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

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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).

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

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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

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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!

Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

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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.

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

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Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church ministries – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.

The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.

I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.

The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.

Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.

Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.

Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.

Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.

My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.

I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

Children IN Church: The Value of Keeping Our Kids in Church Worship Services

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My wife and I made the decision to keep our kids with us during our church’s worship services very early on in our ministry.

(For the record, Peggy and I have 3 children – all of whom were born during my first full-time ministry as a youth pastor. It’s also important to note that I am a big fan of peer ministry. I absolutely believe in “kids’ min” and youth ministry, but I also see the incredible value of balancing age-segregated ministries with inter-generational ministries. In fact, I wrote a book about that. See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. I believe that churches need to intentionally balance ministries where younger generations learn at their own levels of understanding and do so in a peer environment. Simply put, kids need other kids.

By the way, now that I am “old and gray-headed” – to quote the Psalmist in Ps. 71:18 – our kids are now all grown, and all three of them serve in full-time vocational ministry. We now have 9 grandchildren – and currently I serve as a youth pastor in a church where our oldest son is the lead pastor. Plus, six of our grandchildren are a part of our church as well. And, due to COVID-19, our church does not offer children’s church at the present time.)

Now back to my point. I believe it is greatly beneficial for parents to keep their kids with them during the church’s worship service.

I understand the issues. Kids can be disruptive (yep, even my kids). My wife often carried this burden on her own because, as a pastor I was actively involved in the programming of our services. Other parents sometimes confronted us about our practice of keeping our kids in the service – and I was sometimes accused of not supporting the church’s children’s ministry because our kids didn’t go to Children’s Church – although they did regularly attend and participate in our church’s age-appropriate Sunday School classes.

The reasons for parents keeping their kids in the church worship services are different today due to our practicing of social distancing. Many churches are not offering child care right now, so parents are left with the choices of keeping their kids with them, taking them to another location in the church building and staying with them there, or not attending church services with your children.

After reading Kirsten Black’s article “Prioritize Church, Even When There’s No Childcare”, (see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prioritize-worship-no-childcare/), here are some of my thoughts and ideas on this subject:

  • We utilized the church nursery when they were babies. Frankly, my wife appreciated the break and our nursery workers were loving and trained caregivers. But when our kids got old enough to “shut up and sit down” we kept them with us in the church services.
  • There is a great burden on the parents (maybe especially moms) to practice discipline and to “control” their kids during the service. This is not easy; I get that. But, let’s get rid of our pride and embarrassment and realize that everyone needs to discipline their kids – and to help our children grow up learning the value of participating in church services.
  • As a pastor, but also as an itinerant speaker, I knew how important it was for our kids to learn the practice of sitting “still” during the services – especially when I was speaking. (“Smirk.”) In fact, as they got older, I would often take one of our kids with me when I traveled to camps, youth events, and conferences. I loved this one-on-one time with my kids. Now our kids are basically all in their forties – and all serve the Lord in church ministries as communicators of God’s Word. They learned the value of church worship services and the life-changing importance of the preaching of God’s Word.
  • We brought stuff for our kids to “do” during the services. Sometimes that included Cheerios or other simple snacks, but mostly this meant crayons, then pencils or pens and paper so that they could learn the practice of writing on paper. When our kids got older, it was a “rule” in our house that we all had to take notes during the services – even simple sentences or words were fine. It’s really interesting that now that our kids are all adults, they still take notes during the services. It became a habit.
  • It’s really good for our kids to worship with us – and to worship alongside of other Godly adults. This practice helped me gain an appreciation for inter-generational worship too. I know that different ages have different musical tastes, but there is something powerful about church services when people of all ages worship the Lord together.
  • I am not advocating that churches do away with Children’s Church for the long haul. More and more, our churches must realize the importance of reaching and ministering to people from broken, hurting, and dysfunctional households and offering a ministry for children, where kids can learn at their own level, and where they can learn the importance of fellowship with peers. It will also be imperative for churches to be intentional about equipping parents and other older adults to “adopt” the growing number of “spiritual orphans” (those kids your church reaches for Christ who have no Godly adults in their lives) who come to your church.
  • I absolutely agree with how Kirsten Black ended her article. “Parents, it can be done… It’s hard. It’s arduous. It’s tedious. And yes, it’s often distracting. But it can be done, and it’s worth it. Don’t let the absence of the church nursery, and the added inconvenience of meeting during a pandemic, keep you from gathering safely with your church family to worship the Lord. Church services may not look and sound the way they used to, but that’s okay. There’s so much grace. Bring the little children. Raise them up to worship Jesus.”

What is Your Plan for Youth Ministry Parent Meetings this Fall?

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It was my goal to make my book, Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, both Biblically-based and as practical and life-related as possible.

My prayer is that it can be utilized in your church as a catalyst for a conversation between Christian parents and church leaders (pastors, youth pastors, volunteer youth leaders, teachers, and children’s workers), to help them discuss together the critically-important topic of encouraging the next generation to grow up and go on for God. Isn’t that what both groups want for our kids?

Instead of being frustrated with each other (busy parents seeing the church as too rigid and out of touch; and church leaders seeing parents as too busy and with the wrong priorities), why not get the two groups together to begin a conversation on how to make the premise of this book a reality?

Certainly, both groups will come with predetermined issues and concerns, and each group will probably have strong personal opinions about how to accomplish this purpose. But it is definitely worth the effort to begin an intentional conversation with the goal of getting both groups on the same page.

I am convinced that the vast majority of pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders want emerging generations in their churches to come to Christ and to grow spiritually through childhood, into adolescence, and ultimately to go on for God as adults. But to be honest with you, my own personal observations after visiting scores of different churches confirm that many churches have not developed a comprehensive and complete plan for an entire, church-wide disciple-making process.

If your church has established a life-long equipping strategy that is helping all age groups grow toward becoming fully-devoted followers of Christ, then praise the Lord! I designed the workbook that accompanies this book can help you get the parents in your church to buy into that plan.

I also believe that many Christian parents want the exact same thing. Their goal in raising their children is for their kids to grow up to love the Lord and to live faithfully for Him. However, as I stated in my book, I’m not convinced that they know how to work alongside of the church to adequately accomplish that objective. Some Christian parents believe that they are the only ones who can truly impact their own kids. Other parents seem to entrust church youth workers with their kids’ spiritual growth.

Besides that, current trends in America are not demonstrating the development of strong, healthy families. It is my contention that more and more people today will need the church to be a family. Working through this study guide together will help both God-given institutions (the church and the family) to understand and appreciate the Biblical roles and responsibilities of each.

So please work through the conversations and principles in this book together. Seeing the next generation grow up to be mature and Godly adults is too important not to make this a top priority in our church and in our homes. Thanks!

Order your copies at: www.GoingOnForGod.com. Some group discounts are also available. Contact me for details at: Mel@visionforyouth.com.

NOW WHAT? Practical Thoughts for Aging Youth Workers

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I am a 66-year-old-youth pastor. My hair and beard have been gray for several decades now – and I can’t play the guitar. I don’t have a TikTok account and I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m too old to play tackle football with kids (or with anyone for that matter), and I hate staying up all night. I am enrolled in Medicare and I have my AARP membership card.

However, I can say emphatically that I love kids – and can’t see myself doing anything else except working with emerging generations in a local church setting – for absolutely as long as I can.

I know that I am way too old to play tackle football, but we should never get too old to minister to kids.

Believe me, I get it. My games in youth group can be lame, and my illustrations are sometimes old. I’m not the guy to lead worship for today’s teenagers, and I am certainly not the person to lead all-nighters.

But, since most of the kids in our church are from dysfunctional, hurting, and broken households, they look at me almost as a grandpa. My wife and I minister to kids who may not have positive relationships with their parents, but they love their grandparents and respect them. Their grandparents are the ones who provide for them, who take care of them, and who encourage them.

So, maybe working with today’s younger generations (like Gen Z and Generation Alpha) makes sense for older youth workers. Maybe it’s time for older youth workers to refocus our ministries, renew our sense of calling, and allow kids (middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even young adults) to reinvigorate our ministries with today’s young people.

Older youth workers can have amazingly effective ministries. Here are some things to think through:

  • Reaffirm your call as you get older.

Has God called you to work with youth? If so, keep on doing it no matter how old you are. I don’t think the call of God is age related.

  • Stay relevant. Do your research. Stay connected.

How can you stay up on today’s students? Maybe older people are inherently out-of-touch, and we’ll have to work harder to learn all we can about today’s youth and youth culture. The best way to learn about kids, by the way, is to spend time with kids!

  • Concentrate on your strengths. You’re not good at everything. Use what God is blessing.

Older youth workers probably are not the best game leaders, and most likely shouldn’t be worship leaders at this stage of life. But they are really good at building inter-personal relationships and they are probably ideal storytellers of what God has done over the years in their lives. And, they probably know the Scriptures and can successfully teach God’s Word to others.

  • Recruit others to help you (and find people to do what is now hard for you to do). Build a team around you.

Yeah, since we’re not all good at everything – why not make a conscious effort to recruit other Godly adults in your church to work alongside of you. Teams built with diversity are probably best suited to connect with the variety of kids in your group.

  • Make much of relationships… with individual kids, with parents, and with others in the church.

Older youth workers should be really good at developing healthy and positive relationships with individual kids. (Of course, churches will need to develop and enforce child protection policies for all adult workers!) Older youth workers also have the credibility to work with parents of teens too. Plus, they are likely to have the respect of other people in the church as well.

Friends, I can’t tell you how thankful I am to still have the opportunity to work kids and their families at this stage of my life. Our youth group doesn’t play crazy games and we don’t entertain kids with the energetic music or creative videos that I have produced, but we love the Lord and we love kids – and we want to see our students grow up to go on for God.  

WHAT SHOULD YOUTH MINISTRY LOOK LIKE AFTER THE PANDEMIC?

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What should our youth ministries look like after our students can return to our church buildings for youth groups? I am wondering if there will be a “new normal”; and if so, what should change from the way we did ministry before COVID-19?

Here are a few of my thoughts about some key categories of what SHOULD change when we can meet physically again with our teenagers:

  • Safety

Youth workers and other church leaders will need to think this through right away. What must we change about our physical buildings, our meeting set-ups, the way we take attendance, and the way we play games during our youth ministry gatherings?

It probably makes sense to ask everyone to wear face masks and to arrange our seating setup to ensure the 6’ distancing guidelines. We probably need to consider if and how we should serve food and drinks for our attendees. Even the way we distribute sheets of paper or ask kids to check-in on a computer kiosk will need to be reconsidered.

Parents of some teenagers may not be too worried about these things, but other families will be! All they have heard for the last several weeks has been to follow the rules of social distancing. So it doesn’t make sense for churches to not heed those directives when our groups can meet again.

We will all need to be careful. It is important to strategize and plan now for our ministries to open again. Things will not be business as normal – especially in the minds and hearts of some of our church people. So, it is very important right now to begin the planning process of what your ministry is going to do when you can open the doors.

Some states will require attendance limits, and I know that some churches are considering offering multiple meetings times to accommodate those limited numbers. (For instance, some states are still discouraging groups of more than 25 people to gather in the same location.) Some churches are also planning to continue using Zoom as well, knowing that some kids will not attend our youth groups in person. That way they will still be able to be involved in some way in our programs.

Making sure that your people are safe will need to be a top priority. Plus, you will need to clearly communicate to all possible attendees what your church has done (like thoroughly clean and disinfect your building’s entry way and meeting rooms) and what you will keep doing from now on for people to feel safe in your building.

You will need to develop a comprehensive checklist of safety items to accomplish before kids show up in your building. Then it is very important to let your people know what you have done to protect the kids.

  • Teaching

Your kids will undoubtedly crave in-person, human connections with their friends and mentors that are a part of your church’s youth ministry. When they can return to your building, the tendency will be to “party”, to have fun, and to renew friendships and to rebuild relationships. Those things are especially important (we’ll talk more about that below), but it may be even more important to make much of God and His Word upon their return to church youth group. Your kids will need to hear you talk about God’s purpose for this crisis, that His work in the world is not thwarted, and that their role in His mission is still in effect. They may crave fellowship, but they will need Biblical answers taught by Godly leaders – and our Lord has put youth leaders in an ideal position right now to direct kids’ minds toward His Word.

  • Fellowship and Human Connections

Several weeks of isolation away from others (friends and classmates, teachers and mentors, youth groups) in a stay-in-place world will probably motivate your teens to crave time with additional people. As I mentioned above, they will certainly want time to reconnect and hang out with their friends in informal, unstructured conversations. I am not saying that doing that is NOT important. It is very important, and wise youth workers will need to plan time when their buildings are open for teenagers to do just that. But, don’t forget – they’ll want to party, but they need to hear from God – so let’s be sure to balance our programming to allow for both to happen.

There is another matter that I need to highlight. There are likely to be many kids that will need some type of emotional, social, or even physical support from the church once this pandemic is over. Being out of school and having extra time at home will not be positive for everyone. There are many dysfunctional, broken, and hurting households out there. Church leaders must be sensitive toward these hurting households and need to have a plan to provide helpful resources for troubled kids and parents.

  • A Break from “Screen Time”

More than ever, today’s kids are living in an online world. The church and many youth groups have moved online, but our kids are already there. They live in a “Fortnite”, contrived-reality world. Their lives are dominated by social media personas, where “likes” carry way too much weight.

My wife and I have 9 grandchildren, with the oldest being only 14 years old. Each of them has had access to an iPad since they were very young. It is not all that strange to them to have school online. Their schools have utilized internet-based educational systems already.

However, the current COVID-19 situation has led to an ever-greater amount of screen time for our kids. This may be difficult to pull-off, but I believe that kids will need a break from their devices. I am not saying that we need to make new youth group rules to limit their use of cell phones. I am saying that meeting in person may take on an even greater significance once the stay-at-home directives are released. Let’s prepare now for how important our youth group meetings will be once we can gather in person.

  • Help for Fear and Anxiety

Younger generations are already struggling with fear and anxiety – and the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate these feelings even more. Everyday they are being told to stay 6 feet away from other people, that they can’t see their friends and relatives, that they have to wear facemasks, and that everyone they meet might be a potential carrier of the virus. We are running out of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and now meat. To make matters worse, almost every news program rehearses the number of casualties of COVID-19. Today’s young people are likely to emerge from this pandemic with even greater levels of debilitating anxiety.

Church youth groups will need to be beacons of hope and comfort to these needy young people and their families. We can offer the Truth of God’s Word to a hurting generation. Caring adult youth workers can have an incredible impact by demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love to parents and kids alike. That is another reason why church leaders, maybe especially youth workers, should plan now to actively consider what their ministries will look like once people can return to church buildings.

Mentoring: Why This Should be a Priority in Your Church

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The concept of “mentoring” most likely originated in Greek mythology. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, Mentor was the older gentleman who was entrusted with tutoring Odysseus’ son and providing guidance and instruction in the absence of his father. From what I understand, Odysseus wanted his son to have another male influence in his life during the times when the soldiers were away from home at war.

Perhaps Odysseus was on to something that has turned into a significant opportunity in our current culture. Here’s what I am seeing that is so often happening today:

  • Our culture and our churches tend to isolate various generations from each other into age-distinctive programming.
  • So many families are struggling. Many families are no longer “traditional” (with a strong Dad and Mom) and too many kids are growing up without the positive influences of Godly adults in their lives.
  • I’ve also met several Christian families who attempt to protect their kids from outside influences and actually detach their kids from the larger body of Christ.

I have become more and more convinced that every young person today needs older mentors – and that every mature, older person should be a mentor of younger people.

It’s time to connect the generations – especially in the church.

Like the ancient warrior’s son as described by Homer, our kids today need the influence from other adults in their lives – especially Godly adults who are committed to encouraging them to grow up and go on for God.

Here are 5 quick reasons why mentoring should be a priority in your church:

1. Mentoring is a practical way to connect the generations.

Sure, it makes sense to keep children together with other children, teenagers with other teens, and adults with other adults in many aspects of our church ministries. There are many valid reasons for doing just that. However, the different generations need each other, and mentoring is an ideal way to institute a layer of older-to-younger connections in your church. My own research has revealed that most young people would love to be mentored by significant older adults – and most older adults would be interested in positive relationships with young people. All it takes is a little bit of motivation, organization, and intentionality.

2. Young people want positive relationships with older adults.

I want to expand a little bit on what I just mentioned above. It has been my experience that the current younger generations in the church (such as “Gen. Z’ers” and “Millennials”), usually welcome positive, growing, and healthy relationships with caring and Godly adults. Often, it’s the older adults who feel as if they don’t have the time to develop these relationships. However, the real genius of effective mentoring is that it is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. I tell people all the time that real mentoring is just “doing what you already do, just doing it with somebody younger.” Almost anyone can do that!

3. Mentoring gives older people opportunities to connect with younger people.

For about the last 30 years I have had the opportunity to visit about 30 different churches each year. Most of the older people I’ve met love their church and want to see it continue as Christ tarries. They just don’t know how to hand off ministry and leadership opportunities to upcoming generations. They don’t want their young people to walk away from church, but they are not sure exactly what to do about it either. Friends, mentoring (especially in various aspects of ministry) may be your answer. If older people are willing to develop positive and personal relationships with young people at church (like even in the church foyer), they often find that these young people have a heart for God and would love to live for Him over the long haul. It is amazing to me how encouraging, personal relationships break down the barriers of external trends and fads. Who knows? Maybe the two generations have more in common than they realize.

4. Mentoring provides ways for people to minister to others who have things in common.

That being said, one of the best ways to make mentoring connections is through the things the two generations may have in common. It’s not that hard to identify some areas of commonality: you go to the same church, you live near each other, you have the same interests or hobbies, or the older person has gone through life experiences that the younger person is going through now. I love the story in Acts 11 where Barnabas was sent to the early Antioch church to encourage them spiritually (see Acts 11:23). The greater text in that chapter tells us that one of the reasons Barnabas was sent there was because he had certain things in common with many of the people there. Those background experiences gave him a great opportunity to connect.

5. Mentoring is Biblical.

Take a look at Titus 2:1-5. The Apostle Paul specifically instructed his readers to connect the generations. He believed that older people could be used greatly by God to “admonish” or encourage, train, teach, and challenge the younger people in that church. This pattern is what God intended. He wants older believers to minister to younger people and to encourage them in the things of the Lord. As this passage indicates, the older men and women certainly have the life experience to help younger people in specific areas of life – like in family situations (see verses 4 and 5).

NOTE: For more specific information on how mentoring connections could be developed and implemented in your church, take a look at my new book, Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church. You can purchase a copy on my website at: www.GoingOnForGod.com.

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