Resources to Encourage the Next Generation

Monthly archive

June 2021

5 Reasons Why Generation Alpha Will Change the Future of Youth Ministry

in Family Ministry/Generation Alpha/youth ministry by

New Generations Change Things

Most of today’s youth workers are probably Millennials[1] – the generation we were told would change everything. With the recent surge of immigration, this age group became America’s largest generation[2] – and has certainly emerged as the most influential population segment in this country’s history.

In generational sequence, the Millennials were followed by Generation Z – which includes today’s teenagers and college age students. Gen. Z’ers have become the most diverse, progressive, and financially-minded generation in recent US history[3]. Older youth workers and other church leaders were told by some experts to “quit doing Millennial ministry[4]” because this new generation would look, act, think, and behave much differently than then their adolescent predecessors.

Now a new generation is looming on our youth ministry horizons. It is almost time for “Generation Alpha” to emerge. This moniker, coined by Australian marketer, Mark McCrindle[5], nicknamed the globe’s newest generation with the first letter in Greek alphabet[6]. While there is no real consensus yet about what will become the name that sticks for this emerging generation, there is no doubt that like their generational forefathers, this new age group is about to change everything – including the way we do local church youth ministry.

So, it will soon be time to quit doing “Generation Z” ministry and concentrate on reaching and ministering to Generation Alpha instead.

Introducing Generation Alpha

Alphas are the kids born between 2010 and 2025 and will be the first generation to live entirely in the twenty-first century. Ironically, based upon current life expectancy rates, they will also be the first generation to see the twenty-second century. They are also likely to be the generation most affected by the lasting impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The members of Generation Alpha have been featured on the internet their entire lives – from the “gender-reveal parties” thrown by their parents, to their own personal YouTube channels, and the TikTok videos they made during the pandemic. Because most Alpha’s are the offspring of Millennials, they are also more likely to be from non-traditional households – with older parents and fewer sibling than the recent previous generations before them[7].

The leading edge of Generation Alpha are today’s 11-year-olds[8]. In only two or three short years, they will be members of our church youth groups – and in ten years they will be the generation of young adults that everyone is talking about.

Alphas also have the potential to change everything we know to true about youth ministry – which means that it is essential for today’s youth workers and other church leaders to do all that we can right now to learn about this new generation and to anticipate the likelihood of sweeping changes we will need to make in our church youth ministries to reach this new generation[9].  

Changes Alphas Will Make in Youth Ministry

  • Generation Alpha will be the age group most impacted by COVID – and that means that church and ministry leaders will need to change the way they do ministry to truly impact this new generation.

The recent coronavirus situation will predictably be the defining moment for the members of Generation Alpha. Each recent generation in US history has been characterized by one seminal event or set of circumstances: for the “Greatest Generation”, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor; for Baby Boomers, it was the assassination of President Kennedy, for Millennials is was the attacks of 9/11; and for Alphas it will no doubt be the global COVID-19 crisis.

Generational defining moments tend to be cultural “game changers” in that these events have lasting emotional or social effects on the age groups that go through these life-altering circumstances during the same stage of their lives. Church and ministry leaders must recognize that the structures of their ministries will need to change in response to a new generation having experienced this global pandemic together.

It is no wonder that we are hearing so much about the mental health issues that today’s children and young people are experiencing. Alphas are a generation that will need to learn how to cope with emotional responses such as fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. They have been told to be “socially distant” from their peers and from other adults. They have also seen their parents and grandparents react to significant financial struggles.

Church leaders cannot expect this new generation and their parents or other caregivers to come back to church programs that feature a “let’s get back to normal” approach. Their “new normal” will look quite different than what things used to be.

The COVID crisis, and this new generation’s reaction to the experiences surrounding it, will be one reason why church and ministry leaders will need to change their methodologies to reach and impact this new generation.

  • The majority of Generation Alpha in America are from non-traditional or hurting and dysfunctional households – and that means the way churches organize their ministries to households and families must change.

The stay-at-home culture that developed surrounding the coronavirus situation was not a positive thing for most members of Generation Alpha. Being at home for extended periods of time was not always healthy or even safe for some members of Generation Alpha.

Demographics reveal that Alphas are much more likely to be raised in non-traditional households than members of any previous American generation[10]. The number of single-parent, co-habiting, same-sex, and multi-generational homes is growing significantly. The number of kids not living with both of their biological parents is also increasing rapidly. Plus, household violence and abuse are rampant. One writer put it this way, “When you look at a child in this generation, you never know what kind of family life they have experienced[11].”

Churches can no longer expect that the majority of kids who attend their “kids’ ministry” will do so with supportive parents who are on the same page as the church leaders. That is most likely not the case anymore. In fact, many youth workers have told me that their experience is that many of today’s families do not even attend church or church functions regularly due to other commitments and priorities in their lives.

Youth workers who want to effectively reach Generation Alpha will need to understand that the days when most Christian parents are committed to being the primary spiritual influence on their own kids is probably over.

  • Members of Generation Alpha are likely to be “tech creators” more than they are “tech consumers” – which means that churches and ministries must give this new generation space to create and connect online.

Generation Z was perhaps the first generation to truly deserve the label as “digital natives[12]”. As the offspring of Generation X (the first generation to fully utilize computers and tablets as tools in their own work environment), most Gen. Z’ers literally grew up with their own iPads and iPhones.

This phenomenon is even more ubiquitous with Alphas. As Mark McCrindle puts it, “They are the most technologically literate generation to ever grace the planet![13]” Most of today’s children already grew up with their own technology – and then COVID hit and forced almost every elementary school in this country to utilize virtual or hybrid education[14].

Using technological tools is not foreign to Alphas, but staying at home for school will perhaps prove to be another game changer for this generation. They didn’t have personal interaction with teachers or peers for several months – which is a long time in the life of a child.

There are likely to be lasting ramifications resulting from virtual or hybrid education, including the thwarting of children’s social skills and the increased development of kids’ use of technology. This new generation were already accomplished tech users, but the move to virtual and hybrid education will probably motivate them toward becoming tech creators more than just tech consumers. One writer says, “…kids especially—should be able to create technology. If you can create the technology you want, you can create the future you want, too[15].”

In fact, it is estimated that 65 percent of today’s children will end up working in a job as adults that doesn’t even exist yet[16].

  • Generation Alpha is growing up in a culture where the church is much less of a priority than it was for previous generations. This reality will mean that church leaders will be forced to demonstrate that church and church functions are vitally important for all generations.

The most pressing distinction of Generation Alpha is that the majority of that cohort will have had no connection with church at all[17]. As already mentioned, the members of this generation are generally the children of Millennials, the first generation who left “religion, and is not coming back[18].”

Alphas are not a generation who will make church a priority. Their parents aren’t making a commitment to church, and neither will they. This will force church leaders to take new and different strategies to reach and effectively minister to them.

  • There’s no doubt that most Alphas are growing up with a “post-Christian” and “post-church” mindset – which means that it will be essential for churches and ministries to act like cross-cultural missionaries to reach and impact this new generation.

Pastor James White, in his groundbreaking book Meet Generation Z, notes “the most defining mark of members of Generation Z, in terms of their spiritual lives, is their spiritual illiteracy…They do not know what the Bible says. They do not know the basics of Christian belief or theology.” This knowledge gap is the result of a massive cultural value shift from the sacred to the secular, and it has led to increasing numbers of students abandoning their faith and losing interest in the church[19].

If White’s observations are true with the previous generation, one wonders how the next generation will act about church and organized religion. Alphas are definitely growing up in a post-Christian and post-church culture.

It is true once again that this emerging generation is likely to change everything – which means that wise youth pastors and other church leaders should prayerfully strategize now how to change the look, structure, and focus of our ministries to students to effectively impact Generation Alpha.


[1] Personal note: I am assuming that the average age of a youth pastor in the United States at this present moment is approximately 25 to 35 years old. If this statistic is true, it means that most of today’s youth pastors would be Millennials.

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/28/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers-as-americas-largest-generation/

[3] https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-are-the-core-characteristics-of-generation-z/

[4] https://mymresources.com/2020/04/20/top-10-things-to-understand-about-generation-z/?fbclid=IwAR3hfCQ6B2731iAUc0wZcTck0o396R360w8q282b9XXy6gDOnw68FEXUT_c

[5] “The of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations”, by Mark McCrindle, published by the University of New South Wales Press, 2010.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Alpha

[7] https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/27/as-millennials-near-40-theyre-approaching-family-life-differently-than-previous-generations/#:~:text=They%20are%20getting%20married%20later,28%20when%20she%20first%20wed.&text=Some%2042%25%20of%20Millennials%20with,high%20school%20education%20are%20married

[8] https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/gen-alpha-defined/

[9] Here is a link to a Zoom webinar I did, “Why Learning About Generation Alpha is Essential for Church Leaders?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Torgru5cOTY&t=5s, and here are the notes for that webinar: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youthministryquestions.com%2Fs%2Falpha-notes_booklet_final.pdf

[10] https://prsay.prsa.org/2019/10/17/what-pr-pros-need-to-know-about-the-worlds-next-age-group-generation-alpha/

[11] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/generation-alpha-after-gen-z_l_5d420ef4e4b0aca341181574

[12] https://www.voanews.com/student-union/gen-z-born-be-digital

[13] https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blogarchive/gen-z-and-gen-alpha-infographic-update/

[14] https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2018/08/22/hybrid-education-breath-future-and-death-teaching-we-know-it

[15] https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2015/12/why-its-critical-for-the-next-gen-to-be-tech-creators-not-consumers/

[16] https://www.primotoys.com/creating-with-tech/

[17] https://yfc.co.uk/from-z-to-a/

[18] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/millennials-are-leaving-religion-and-not-coming-back/

[19] https://www.kentuckytoday.com/stories/gen-z-is-spiritually-illiterate-and-abandoning-the-church-how-did-we-get-here,23397

NOTE: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

11 Things My Parents Did Right

in Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

I greatly appreciate my parents and the generational legacy in my family. As far back as I know which, thanks to services and tools like “Ancestry.com”, goes all that way back to the 1600’s – my ancestors have been believers. There is no doubt, with great indebtedness to God’s grace and His will, my forefathers were mostly followers of Christ.

I cannot fully articulate how incredibly thankful I am for that kind of heritage. When I recall the generation-after-generation of faithfulness in both sides of my family, I am absolutely amazed.

What motivates me the most about this legacy in my family is that I do not want to be the generation that messes it up! Only by His grace, all three of our children are living for the Lord and are serving Him in full-time career ministry. Plus, our boys are now raising our ten grandchildren to love and serve the Lord.

As I have mentioned often, my parents were simple people, just laymen in the church, but they both loved the Lord and made their local church a top priority. They are in heaven today, but thinking back, here are 11 lessons that I learned from them:

  • Work hard.

My parents lived by a strong work ethic. Working hard was very important to them – and they taught their kids to work hard too.

  • Make church a priority.

No matter what, my parents went to church – and they made their boys go to church too. We were the consummate “if the church building is open – we go” family. Nothing came in way of church. Not snowstorms, or homework, or jobs, or basketball practice – and most often, not sickness. They made church and church functions a priority, and we learned that lesson.

  • Serve the Lord.

My parents didn’t worry about finding their spiritual gifts. They just volunteered, dug in, and got to work in the church. My dad wasn’t comfortable up front, and never wanted to speak in public; but he volunteered to take out the church garbage and to mow the church lawn. My mom helped young girls memorize Scripture and faithfully went to the church office one day a week to help count the church offerings. They believed that believers should serve the Lord, and they practiced that.

  • Write things down.

My dad made lists of almost everything. He always carried small notebooks and a pen with him, and he wrote things down to help him remember. I believe that one of the factors that encouraged me to become a writer was their practice of writing things down.

  • Read often.

When we were kids my parents made sure that we had our own library cards, and they took us every Saturday morning to the county library which was in our town. They also had a rule that we had to read the books before we took them back to the library. Now, my books are some of my most prized possessions – and I have thousands of books lining the walls of our basement. I absolutely believe in the importance of teaching kids to read well and have tried to instill that discipline in the lives of our children and grandchildren.

  • Be nice to others.

My parents treated everyone with respect – and they taught their boys to always try to be nice to other people. In fact, they modeled this practice at church. I am convinced that if older people demonstrated faithfulness at church, and just showed up and were nice they would have an incredible impact on younger generations.

  • Don’t quit.

I did some dumb things as a kid including the time I went out for the school’s cross-country team and when I attempted to play the clarinet in the school band. Both were huge mistakes. My dad believed that “there’s nothing worse than a quitter” – and so my experience in both of those extra-curricular activities was a lot longer than what I wanted because he wouldn’t let me quit.

  • Be loyal.

Our parents demonstrated loyalty in everything they did. They were loyal to their jobs, to their church, to their friends, to their family, to their community – to everything. Not once did I ever hear them complain about something they were involved in. If they participated in something, it was important, and they never criticized it.

  • Take vacations.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents sacrificed to take their family on vacations. We never went far away, and we never stayed anywhere very expensive. But they wanted their boys to get out in nature and to see some of the wonders that God had created. Some of my fondest memories growing up were the times our family was on vacation.

  • Be creative and practice your hobbies.

My dad loved hunting and fishing, and he collected baseball cards with us; and my mom loved sewing and quilting. They both loved their hobbies, and encouraged their boys to take diversions from the practice of work by taking vacations and practicing hobbies.

  • Follow God’s will.

I didn’t want to quit this list at ten, because I thought of eleven things.

My parents encouraged us to follow God’s will. They understand that our lives would look much differently than their lives did – and that was okay with them as long as we did the will of God. They taught us to seek the will of God in His Word and to commit our lives to doing the will of God. I think that’s why my life’s verse is 1 John 2:17, “…the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Why don’t you make your own list sometime of the things your parents taught you!

How Can Small Youth Groups Make a Big Impact?

in youth ministry by

A recent report stated that the average church in America has about 75 people, 4 of whom are teenagers. I don’t know if that description fits your church, but the report shows that the typical church is nowhere near the size of a megachurch.

Sure, mega churches get lots of attention, but let’s face it; most churches do not have the facilities, budget, or number of people to garner a great deal of interest from anyone except maybe from the regular members or attendees. Therefore, it is quite easy for pastors and other leaders in smaller churches to get discouraged when some of their people seem to be attracted to the larger megachurches in their communities.

In my opinion, there seems to be a growing church insecurity about having a small congregation. A friend of mine has repeatedly stated, “Every small church is trying to get bigger, and every large church is trying to get smaller.” He is obviously talking about the trend today toward small-group ministries. I admit that I have some cautions about small groups, and I advise churches to implement some guidelines into the organization and structure of their small groups; but for the most part, I am a fan of small groups in the local church. There is a great deal of good that can come from a small-group ministry.

I grew up in a small town. My family attended a small church, and I was active in a small youth group. Over the years of my ministry, I have visited or preached in a variety of churches of all sizes. I have also talked to several volunteer youth workers in churches with very small youth groups or youth Sunday School classes. Those experiences have given me the following perspective of the advantages of small church youth ministry.

Make much of people, not programs.

The biggest advantage of being in a small church is that we can emphasize people over programs. Somehow, we must learn that it doesn’t take an organized structure to do real ministry. Effective ministry can happen in our kitchens around a cup of coffee or in our living rooms with our feet propped up on the coffee table. I am becoming increasingly convinced that today’s students are much more impressed by adults who genuinely care about them than they are with overly organized and structured programs. Don’t get me wrong; I see value in organization and structure. However, smaller churches have a real advantage over bigger churches in the development of close relationships.

If you are a youth worker in a small church, you can have everyone over to your house for dinner or take the whole class out for McDonald’s milkshakes without taking out a second mortgage or robbing a bank. If you only have a handful of students in your group, you can probably get out to their high school football games or concerts. You can remember everybody’s birthdays, and you can pray for each one specifically and individually each day. You can show them how to do their own personal devotions and you can answer specific life-related questions. You can build close relationships and not just be another acquaintance from church. See, there are huge advantages to being in a small church where you can make much of people instead of programs.

Stress relationships, not rooms.

It seems that the modern church is more interested in building buildings than building lives. That statement may be a bit sarcastic, but this viewpoint is not based on the Bible. A pastor friend of mine recently experienced a fire in his church building that practically destroyed the facility. Even though insurance paid for the reconstruction of their building, he said this to me during the process: “I’d almost like to do without our building permanently. [Without the building] our people were closer, the fellowship seemed to be more genuine, and church seemed to be real.” Perhaps he was right. Perhaps our fancy buildings and facilities sometimes get in the way of real ministry.

I’ve had many youth workers over the years ask me about their youth rooms or Sunday School classrooms, and I’ve seen some amazing youth rooms. Ideal facilities would be nice, but most churches I know of do not have the money or budget to build “perfect” youth meeting rooms. In fact, I have had occasions where I taught teenagers in church busses, in gymnasiums, in basements where I couldn’t even stand up straight, and in “janitor’s closets” under the stairs.

I really don’t think that Christ would have been overly concerned with PowerPoint, smart boards, or sound systems. He may have utilized those things, but I’m sure that His focus would have been to develop strong interpersonal relationships with His students. Sure, He made use of visual aids. He wrote in the dirt on the ground and referenced objects in nature to visualize the truth He was teaching. But mostly He concentrated on people. That seems like a good idea for ministry with teenagers today.

Build trust instead of technology.

I certainly enjoy modern technology. I love my Microsoft Surface PC, and I carry my iPhone and iPad religiously. My son wrote me a note recently that stated, “You are the only Dad who has cooler toys than his kids.” Yep, I admit that I am a collector of technological toys. But let’s all be careful not to let our electronic gadgets isolate us from people.

I am old enough remember the days when “Walkmans” were the great evil in youth ministry. Youth workers feared that kids on the bus who listened to Walkmans would drown out conversations with other people. These workers made rules that wouldn’t let kids bring those old cassette tape players on youth trips. Remember those days? Now we are all hearing that modern technology actually helps kids connect with each other. One recent research organization reported that today’s teenagers would be willing to do without almost anything they owned – except for their phones. I am sure that technology can help us stay connected to our students, but let’s be careful not to send mass text messages or e-mails, to kids when we should be spending time with them in person. I think we should utilize every means possible to stay in touch with teenagers, but let’s be sure to include spending time with them individually in person as well. You can do that very well in a smaller church.

Emphasize mentoring over methods.

Somehow it seems that contemporary youth ministry has become “method” crazy. “How to” has become the latest and greatest craze. It is imperative for all of us to work on our creativity and imagination. All of us should get better at implementing creative Bible learning and imaginative methods in our teaching. But we should never sacrifice Biblical truth at the altar of student involvement or interaction. It also seems like today’s youth workers are constantly looking for the next “what works” method for ministry. Countless conferences and seminars tout the latest and greatest technique for youth ministry. These methods are fine, but we must never forget that real, Biblical ministry should focus on the spiritual practices of basic discipleship and mentoring.

Mentoring is a concept that must be intentionally implemented into the fabric of our ministries (see Titus 2:1-8). It can be an effective way to connect the various generations with each other in our churches. The fundamental idea of mentoring is that caring, godly adults should take the initiative to develop intentional growing relationships with young people. In other words, we must teach adults to do what they normally do, just to do it with students.

For instance, my mom was an exceptionally talented quilt maker. She had a very effective ministry showing young ladies in her church how to quilt. My mother-in-law loved music. She took some of the young girls in her church to piano recitals and concerts. One national youth ministry organization recently reported that 90 percent of today’s teenagers stated that they would love to have an adult mentor. That is the concept so aptly described in Titus 2. Older men and older women can have an incredible mentoring ministry by spending time with teenagers.

Train, don’t just “teach.”

My last suggestion may seem strange – I believe in teaching and have spent most of my life involved in various teaching endeavors. We must emphasize training or equipping, not just the verbal presentation of fact. But our ministries must feature training, not just lectures. I also believe in the importance of preaching. However, my focus here is on the significance of true education: making sure that our students learn.

Christianity must impact the lifestyles of our students. That’s why the truth of James 1:22, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only”, is so critical for today’s culture. Our students need to see how Biblical principles relate to life today. I love the account in Luke 24 of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to some of His disciples. Verse 32 presents this interesting question, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Christ taught them the Bible while He walked with them through their journey. Perhaps that is an apt description of what real ministry is all about: showing students that God’s Word relates to life!

May God bless you as you minister to today’s students, even in small churches.

NOTE: To listen to my recent podcast on this same topic: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-can-small-youth-groups-make-a-big-impact/id1562519123?i=1000524332082.

Go to Top