positive peer pressure is so important for kids. If we can help spiritual orphans see God at work in and through the lives of other young people, they will begin to see this activity as the norm. Churches must never be dominated by fun-and-games, nor should they be entertainment-driven in their programming. Activities like that are important of course, but only as a way (along with other means of programming) to show the reality of Jesus Christ in life. All new believers need to see that other Christian can have fun, and that it is exciting to serve the Lord and to live out their faith in real-life situations.  
  4. Help them connect with the total church. God designed His church to be inter-generational. The end result of student ministry is not participation in youth group. It must be that kids grow up on and go on for God as adults[vi]. We must grasp the fact that youth ministry was never designed as a terminal program where our students graduate from high school and then walk away from God’s church. We can help connect them to “big church” via intentional involvement in serving, giving, worship, teaching and preaching, outreach, and other means of developing sweat equity. Young adults are much less likely to walk away from involvement in church when they become adults if they have been personally involved in church-wide activities when they were kids.
  5. Encourage good families to “adopt” spiritual orphans. It’s interesting that the world grasps this idea and yet the church falls behind in implementing it. The general community where you live probably has programs like “foster kids” or “big brothers & big sisters”, where solid families take an active role in building relationships with kids from broken or dysfunctional households. Why shouldn’t the church lead the way in this kind of ministry? Probably churches leaders will need to paint the vision of how this could work. But the concept is sound – and it works. Good parents can be motivated to “adopt” kids who need to see what positive family relationships look like by including them in typical family activities like meals, sports, movie nights, etc.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to reach out to the “spiritual orphans” in your community.


[i] https://www.nae.net/when-americans-become-christians/

[ii] A great resource on the current state of the family in the US is: Households of Faith, by Barna Research. https://shop.barna.com/collections/family-kids/products/households-of-faith

[iii] I recently wrote a post on my blog about building safeguards into our mentoring ministry. Check it out. http://melwalker.org/mentoring-safeguards/

[iv] See Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church, by Mel Walker, published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2019. https://goingonforgod.com/product/mentoring/  

[v] See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why A Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church, by Mel Walker, published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2013. http://intergenerationalyouthministry.com/the-book/

[vi] See Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, by Mel Walker, Published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2108. https://goingonforgod.com/product/going-on-for-god/

WAYS OLDER ADULTS CAN MINISTER TO YOUNG PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH

in Going On For God/Mentoring/Older adults/youth ministry by

“Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” Psalm 71:18

According to the US Government’s Health & Human Services Department we live in a country with a dramatically increasing population of older people. At this moment, almost 50 million people in the United States are 65 years of age or older – and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. This demographic trend will definitely impact church ministries and programming as we consider how to reach and serve this growing cohort.

Even though most of us have been raised believing there is a considerable “Generation Gap”, I am absolutely convinced that the different generations in the church need each other and that both sides of the generational divide actually want the same things in the church. Younger people and older people alike desire to serve and worship God in a local church environment that honors God, that teaches and preaches the life-changing Word of God, and that effectively reaches out to the unsaved and un-churched members of the surrounding community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches the unity of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-16) and that older people can and should mentor and encourage young people in the church (see Titus 2:1-10). Today’s young people need Godly and loving encouragement from the older people in the church – and actually current research points out that this generation of young people is very, very receptive to building close relationships with older people. (See https://www.barna.com/research/multigenerational-friendships/?mc_cid=5df38c9891&mc_eid=bfbee3c1fa.)

If you, like me, are one of the “older” generations in your church, please join me in doing all we can to encourage emerging generations to grow up and go on for God. Here are 5 simple things older adults can do to minister to younger people in church:

Pray for them

I highly encourage senior citizens to pray for their church’s younger generations – specifically, by name! It’s probably easy to obtain a list of their names from your church’s youth workers. Take each one to the Lord individually. God will begin to put a burden on your heart for them. You will be amazed at how external things fade away as you pray specifically for them and their spiritual growth. Once you have developed the habit of praying intentionally and individually FOR young people – then take the opportunity to pray WITH them. You will be amazed at how receptive today’s young people are for a time of special prayer with older people.

Encourage them.

It’s also important for the older, established people in the church to actively and purposely encourage them in their walk with God. Take the Biblical examples of Barnabas and Onesiphorus to heart. They were exceptional encouragers. Today’s young people hear so much criticism and negativity. Let’s change that trend in the church. Imagine the positive influence you could have on your church’s teenagers and college age young adults just by being a verbal encouragement to them. Ephesians 4:29 puts it this way, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Older people should take the initiative. Just say an encouraging word or two to young people in the church foyer or hallway. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.

Tell your story

Today’s youth love stories. Most of the recent blockbuster movies have been epic tales told as stories. God uses human interest, real-life accounts of real people to touch the hearts of others. I think this is the idea behind the truth in Psalm 78:1-8. Older generations were instructed to tell the next generation “the praises of the Lord. And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done….” So that, “They may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.” This generation loves “God stories”. Seniors should take every opportunity they can to share what God has done and is doing in and through their lives. Practical ideas abound. Invite young people over to your home and take the opportunity to share your testimony with them. Take a few young people out for coffee. Today’s young people love to connect with older people. I strongly recommend that churches use this as a ministry advantage. This simple action step will help break down the Generation Gap.

Minister alongside them.

It should be the standard norm in your church for each ministry position (ushers, Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, work days, etc.) to include a mentoring relationship with a younger person. Our churches must be intentional about becoming inter-generational. So, if you have any kind of ministry position at all in your church, why not invite a younger person to serve alongside of you? Even if you are not a ministry leader you can still minister with teens by asking them to help you bake cookies to encourage someone in the church, or to go with you to visit a shut-in. The key is to demonstrate your desire to serve the Lord to emerging generations.

Mentor them.

I believe that every mature Christian in the church should have growing mentoring relationships with younger people. This is the Biblical pattern (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and Titus 2) and it should be replicated throughout our churches today. Over 90% of today’s young people have indicated that they would appreciate an older mentor. Yet, most adults feel like they don’t have time to so something like this. Friends, I have said for years that true mentoring is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. It is doing what you already do, just doing it with someone younger. The best mentoring takes place at church by the way. Begin this Sunday by building intentional, growing relationships with younger people.

              It makes sense for older, spiritually mature people to be intentional about personally ministering to younger people in the church. Let’s bridge that Generation Gap!

5 Ways to Transform Your Church Youth Ministry Into a “City on a Hill”

in Evangelism/Outreach/youth ministry by

Youth room. Church kids. Snacks. Games. Praise band. Youth speaker. Small groups.

How long has church youth ministry looked this way in America? I am 41-years-old and it’s been this way since I was in youth group… and possibly before. I was in youth group in the 90’s, specifically from 1990-1996. I have also traveled extensively and observed many American, church youth groups since graduating from Bible college, and almost everyone has looked almost exactly like mine did.  

If your church youth ministry still looks like this, should it? Are you content with where it is currently, or do you dream of and pray for more?

Many, if not most, church youth ministries right now are in decline. A good number of churches have even decided against paying a full-time youth director.  Middle school ministries are doing better, but high schoolers are checking out due to busyness and simply feeling too old for youth group. 

Would you like to experience growth, both numerical and spiritual? Reach your community? See students embrace real, radical relationships with Christ? Watch them become disciple makers and world changers for Christ?

The following are five, strategic changes to implement in your church youth ministry this year to create a “city on a hill” culture that shines a light in your community, and not just in your youth room:

  1. DETERMINE WHO YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY IS ABOUT. Who is your desired target audience? Is it ONLY “church kids,” or would you like to see your youth ministry reach outside of the walls of the church into the community? My guess is that you would love to impact more than just the kids who attend your church. If not, this article might not be for you, because you might be more content than you realized with the state of your current ministry.
  2. FORMULATE A PLAN TO REACH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. (Step one might require talking with your church leadership and casting your vision. Based on how that conversation goes, step two might require a great deal of prayer and fasting for a shared unity of vision, or even a re-location to a church that shares your vision. Radical action is usually necessary and worthwhile in order to bring about great impact and change!) If your desire is for your youth ministry to transform your community, you’re thinking BIG and I applaud you, but you have to have a plan! Sit down with your youth leaders and/or student leaders and create a MIND MAP (https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Mind-Map). Use this exercise to determine your next steps.
  3. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE IN YOUR COMMUNITY. It’s likely that you have already planned outreach or evangelistic events (ie. a Super Bowl party) in hopes of attracting students in your community, only to be disappointed with the end result. Students who have yet to embark on a relationship with Christ, will likely not join a church youth group which feels like a members-only, or elitist Christian club. It is much more effective to go to them! Find out the needs of the students in your community. Ask your local high school principal, letting him or her know that you are willing to help in any way. Perhaps there is a need for tutoring, volunteers for extra-curricular activities, help with repairs and renovations, etc. Start small and continue to ask for ways to help. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, ESV).
  4. DARE TO LEAVE THE YOUTH ROOM. From where do you want the growth to come? If you’re dreaming of reaching your community or local high school students, you need to GO to them. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) commands us to GO in order to reach people:  Therefore go and make disciples…” A city on a hill does not hide!Dare to leave the youth room. Take your existing students and GO somewhere. Be strategic. Go where the needs are. Go let your light shine before men! A church in northeastern Pennsylvania skips church all together one Sunday every year to spend the day instead serving their community. Take your cues from the high school principal, teacher, coach, PTA president, social worker, etc. and GO reach your community . . . WITH your students! Make this a regular activity on your youth calendar!
  5. THINK LIKE A MISSIONARY. Your church may be your job, but your community is your mission/harvest field. Make your community a higher priority than it’s ever been before. Almost weekly in the news we are hearing devastating accounts of students being bullied, committing suicide, or shooting their teachers and classmates. The local public schools need you. They need your youth ministry. Most of all, they need the hope and light of the Gospel. Take it to them! Don’t expect them to come and get it. Go and make disciples. Do this and your youth ministry will become that “city on a hill” transforming darkness into light!

By Kristi Walker – CrossWay Church in Berlin, Germany


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