Resources to Encourage the Next Generation

Author

Mel Walker

Mel Walker has 52 articles published.

11 Observations & Thoughts About Churches & Career Ministry

in church and ministry leaders/Global Missions/Ministry by

(NOTE: I’ve been working on my upcoming webinar and a new writing project on encouraging young people toward career ministry. Here are some observations and thoughts that I wanted to share.)

  1. God expects and has gifted every believer to serve Him.
  2. Every church must develop a culture of ministry and outreach.
  3. Pastors should preach on the importance of following God’s call into career ministry.
  4. Not everyone is called to career ministry (and churches shouldn’t treat those people like second-class citizens), but God does call some into His service.
  5. Most churches have never sent one of their own out into career, global missions.
  6. Churches should change their missions policy to fully support their own people who go into career, global missions.
  7. All churches must begin when kids are young to identify and equip those who sense God’s call into career ministry.
  8. Churches should endorse and support some Bible colleges and seminaries – and encourage interested young people to consider those schools.
  9. Churches should offer organized and paid internships for each young person in their church who may be headed into career ministry.
  10. Pastors should include missionaries and other career ministry voices to fill the pulpit from time-to-time.
  11. Don’t forget that God may call older people (“second career”) into career ministry and should be on the lookout for those people to respond to God’s call.

8 Urgent Insights on Gen Z that Every Pastor Needs to Know

in Gen Z/youth ministry by

              There may be a ministry “seismic shift” headed toward the American church!

              A seismic shift can be defined as sudden or dramatic change that happens in a very short period of time.

              Pastors and other church leaders need to realize that due to the cultural influence of the members of Generation Z, the church may be facing an almost unprecedented change in the way a majority of people in this country look at church programming. Often referred to as “Gen. Z”, this generation is comprised by today’s college-age young adults and current senior high young people. Although some researchers use other time periods, most identify Gen. Z as being born between 1995 and 2010 (for instance see, Generation Z: A Century in the Making, by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace).

              Gen. Z is a cohort of approximately 65 million people (https://www.visioncritical.com/blog/generation-z-statistics), and will soon comprise about 40% of the entire US population (https://www.slideshare.net/sparksandhoney/gen-z-2025-the-final-generation-preview/7-SPEARHEADING_CHANGE_AT_THESPEED_OF). According to one source, Gen. Z will become the largest living generation in American history (https://www.businessinsider.com/generation-z).

              As researchers and social scientists are reporting, this generation is already incredibly influential, and they are about to make a massive and long-lasting change on every institution they touch – including the church. As one respected youth worker puts it, it’s time to stop “doing Millennial ministry” (https://teenleadershipconference.com/stopdoingmillenialyouthminsitry/) and recognize that a new generation has arrived. The church and church leaders must adapt accordingly.

              It’s important for pastors to understand that members of Gen. Z have come of age in a culture of significant religious and cultural influences. These influences include the mass departure from the church by young adults (see You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith), a dwindling loyalty toward denominational or institutional affiliations (see Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, by James Emery White), a move toward a post-Christian and post-church mentality (see Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World: A Hopeful Wake-Up Call, by Brock Morgan), and a growing number of non-traditional, broken, or dysfunctional households (see Households of Faith, published by Barna Group).

              Much has been written about the general characteristics of Gen. Z (for more information see the bibliography at the conclusion of this article). However, here are five practical insights for pastors and other church leaders to consider as they develop creative and functional ministries to reach and minister to members of Gen. Z.

  • They crave the communication of truth in an environment where they can ask difficult and serious questions.

This is not a generation that will be attracted by entertainment or fluff. They are seeking truth and will respond positively to the clear exposition of Scripture and confident presentations of the Gospel. They are seeking real answers to their most difficult questions. A recent study from Barna Research tells readers to create the space for them to “feel the freedom to ask the big questions”. (See Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.) This begins by making church services and Bible studies places they feel are welcoming and non-threatening.

This is truly a post-Christian generation. One author puts it this way, “Perhaps the most defining mark of members of Generation Z… is their spiritual illiteracy… They do not know what the Bible says. They do not know the basics of Christian belief or theology.” (James Emery White in Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, p.131.) To reach members of Generation Z, pastors must see that church is more than a once-a-week lecture and worship time. Church programming will need to feature ways to creatively teach Gen. Z solid doctrinal truth with methods that provide opportunities to them to apply that truth to their everyday lives.

  • They are looking to develop strong relationships in a culture of increasingly dysfunctional and broken households.

Gen. Z’ers are more likely than other recent generations to grow up in broken, unstable, or dysfunctional homes. One researcher put it this way, “Churches that want to understand and serve teens and young adults should focus first on true household ministry, and not just family ministry” (Households of Faith: The Rituals and Relationship That Turn a Home Into a Scared Space, by Barna Group). This means that more and more living situations in this culture will be comprised of “households” instead of traditional family units. According to one author, members of Generation Z are growing up with in an increasing number of single-parent homes; a growing number of cohabiting, non-married parents; a rising number of homes with single mothers; and an increasing number of same-sex couples (see Generation Z, by Seemiller and Grace). These statistics should motivate pastors to lead their churches to be a “family” for those in today’s culture from non-traditional and fractured households.

  • Christian members of Gen. Z are looking for ways to share their faith and want to learn how to witness effectively.

Probably somewhat contrary to popular beliefs about 75% of this generation who claim to be Christians and living for God report that they feel responsible to tell others about their faith. (See Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.) This is a generation that feels very strongly about living on mission. They want to be involved in something that matters for eternity. Churches should capitalize on this renewed emphasis on evangelism by developing creative avenues for them to present the Gospel and share their faith with others.

This generation also feels a heightened sense of responsibility and stewardship. For example, they won’t understand why most church buildings in this country remain unused throughout the week. Long gone are the days of church buildings that feature a large number of small meeting rooms that were once used for a wide variety of age-group programming. This won’t make sense to Gen. Z’ers. They’ll want to figure out ways for churches to use their buildings for outreach functions for the community.

They’ll also be very interested in sharing the Gospel cross-culturally. The world feels quite small to this generation and many of them will be excited about the potential of short-term missions trips, either internationally or to cross-cultural areas within the United States.

  • Churches must utilize technology to communicate to this generation in a culture that is progressively disloyal and over-scheduled.

Members of Generation Z are truly digital natives. They’ve had internet-connected devices in their pockets since they were young children. They likely grew up in homes that allowed them almost ubiquitous access to various digital smart phones and tablets; and they attended schools where teachers gave them internet-based assignments on their own iPads, or Chromebooks since kindergarten or pre-school. They are more comfortable with their digital Bibles than paper copies, and probably use their phones for daily devotions and in-depth Bible study. They also are very likely to fact-check what preachers or Bible teachers say, instead of just accepting what they hear as truth.

Technology is a game-changer for the American church. This doesn’t mean that Gen. Z will reject low-tech methods of communication. In fact, old-fashioned, lecture-style preaching may seem refreshing and genuine to them. Pastors should remember that this generation does not need the church to try to impress them with the church’s technological prowess. They’re quite capable of creating or locating their own quality digital content. However, due to this generation’s busy schedules, it will be important for churches to utilize various means of technology to make sermons, seminars, publications, and other materials available for them to find on their own schedules on the church’s website.

Today’s pastors have undoubtedly noticed that “practicing Christians” are only attending church approximately one Sunday each month (https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). This trend is very likely to continue with members of Generation Z. Their lives will tend to be quite over-scheduled, with other personal priorities being more important to them than regular church attendance and involvement. Plus, Gen. Z does not possess an innate loyalty to any particular church or church function. This practice will necessitate that pastors employ the use of modern technology to communicate regularly and successfully to them. 

  • Churches should be intentional about developing growing inter-generational relationships and connections.

This generation is being forged by two seemingly conflicting pressures. As mentioned earlier, they are more likely to grow up in households without consistent parental influences, and they appreciate the influence of significant older adults. Their lives have been lined by a litany of coaches, teachers, youth workers, small group leaders, and other caring adults. Of course, churches must develop and institute carefully crafted child protection policies that safeguard kids from sinful adult predators. However, today’s teenagers and young adults will profit greatly from the influence of Godly older adult mentors.

The practice of segregating and isolating young people from other generations has helped fuel their departure from the church following their years in high school. Emerging adults are not likely to commit to a church’s adult ministries unless they have formed growing relationships with a variety of Godly adults in the church prior to their graduation from high school. Churches will need to restructure their programming efforts to balance peer ministries with growing inter-generational connections for Gen. Z.

The American church is indeed facing a seismic shift as members of Generation Z move through adolescence into adulthood. Business as usual will not work. Pastors will need to retool and rethink their approach to ministry programming to be effective with today’s emerging adults. Gen. Z is here!

This article originally appeared: https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/urgent-insights-on-gen-z-that-every-pastor-needs-to-know.html

Select Bibliography:

  1. White, James Emery. Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2017.
  2. (Editors, Barna Group) Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation. Barna Group & Impact 360 Institute, Ventura, CA, 2019.
  3. Seemiller, Corey and Meghan Grace. Generation Z: A Century in the Making. Routledge / Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY, 2019.
  4. Twenge, Jean M. iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Atria Books / Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2017.

Please pray about our need of financial support through Vision For Youth

in youth ministry by

Dear Friends,

I need your help – and I need your support.

I believe that God is directing me to invest the next 3 years of my life in a strategic ministry to young people and youth workers.

Over 35 years ago, I co-founded a youth ministry organization entitled, Vision For Youth (for the purpose of training and encouraging youth workers for effective ministry) and I have been actively involved in that ministry, mostly on a volunteer basis, ever since.

Vision For Youth is a nationally recognized, 501-c-3 tax exempt, non-profit, religious organization that exists to network youth pastors and other youth workers.

The last several months, and especially the situation surrounding the Covid crisis, has convinced me that God is directing me to concentrate my efforts on producing more and more training resources for youth workers, parents of teenagers, and for young people.

As many of you know, God has opened the door for me to be a writer and speaker – and I believe that God is putting a growing burden on my heart to concentrate my time on writing books and developing online and in person materials for youth ministry. I believe there is currently a greater need for resources and products like this than ever before.

Our nation’s young people are struggling through a wide variety of issues right now – and I believe that God is leading me to a full-time ministry like I have just described through Vision For Youth to help provide solutions for these matters.

God has uniquely prepared me for this ministry at this stage of my life. I have over 45 years of practical, hands-on experience as a youth pastor, pastor, Bible college instructor & administrator, writer & editor, and ministry organizational leader. Plus, our own 3 children are all in full-time vocational ministry. This background positions me to have a leading voice in today’s youth ministry training.

My plan is to continue serving in my present capacity as youth & assistant pastor with Wyoming Valley Church while ramping up this new ministry through Vision For Youth.

Would you prayerfully consider helping me accomplish this mission? You can help by intentionally praying, or by financially supporting me in this important and life-changing ministry. I am looking for friends who would be willing to provide a one-time financial gift, or by supporting me monthly for the next 3 years.

If God is putting a burden on your heart to be a part of my ministry, please contact me personally via email at: mel@visionforyouth.com – or send your financial support to: Vision For Youth, PO Box 501, Chinchilla, PA 18410.

How Can We Help Older People Make their Weekend Involvement in Church Less Frustrating and More Rewarding?

in church and ministry leaders/inter-generational ministry/youth ministry by

I always feel badly when I overhear some of the oldest people in the church complain to others about the style of music, the length of the sermon, or the fashion styles of the younger generations.

I wonder why this once active and vibrant demographic age group feels the need to express their frustration so openly as they get older.

Maybe it’s because church leaders have just accepted and even unconsciously communicated the fact that as people get older, they often become increasingly negative, they have “had their day”, and they need to just get out of the way so that younger leaders can have their turn.

The reality is probably much less dramatic and pronounced than my description. But I do think that many churches have (maybe inadvertently, but perhaps intentionally too), pushed older generations out to the proverbial pasture. Maybe older members feel like they have lost their voice and lost their influence – and so they need to share their concerns with other somewhat likeminded people in personal cynical or pessimistic conversations.

I’ve wondered for years that maybe we could put a stop to this all-too-common scenario by developing and instituting a plan to deliberately and purposefully connect the generations in the church.

(I wrote a book about this idea a few years ago entitled, “Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church”. You can obtain a copy at: https://www.youthministryquestions.com/book-store/inter-generational-youth-ministry. This book, however, is not really a youth ministry book. Instead, it presents practical and creative ways any church can effectively connect the generations.)

Friends, I cam convinced that church leaders should prepare for the eventuality that people will get older, they may feel as if they are losing their influence, and that we can help them keep, or regain their vital and vibrate ministries in the church by providing ways that they can have a growing voice and influence with younger people.

Here are a few practical ideas to consider:

  • Encourage your church’s oldest generations to pray specifically and individually for young people.

Take any opportunity you have to visit with your church’s older people to ask them to specifically and intentionally pray for the young people in your church. Do whatever you can to facilitate this action step. Give them a list of names, give them copies of the kids’ school pictures. One church made “baseball-card-size” info cards of every kid in the youth group to help that church’s senior citizens pray specifically for their kids.

  • Motivate your church’s older people to develop friendly and growing relationships with younger people by utilizing space in the church foyer for simple, friendly greetings and conversations.

Once your church’s older people are praying specifically and individually for young people, ask them to introduce themselves to the young people in the public spaces of your church, most likely in the church foyer or in the church auditorium. Yes, the young people may, at first, think it’s odd for the older people to greet them in this way. But ask the seniors to be persistent. In the long run, most young people would appreciate these simple, yet effective demonstrations of care and encouragement. One youth worker told me recently that their church asks the senior citizens to “show up and be nice” to kids. Honestly, this step goes a long way in connecting the generations.

  • Ask your church older people to utilize some of their resources to be generous and charitable with young people.

I get it that these action steps may have just turned much harder and more difficult to implement. But I’m really not talking here about finances or other tangible means of charitable giving. In many cases today, older people have the available resources of their time, some of their energy, or their life skills and experiences that they can share with young people. Older people can certainly pray. They can send prayer notes or encouragement cards. They may be able to bake cookies or brownies. They can share their personal testimony with younger people. My Mom invested in young people by showing some of the girls in her church how to make quilts. My Mother-in-Law used her musical skills to teach piano lessons. Really, the ideas are endless.

  • Schedule simple, yet creative ways to connect the generations for social, fellowship events in your church.

Your church can do this one easily. I know several churches that host enjoyable and beneficial inter-generational functions each year. I visited in one church recently that scheduled simple games nights each year with round tables set up in the church’s family room for table games, simple crafts, and fellowship. The ages were interspersed throughout the tables, and the youth group provided the refreshments, while the older people were encouraged to take the time to engage in personal and encouraging conversations.  

  • Plan opportunities for some of your church’s oldest and most faithful members to share their story of God’s faithfulness with the younger generations in your church.

Today’s younger generations love stories. Plus, your church undoubtedly has older members with lives of faithfulness to the Lord over several decades. Plan opportunities for some of your churches oldest people to meet with the younger people to share their story or testimony of how the Lord has worked in and through their lives. You will be amazed at how these simple times of connection will develop into growing and positive inter-generational relationships in your church.

These ideas are simple, yet they will not happen without church leaders actively getting involved in the process. This doesn’t mean you have to be in charge to institute these ideas, however. You can use whatever influence you have – including your own initiative and your own persuasive abilities to ask some of your church’s older generations to get involved.

You should also actively demonstrate to them that you sincerely care about them, that you want to hear their thoughts and concerns, and that you will do everything you can to encourage your church’s younger generations to show their love and concern for older people.

Trends Youth Workers Will Face This Year

in youth ministry by

Remember the familiar narrative in Acts 17 when the Apostle Paul used his personal observations of the city of Athens as a springboard for an opportunity to share the Gospel with the philosophers that were gathered at the Areopagus?

Youth workers – let’s apply this same action step as we make our final preparations for our youth groups this Fall. Let’s use our own observations to identify some of the cultural trends that are facing our kids, and then use those trends as opportunities to reach out to them and the households they are from.

The big difference here of course, is that Paul was a visitor in Athens – and we live in the communities in which we minister. But the same principles apply.

What’s going on in your community? Do you read the local newspaper, or watch the local news to get a glimpse of what your community leaders are saying? Why not schedule an appointment with the principal or superintendent of schools where the kids from your church attend? Have you done a demographic study of the population trends in your area?

(By the way, you can get a lot of that information free from sources like the US Census Bureau. For more information on how you can do that, you are invited to participate in my FREE Zoom webinar which will be held on Thursday, September 23 at 1 PM Eastern Time.)

What are the trends and the needs of your community? What are you seeing? What are you observing that may provide you with greater opportunities to share the Gospel or to minister to kids and the households they are from?

In preparation for my upcoming webinar, and in preparation for our church’s ministries this Fall, I have identified the following cultural trends that I want to share with you here.

(I am especially interested in knowing if you are seeing the same things. If so, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you are seeing other cultural trends that are facing today’s kids, please let me know about those things too. You can send me your thoughts at: mel@visionforyouth.com.) 

Some Cultural Trends Youth Workers Will Face This Year –

  • You will have kids in your group from a growing number of hurting households.

The demographic statistics in your community will probably prove this to be true. Members of Generation Z are from a rapidly increasing number of non-traditional, dysfunctional, and hurting households. (You can read more about the specifics in Generation Z: A Century in the Making, by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, and Households of Faith: The Rituals and Relationship that Turn a Home into a Sacred Space, published by the Barna Group.) It is very likely that several kids in your group this Fall will be products of hurting households.

  • You will have to minister to kids who are from homes where church and religion are not that important.

Here’s another trend that you will most likely face this Fall: church and church programs are not a top priority in the lives and schedules of many of the families who attend your church. Some researchers have recently reported that many families that claim to be followers of Christ only attend weekend church programs approximately once per month.

I’ve met with several youth pastors recently who have shared with me that it is a struggle for them to get their teenagers to regularly attend youth group. Other things, like sports and work, are more important. It is becoming more likely that youth workers will have to find other creative means to connect with kids instead of thinking that today’s teenagers will faithfully attend church and youth group.

  • Several of the teens in your group will feel stressed, fearful, and uncertain.

You have undoubtedly read about this in recent news reports – and if you have personal relationships with many kids, you will know that this trend is true. Perhaps it is a result of the Covid crisis, or maybe it was happening anyway, but many of today’s youngest generations feel the stress of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Plus, the parents of your kids are facing these emotions too. This is a serious situation. The “mental health” of your young people is something very real. I’m thankful that we have the “living and powerful” Word of God that provides real answers for real-life situations!

  • Some of the kids in your group are facing difficult “identify” issues.

Here is another issue that youth workers will probably face this year. Today’s kids are being bombarded with “identity” issues in the media, in school, and from a variety of other sources. Most likely you will have kids in your group who are struggling with distorted or unrealistic perceptions of themselves. Again, it’s important to realize that our best resource to help kids with this is the truth of God’s Word, and the demonstration of the unconditional love of Christ.

  • Most of your students will need direction in finding their purpose in life.

Kids probably have always struggled with this one. I know this was something that I had to work through way back when I was a teenager – but this is even more pronounced now. Your students will be thinking about the big “purpose” questions of life. “Why am I here?” “What am I supposed to accomplish?” “What should I do with my life?” You should teach your group about knowing and doing God’s Will, but you should also have personal conversations with each teenager to help them identify what God wants them to do with their life.

Again, youth workers – I’m wondering what cultural trends you are seeing this year. Please let me know. You can send me a personal note at: mel@visionforyouth.com.

I will post an article soon that outlines some of the action steps I suggest that may help you deal with these cultural trends. Blessings!

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

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