Resources to Encourage the Next Generation

Author

Mel Walker

Mel Walker has 46 articles published.

When Parents Are Not Partners in Your Church’s Youth Ministry…

in Family Ministry/Parents/youth ministry by

The ideal scenario for any youth pastor, of course, would be to have committed Christian parents as active, supportive, and true partners in the church’s youth ministry. Christian parents are the ones most accountable for the spiritual growth and development of their kids. The Scriptures are clear that parents, especially fathers, are to bring their kids up “in the training and admonition of the Lord,” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV). It would be great if those same parents saw the need for their kids to be faithfully and actively involved in the established mission of church youth ministry.

There are definitely some parents who love what the church is doing with teenagers – and who appreciate the tangible benefits their own teenagers experience as enthusiastic participants in those functions. To be sure, there are Christian parents out there who realize that the church is also responsible for the spiritual maturity of their kids. They have studied Ephesians 4 and see the importance of the local church teaching their kids to “no longer be children,” but to “grow up in all things into Christ,” (vv14-15, NKJV).

Both God-ordained institutions, the Christian home and the local church, have the same God-given purpose to teach the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ and to train the next generation to grow into lasting spiritual maturity.

There certainly are some parents who are vigorous contributors to the process of true spiritual growth in the lives of their kids, and who are also absolutely committed to what the church youth ministry is trying to do. In fact, the statistics overwhelmingly show that the students who grow up in those homes are undoubtedly the ones who grow up to live consistent Christian lives as adults themselves. That situation is what God wants – and it is what works in life.

But let’s get real. The above-described scenario is getting harder and harder to find.

Today’s Changing Households

Current demographic trends reveal an ever-increasing number of non-traditional, hurting, and dysfunctional households. Youth workers and other church leaders should do their homework. Look at the census information and other cultural demographics in your community. There is no doubt that the number of kids today from those non-traditional households is growing exponentially.

In fact, a recent book from the Barna Group, Households of Faith: The Rituals and Relationships That Turn a Home Into a Sacred Space, has challenged churches to quit using the term “family ministry,” because so many households do not readily identify as true “families.”

The authors of perhaps the definitive book on today’s teenagers, Generation Z: A Century in the Making, report some alarming changes in the makeup of the average American household. This includes that a significant portion of kids today do not live with both of their natural parents, along with an increasing number of single-parent homes, an expanding number of children living in cohabiting households, and a growing number of same-sex households with children.

A Post-Christian Mindset

Another reality that today’s youth workers must face is the dominating presence of a post-Christian and post-church mindset in contemporary culture. Even in America, there is a rapidly advancing mentality that questions and even denies the importance of religion, maybe even especially that of genuine Christianity – living consistently for the Lord and making Him first place in life.

Too many of today’s parents, guardians, and adult caregivers, it seems, would rather have their kids get a high-paying job, win a scholarship to college, or progress toward a highly respected career than they would commit to having their children faithfully involved in the church’s youth ministries. Of course, this attitude is not universal, but the trends indicate that it is becoming fairly ubiquitous in today’s world.

A Lack of Loyalty to the Local Church

Akin to the post-Christian philosophy is the relatively recent departure of Millennials and Gen Zers from the Church. One author has stated, “Every indication is that the nones will be the largest religious group in the United States in the next decade.” (The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going).

Church attendance and participation is not the scheduling priority it once was in American households. Work, school activities, and involvement in various sports often take precedence in the lives of today’s households. It seems as if most youth workers struggle with significant numbers of “church kids” who do not show up regularly for church and youth group functions due to their over-scheduled personal calendars and commitments.

What do we do about it?

This is not the time for youth workers to throw up their hands in despair or uncertainty. It must be the time for church leaders everywhere to call God’s people back to a true, radical commitment to Jesus Christ and His work in the world today. Of course, it would be amazing if all Christian parents saw the need and the importance of encouraging their kids to a committed faithfulness to church and youth ministry functions. Praise the Lord for those parents who do see it that way.

But, considering the current trends, what should youth workers do?

More than ever, it is imperative for the church to truly be the Church – and to concentrate exactly on what Christ designed His Church to do. Today’s local church youth ministries must clearly communicate the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Youth ministries and kids’ ministries alike should prayerfully consider a quick return to this movement’s historical roots of developing relevant, creative, and energetic initiatives to share the Gospel with kids and students. This will require training students to share their faith and providing opportunities for evangelism to thrive.

It is also time for churches to recommit to Christ’s command to make disciples. Youth workers need to consider altering their programming approach to allow for more life-on-life discipleship as described in 2 Timothy 2:2. Christ’s ministry with His disciples did not look like an hourly program on Wednesday evenings and a few other scattered events. His ministry was real life in real-time and was a commitment of both the disciples and the Teacher.

The Bible is also clear that God’s purpose for pastor-teachers is to “equip saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV). This demands intergenerational connections with the church as a whole. Church leaders and members should understand and appreciate the imperative that believers of all ages be trained, motivated, and allowed to use their gifts and abilities in significant service for Christ.

Culture is changing right before our eyes. It might be easy to respond with criticism and discouragement. But God is still on the throne and is still using His Church to make an impact for eternity. He can and will continue to use youth workers to share the Gospel, to make disciples, and to equip God’s people to serve Him with their lives.

This article originally appeared: When Parents Are Not Partners in Youth Ministry (NNYM – National Network of Youth Ministries) (youthworkers.net).

THE EPIDEMIC OF MINISTRY DISASTERS: 4 Things That Will Ruin Your Ministry

in Blog/Ministry by

It happened again. The “it” was the phone call I received telling me that a friend of mine just lost his ministry due to moral failure. It seems as if person after person is losing his ministry. The stories are hard to grasp. The circumstances vary, of course, but the result is the same–another person has bailed out of ministry due to a personal impropriety. This time it was someone I knew quite well. I never figured it would happen to him; he probably didn’t either. This young pastor allowed certain things to get “out of whack”, in his personal and ministry life. He wasn’t as careful as he should have been in certain areas of his life. Left unchecked, those indiscretions ended up being the things that took his ministry away.

This young man isn’t the first person I know who lost his ministry. The list is long. . . . Good friends of mine, people I went to college with, people I served in ministry with all lost their ministries due to a specific area of sin in their lives. I’ve heard the stories of not only some of my friends who have failed but also accounts of ministry leaders and ministry novices who have lost their positions in ministry.

I want to talk about some of the common denominators in all of those stories. Sure, the circumstances are all different, but some ingredients fit into specific categories. I want to call youth workers to lives of holiness, purity, and personal discipline. There seems to be four basic areas of life that, when left unchecked, can lead to ministry disaster.

  • Morals: Undoubtedly the number-one cause of ministry disaster is moral sin. The huge number of pastors who fall into sexual sin is staggering. The sin ranges from being caught in a habit of pornography, to ongoing physical or emotional affairs with someone other than the pastor’s spouse. This trend of moral failure has become a full-blown epidemic. It is critically important for all ministry leaders to develop God-honoring lifestyles of complete moral purity. There is nothing so devastating to a person’s reputation than moral failure. Youth workers, I beg of you, keep your hearts and thought-lives pure before the Lord.
  • Money: The second reason for ministry failure is often financial impropriety. A lack of true Biblical stewardship can lead to personal disaster and ruin. Ministry leaders must learn to handle their own finances and ministry finances with great care and extreme caution. Money problems have caused many ministry leaders great difficulties. It is important for each ministry leader to learn to handle church funds carefully. Every penny should be justified, and a full accounting of financial records, including a system of checks and balances, should be implemented. Financial management may or may not be one of your strengths, but budgeting and record-keeping skills can and should be learned.
  • Mouth: The third factor I have seen cause ruin in the ministry is the mouth. The Bible lists many ways that words can hurt us. Do you remember the old childhood taunt that went something like this: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? The truth is that words do hurt. We have all been hurt by mean-spirited gossip and cutting criticism. Ministry leaders must learn that their words can hurt them too. People who cannot control their tongues are not fit for ministry. If we gossip, if we verbally criticize others, or if our words are characterized by negativity, our ministries will quickly suffer. Our mouths can ruin our ministries.
  • Mismanagement: The fourth thing that can lead to ministry ruin is a lifestyle of mismanagement. If our lives are characterized by disorganization and chaos, our ministries will quickly be as well. It may seem “cute” for a while for youth workers to come across as sloppy and chaotic, but in the end a life of mismanagement will lead to ruin.

This quick article is certainly not the antidote for all ministry disasters. My intent here is not to solve all of our ministry problems. But I do want to challenge all youth workers and ministry leaders to lives that honor the Lord in public and in private. Let’s guard these four areas of our lives and make sure we are not allowing things to creep into our lives that may ultimately lead to ministry disaster. May the Lord bless you as you seek to live in purity and holiness before Him!

(This article is a update of an article I wrote in 2003.)

What are the Characteristics of Great Volunteer Youth Workers?

in youth ministry by

I have known some amazing volunteer youth workers over the years. Some were crazy and enthusiastic extroverts – and others were quiet and thoughtful introverts.

I thank God for all of the Godly, faithful “lay” youth workers who willingly share their time and their lives with kids. These people are the true heroes of youth ministry. They are impacting lives of the next generation for eternity – and I know that God will bless them for their investment in the lives of teenagers.

I often tell volunteer youth workers not to beat themselves up for what they can’t do. I encourage them to do what they can do to minister to kids – and to be faithful in doing those things over the long haul. There’s not just one model or one version of volunteers. God can use a wide variety of models (some single, some married; some men, some women; and some young, some older), to impact teenagers for eternity.

Some volunteer youth workers are outstanding teachers who can creatively and effectively communicate the truth of God’s Word. Other youth workers are energetic and talented worship leaders who are legitimately directing the hearts of their students to the Lord. Others are unbelievably talented in using technology – and some are really, really good at planning and organizing games and programs.

The individual skill sets are almost endless, but the most important characteristic of a great volunteer youth worker is that he or she loves the Lord, is actively living for Him, and is passionate about sharing the Lord Jesus Christ, in whatever way possible, with teenagers.

If you are a career youth pastor that is looking for other Godly adults to complete your team, or if you are a pastor serving in a smaller church and you need people to work with your church’s teenagers, or if you are a volunteer youth worker yourself and need other adults to join you, the following list is for you.

5 Characteristics of Great Volunteer Youth Workers

  1. They are living for Lord.
    As I mentioned briefly above, the most important characteristic of a great youth worker is that they love the Lord and are living consistently for Him. I’m not talking here about being a “super-Christian”, but about being a Godly adult – someone who is faithfully living for Him and who desires to point others toward Jesus. It’s not wise for churches to utilize adults as youth workers who are not genuinely living for Him.
  2. They are faithful and loyal.
    Great youth workers are those who are dependable and reliable. You can count on them to be there week-after-week, and even year-after-year. Kids need adult leaders that will be there for them. I’ve often said that one of the most important characteristics of a true servant of God is someone who will just “show up.”
  3. They develop God-honoring relationships.
    Maybe the most practical and tangible characteristic of great volunteer youth workers is the ability to connect with kids and their parents. They work hard to build positive and God-honoring relationships. That is why a team of adult youth workers is so important. Each person will connect with a different variety of kids. Plus, don’t forget that it takes time to develop relationships. Wise youth workers understand this truth and will proceed with caution and purpose to connect with kids.
  4. They are team players.
    Great youth workers understand that they are not “Lone Rangers”, they are a part of a team – working together in and through the local church to accomplish God’s work. They fulfill their role as teammates in the big picture of what God is doing. They understand that it “takes a church” to help students grow toward spiritual maturity – and they are willing to play their part to help accomplish that mission.
  5. They use the Bible consistently.
    I know some volunteer youth workers who are amazing teachers – and I know some who aren’t. Others are incredible in one-on-one situations – and are very effective as counselors and advisors. Some are talented communicators in large groups – and others are better in small groups. The important thing to remember is this: great youth workers use the Bible! Your students are looking for answers – and the job of youth workers is to show them that God’s Word contains everything He wants us to know. Great youth workers get their students into the Word of God!

Note: for my podcast on this topic, see https://youthministryquestions.podbean.com/.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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.

Resources on Generation Alpha – by Mel Walker

in Generation Alpha/youth ministry by

Video Podcast: “How will COVID-19 Affect Generation Alpha?”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV_Cf7xCWEY

Webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Torgru5cOTY

Webinar Notes (including PDF of Webinar PowerPoint slides): https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youthministryquestions.com%2Fs%2Falpha-notes_booklet_final.pdf

Series of Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-youth-ministry-questions-podcast/id1562519123

Articles:

https://blog.youthspecialties.com/5-reasons-why-youth-workers-should-learn-now-about-generation-alpha/?

fbclid=IwAR0UoB0kqHU2XVD1RMy_ehyu0ORE08hh4W3-EtTkGfTLsyvR3PC_BcijRRA

https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/how-will-covid-19-impact-generation-alpha.html

How can churches help their high school graduating seniors to transition from youth group to “big church”?

in College Age/inter-generational ministry/youth ministry by

This year’s graduation season may look more familiar than what we all experienced last year.

Just a year ago our Spring calendars were strangely empty of high school graduations, open houses, and other end-of-the-year events for high school seniors and their families. The COVID crisis had put the brakes on all those activities.

This year appears to be different. Many high schools have figured out how to hold their proms, how to have graduation ceremonies – and parents are anxious to host open houses for their kids graduating from high school. Once again, celebration season seems to be in full swing.

But the Spring and Summer seasons are not always the best of times for many local church youth workers. This year is no exception.

The Dropout Phenomenon

The reported mass departure of graduating high school seniors from church is all too real for countless youth workers and youth pastors. Sadly, many of the young people they invested years into decide to walk away from church once they graduate from high school. It is no exaggeration to assert that for many youth pastors, the time they spend with high school graduates at their open houses may be the last time they will have any type of meaningful interaction with some of their young people.

The statistical percentage of church dropouts ranges from somewhere near 50% to a high of probably near 75%. Whatever the real number is, it still hurts to have kids who have been active in your youth ministries quit going to church once they graduate from high school.

It is safe to say that the mass exodus from church once kids leave youth group is something that grieves most youth workers. However, instead of wringing our hands in despair or blaming the church’s college age or adult ministries, maybe it is time to develop a specific plan to help senior highers transition out of youth group when they graduate from high school so they can easily adjust into the various adult ministries of the church.

Some Suggested Ingredients of a Transition Plan

If you are interested in developing your own strategy to help your church’s graduating high school students transition from youth group to big church, here are some suggested ideas for youth workers to consider. (For more information on this subject, check out my May 10, 2021 podcast with the same title, https://youthministryquestions.podbean.com/.) Of course, wise youth workers will work with the parents of teenagers in their groups to fully implement these ideas.

  • Teach your teenagers about doing the will of God.

This part of your plan must start long before your students finish high school. It is important to teach them the importance of following God’s direction for their lives as they mature through childhood and into adolescence. Life decisions do not get any easier as humans get older. Following God’s will for where to go to college or what to do following high school is not the most important decision your kids will ever face. That is part of the reason why it is essential for them to develop the desire to following God’s leading as they grow up. But the choices our kids make about what they do with their lives following high school can indeed be considered life-altering; and therefore, must be made by carefully considering the importance of following God’s direction found in His Word.

  • Schedule personal meetings each Spring with every graduating senior.

I highly recommend for all pastors and youth pastors to make personal appointments with each graduating senior sometime before they transition out of youth group. Let’s not forget that high school graduation is a very important time in the lives of your students. You could take them out for coffee, or have lunch or dinner together. Do whatever your budget can afford. The important thing is to make it a priority to have a personal conversation with each graduate about what God is leading them to do following high school. You will be amazed at how significant these conversations become to your graduates.

  • Offer vocational resources to parents and teenagers.

This step is another part of your plan that should begin long before your young people graduate from high school. Providing vocational counseling and supplying resources about select career options could prove to be particularly important for both high school students and their parents. I’ve often wondered why churches often let high school guidance counselors do all of the vocational counseling. The Barna Group has an excellent resource that could be a starting point for this aspect of your transition plan, Christians a Work (see https://www.barna.com/vocation-and-work/.)

Each individual local church has incredible resources to offer in the wide variety of other church members and attendees. For example, perhaps one of your young people is thinking about becoming a nurse. Why not connect them with an older person in the church who is already a nurse? Perhaps there are students in your church’s youth group who are interested in vocational ministry. Why not let them spend some time with your church’s pastor in preparation for their potential life’s goal? The possibilities are very real to build growing inter-generational relationships through similar vocational connections.

  • Work hard to develop a “5-to-1 ratio” of adult-to-teenager relationships in your church.

My own personal research and experience tells me that high school graduates are much less likely to quit attending church after high school graduation if they have strong relationships with a number of key adults. The transition into the adult ministries of the church is much easier and seamless for these new young adults if they have developed personal connections with some older adults who are committed and intentional about welcoming them into the culture of your church’s adult ministries.

My friend, Dr. Chap Clark has reinforced this idea with his “5-to-1 ratio[1]”. Chap’s much reported statistic encourages church leaders to help each high school student develop growing personal relationships with 5 influential adults in the church – other than the church’s youth workers or their parents. In fact, Chap believes that it will be much more difficult for any high school graduate to stay in church unless they have developed those 5 strong relationships.

  • Help your teenagers build “sweat equity” in big church.

Another key way to help your church’s high school graduates transition into “big church” is to help them develop “sweat equity” in the church as a whole long before they graduate from high school. It is really important for youth workers to work with parents (if they are present, and actively involved in the church themselves), to help teenagers get actively involved in the church in a variety of specific and practical ways as they mature through the church’s children’s ministries and youth ministry. This could include personal effort (like being involved in church workdays), actively serving and learning to use their spiritual gifts and God-given talents and abilities for the Lord in and through the local church, tithing and giving through the church, and by becoming active in church business.

  • Plan a “rite-of-passage” event to help your students transition into big church.

This is something I’ve seen several churches utilize with great success. They plan a specific “rite-of-passage” activity for their graduating seniors to do WITH some of the church’s young adults or older adults – with the specific purpose of the event or activity being to celebrate the young person’s gradation, but also to help them transition into the adult ministries of the church through their personal involvement in a specific event or activity. I know of churches that plan wilderness or camping trips, others that host a special dinner or banquet, and others that take their graduating seniors and some of their young adults on a combined missions trip for this expressed purpose.

  • Give the students positive exposure to your church’s young adult or adult ministries.

It has been my experiences that many churches are weak in helping their people transition from one aspect of their ministries to another. This may be especially true with the transition from youth group into “big church.” One way to break out of this scenario is to give your church’s maturing high school students practical and positive exposure to some of the various adult ministries of the church – like small groups, service opportunities, church business meetings, connections with other pastoral staff members, inter-generational prayer times, and the adult educational or equipping ministries of the church.

Readers, you may want to listen to my May 10, 2021 podcast on this same subject at: https://youthministryquestions.podbean.com/.


[1] Chap Clark’s “5-to-1 ratio” was originally published here: https://decisionmagazine.com/in-spite-of-how-they-act/. Readers are encouraged to do an internet search of what Chap and others are saying about this important statistic.

What If “Big Church” Was More Like Youth Group?

in Going On For God/youth ministry by

I just finished reading a new youth ministry book in which the author makes the case that if youth groups were more like “big church” it would mean that emerging generations would stay active in the church after high school graduation because they would be familiar with the church structure and programming.

I don’t buy it!

In fact, I believe it is the other way around.

I have been researching the young adult “drop out of church” phenomenon for a long time. I have written two books about it. (Inter-Generational Youth Ministry and Going On For God). Plus, I have met with hundreds of young adults over the years – some who have stayed active in church, and some who have walked away from God and the church.

I have concluded that the positive aspects of what most youth groups offer are exactly the things that should be implemented into the fabric of churches as a whole. For over 30 years, I visited approximately 30 churches a year in a variety of capacities and ministry opportunities. And, I have often wondered why so many church youth groups operate quite differently than the adult ministries do in the same church.

Maybe, just maybe, if our churches would adopt the things that youth ministry does well – more young people would stay involved in church ministries when they become adults. Maybe one of the reasons so many young adults leave the church after high school graduation is that they have grown to appreciate and value the positive aspects of youth ministry and would love to see those things incorporated into the adult ministries of the church.

Please understand that I am not condoning young adults walking away from church if they do not like the structure. Quite the contrary. My point here is that the church should do everything possible to keep emerging adults involved in youth ministry AND in adult ministry.

I have identified 13 key characteristics of effective youth ministries that could be (and probably should be) instituted in the overall life of the church:

  • A well-articulated Biblical and practical philosophy of ministry
  • A complete educational plan (teaching “scope and sequence”) which includes the life-related teaching of the Word of God
  • The development of spiritual disciplines
  • Collaboration with parents
  • An emphasis on God-honoring worship
  • Times to get-away from the daily routine
  • Fellowship with Christian peers
  • Outreach and evangelism
  • Service and ministry
  • Positive peer pressure
  • Discipleship of select leaders
  • Inter-generational connections

Of course, there are some churches out there that do some of these things very well. I do not want readers to think that I am making wide-ranging accusations or indictments of the adult ministries in every church. It’s just that I believe that most youth ministries that I have seen are doing things well – and are committed to reaching the next generation for eternity. We cannot just let another generation walk away from church. It’s time for churches to do whatever it takes to keep emerging generations involved as they become young adults.

I am currently working on a new book, which should be released in the next few months, with this working title, “Why Youth Ministry? 13 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Is Important, and Why ‘Big Church’ Should Adopt These Positive Characteristics.”

(Listen to my recent podcast on this subject at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-youth-ministry-questions-podcast/id1562519123.)

Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

in Family Ministry/Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

The Bible is clear that there are two God-designed institutions that share the same God-ordained purpose. Both the local church and the Christian home are responsible to guide young people toward a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity. Once our kids come to Christ, because we are intentional about sharing the life-changing Good News with them (see Romans 10:17), it is the Biblical responsibility of both the church and the family to help the next generation grow in spiritual maturity. (See Ephesians 4:11-16 and Ephesians 6:1-4.)

Certainly, the Bible teaches that parents are the ones ultimately responsible to raise their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), but likewise the church is responsible to equip or train “the saints for the work of ministry” so that the next generation “are no longer children” and that they may “grow up in all things” in Christ.

Our kids’ spiritual growth is the imperative mission of both institutions.

Christian parents must raise their kids to follow Christ. Likewise, the basic mission of the church is to make disciples for a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity.

What is the ideal relationship between these two God-designed institutions?

Of course, the ideal scenario would be if most Christian parents loved the Lord and were committed and deliberate about raising their kids to grow up to go on for God. It would be fantastic if these Godly parents saw the importance of the local church in Scripture and were enthusiastic and loyal supporters of the church’s youth and children’s ministries.

But look around. Is that what we are seeing today?

If your community is anything like what is happening with national trends – that’s not the norm.

Is this happening today?

According to several sources (by the way, I will cite these sources in my upcoming webinar with the same title as this article – see the graphic above), here are 4 current trends that will definitely impact the way many churches handle their ministries to families:

  • Young adults are dropping out of church.

We have all heard the statistics. Almost 70% of young adults who were once actively involved in church youth ministry walk away from God and the church following high school graduation. That trend is troubling enough on face value, but that departure has been true now for at least 3 generations (Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z) – and the long-term ramification of this exodus from spiritual things is that both Generation X and Millennials are now parents, and many of them are raising their kids without consistent involvement in the church and the work of God in the world today.

  • No religious loyalty.

Recent church history has coined a new term, the “nones”, to describe the most prevalent religious trend in today’s American culture. Today’s pastors and other church leaders are seeing this firsthand. Long gone are the days when the typical household in this country made church attendance and participation a top priority in their lives and schedules. One leading Christian research organization recently reported that a large number of people who claim to be believers habitually go to church services only one weekend per month – and yet claim that they are “regular” attenders.

  • A post-Christian mindset.

There is definitely a dominant post-Christian philosophy in our world. Christianity is no longer the majority religious position in this country. History has taught us that the United States was founded with a Judeo-Christian ethic with a basic belief in Jesus Christ. However, most of today’s youth workers and other church leaders are not seeing this to be true today. Post-modern secular thought is today’s most prevalent philosophic trend. Most Christian leaders will admit that they are not seeing a pro-Christian and pro-church attitude in today’s households. This mindset tends to govern how people look at the role of the church in contemporary culture. For example, many, many parents would rather their kids strive for a college degree that will lead to a well-paying job than they would have their kids sacrifice their schedules to attend church youth group functions.

  • A changing household structure.

The authors of “Generation Z: A Century in the Making” have observed the following in this country’s households: a rapidly decreasing number of children living with two married parents; an increasing number of single-parent homes; an increasing number of cohabiting, non-married parents; a growing number of households with single mothers; a growing number of same-sex households with children, and an increasing number of roommate households. In fact, some communities in this country are no longer to referring to families and parents, but are instead using the terms “households” and “guardians or care-givers.”

Pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders are seeing these four significant cultural trends and are realizing that many of the people in their communities are no longer making church, church functions, and church programming a priority. Parents pick sports and other extra-curricular activities over church attendance, and they push their kids to save money for college or other goals instead of encouraging them to commit to church or youth group.  

It would be great if most Christian parents were committed to discipling their own kids toward lasting spiritual maturity, and it would be amazing if the majority of Christian parents demonstrated a loyalty to the local church. But these are not the current trends – and the way churches reach out to today’s households must change as a result.

Please understand that I am not advocating a departure from the Scriptures in how church ministries should operate. Just the opposite. I believe the church must “be the church” to reach people in today’s post-Christian and post-church culture.

Can the church go it alone?

Yes, it is time for the church to be the church. It’s time for churches to recommit to God’s mission of reaching the world for Christ (Acts 1:8), of making disciples who live by God’s instruction (Matthew 28:19-20), and of equipping God’s people to serve Him (Ephesians 4:11-16).

God can and will continue to use His church to make a lasting difference in the world for eternity (Revelation 7:9). The church is God’s idea, and it is His plan (Matthew 16:18).

It’d be great if all Christian parents were absolutely committed to raising their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), and made the church and church functions a top priority for their kids. But most likely that is not what today’s youth pastors are seeing.

I’ll post some specific ideas soon of what churches can do about these trends. Plus, I will share some key thoughts about these trends and what the church can do about them in my webinar on, “Family Ministry (As We Know It) Must Change.”

May the Lord bless you as you seek to impact the next generation for eternity.

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