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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

in Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

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

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

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

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

  • Work hard.

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

  • Make church a priority.

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

  • Serve the Lord.

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

  • Write things down.

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

  • Read often.

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

  • Be nice to others.

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

  • Don’t quit.

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

  • Be loyal.

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

  • Take vacations.

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

  • Be creative and practice your hobbies.

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

  • Follow God’s will.

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

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

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

How Can Small Youth Groups Make a Big Impact?

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

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

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

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

Make much of people, not programs.

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

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

Stress relationships, not rooms.

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

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

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

Build trust instead of technology.

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

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

Emphasize mentoring over methods.

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

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

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

Train, don’t just “teach.”

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

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

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

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

Resources on Generation Alpha – by Mel Walker

in Generation Alpha/youth ministry by

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

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

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

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

Articles:

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

fbclid=IwAR0UoB0kqHU2XVD1RMy_ehyu0ORE08hh4W3-EtTkGfTLsyvR3PC_BcijRRA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dropout Phenomenon

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

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

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

Some Suggested Ingredients of a Transition Plan

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

  • Teach your teenagers about doing the will of God.

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

  • Schedule personal meetings each Spring with every graduating senior.

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

  • Offer vocational resources to parents and teenagers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I don’t buy it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

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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.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in School

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It has been over 30 years ago now that Robert Fulghum published his fabulous best-seller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” which contained such sage life wisdom as:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

I was reminded of Fulghum’s classic work last week when the children in our community’s school system, including our own grandson, when back to in-person school following several months of either hybrid learning or online education during this country’s coronavirus lockdown.

I get it that there are both pros and cons to kids being a part of institutional education. Our grandson, Haddon is currently in second grade in the public school system – and I know there are very real benefits to him being at home with his Godly parents and other siblings. But I also see that there are some tangible advantages for kids being back in school as well.

Just the other day I stopped by Haddon’s school to watch for a minute or two when I noticed that his class was playing outside during what must have been a recess. I didn’t want to look like a creeper, so I jotted down a few observations and then made my way home to type up this post.

So, with my apologies to Fulghum, here is my “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in School” – which contains some of the basic observations I made that day just watching the little kids being back at school following months of being away.

  • It is a good thing to play and hang out with friends.
  • It is good to meet new friends.
  • A regular schedule is good for kids.
  • Go where you are supposed to go when you are supposed to go there.
  • Listen to your teachers and pay attention.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Study when it is time to study.
  • Do your homework.
  • Take the time to eat lunch.
  • Go outside for recess.

There might be something to this school thing after all!

How Can Leaders Prepare Now for “Generation Alpha”?

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Ten years ago, Apple unveiled the iPad and Instagram was launched. Members of the Millennial generation were emerging into adulthood and the leading edge of Gen Z  was entering middle school.

And the kids now called “Generation Alpha” were just coming into this world.

Ten years from now, the Millennials will be facing middle age. Gen Z will be having their own children – and members of Gen. Alpha will be the young adult generation that everyone is talking about. This new generation will begin to impact everything – from culture to the church.

The term, Generation Alpha, was coined by an Australian researcher Mark McCrindle in 2008, who observed that by the time all members of this generation have been born, they will number almost 2 billion people around the globe (see https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/generation-alpha-mark-mccrindle-q-new-york-times/), and will be the first generation to be born entirely in the twenty-first century. They will also be the first generation to experience life in the twenty-second century.

Observations About Generation Alpha

Time will tell, but today’s children are also likely to be the generation most influenced by the current pandemic. Depending upon the actual duration of this time of “social distancing” or isolation from other people, there are habits and life patterns that are apt to develop that may persist with the members of Generation Alpha for decades to come.

Here are some possible consequences of an extended time of social distancing and isolation from a broader community.

  • The feelings of fear and anxiety may continue to grow.

Today’s young people are more likely than previous generations to struggle with depression and anxiety disorders (see https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2018/stress-gen-z.pdf). Plus, their negative feelings are only likely to grow because of the current days of virtual quarantine. The constant, pervasive nature of negative news relating to the coronavirus is quite likely to become a breeding ground for even more apprehension and worry for today’s children. Coupled with the reaction to the current crisis by parents and other influential adults, this situation is likely to develop a growing sense of foreboding and uneasiness in the lives of the next generation. Of course, this will not be universally true, but the likelihood that the anxiety that comes from the potential of getting sick, or someone they know getting sick; compounded by the negativity in a socially isolated atmosphere will be even greater than it is other older generations. Church leaders, youth workers, and other caring adults would be wise to put positive and hope-filled resources into the hands of parents, other guardians and caregivers, and the children themselves during these days of crisis and pandemic.

  • Working, studying, and living in seclusion may become more of a norm.

Another long-term effect of social distancing for children is that living without the presence of other children and other influential adults in their lives may become an enduring pattern. There are some children from homes that may be customed to a socially isolated world much like the situation today. For example, some home schoolers may fit into this description. However, it is important to remember that humans are designed by God to live in community with others, and it is especially important for followers of Christ to be actively involved in His work – the church.

One of the potential dangers of a quarantine is that the segregation from others might become “safe”, or even cozy and natural. This generation already has a natural propensity toward technology, which is a key reason why parents and church leaders alike should make it a priority to provide opportunities for some positive and healthy social interaction for kids even if that is via tech – especially if these days of social distancing last for quite some time.

  • The creative use of interactive technology will expand.

The first wave of Generation Alpha began in 2010, which is the same year when the term “app” was selected as the word of the year. (https://nowthisnews.com/news/move-over-gen-z-generation-alpha-is-here.) It is no wonder that this generation is very comfortable with using all kinds of technology. This time of isolation from a larger community will certainly not be a problem to them. They have grown up with various forms of “smart” technology and are most likely used to a “virtual” world. Since today’s school-aged children are now home for longer periods of time they will be compelled to utilize technology even more and more for their educational requirements and pursuits. The current global crisis will likely push this new generation toward even more creative use of technological tools. Parents, church leaders, and educators alike should expect more and more members of Generation Alpha to become creators, publishers, and entrepreneurs instead of being just consumers of virtual media.

  • The stress of financial pressure may become more intense. 

One of the lasting ramifications of living through the Great Depression (about 1929 to 1939) for the “Silent Generation” of that era was the lack of finances and a scarcity mindset, and the members of the World War II generation experienced several years of shortages due to the needs of the war effort. Economic struggles are already one of the leading pressure points for any generation and this occasion is likely to be no different for Generation Alpha. The wide fluctuation of the Stock Market, plus the rapidly growing unemployment rate has caused a wide range of financial pressures. Customers have already experienced the grocery stores lack of commodities such as toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and medicines. Some are predicting a rapid economic upturn once this crisis is over, but today’s children are likely to remember and experience a lasting impact of monetary stress as a result of COVID-19. Parents and other influential adults, such perhaps as grandparents and other caregivers, will need to be diligent to teach and demonstrate financial discipline during these difficult days.

  • Long-term social isolation will likely identify a growing number of hurting and non-traditional households.

According to some authors (for example, Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace in Generation Z: A Century in the Making, published by Routledge, 2019, Chapter 8), many members of today’s younger generations are already living in hurting, dysfunctional, and non-traditional households. This means that the current coronavirus crisis is not going to be a good thing for many children. Both community and church leaders must remember that there are several households out there where it will not be a positive experience for children to have more extended time at home. That means that household stress and pressure are likely grow and have more of a lasting impact on members of Generational Alpha. This is exactly why it will be imperative for conscientious outside influencers to stay in regular communication with both children and other household members. One youth ministry writer also put it this way, “Churches would be wise to bolster their resources for counseling – marriage counseling, family counseling, addition recovery, and a response to abuse. We must pray for healing and grace in homes today and be ready to provide pastoral care and help… hopefully before it’s necessary, but we probably won’t hear about most of the heartbreak until the dust has settled.” (From Facebook post on April 6, 2020.)

In ten short years our culture will be asking members of Generation Z to move out of the way as Alphas come of age. Of course, at this stage in the process, it is uncertain that this moniker will stick. Other voices are already referring to them as “Generation C” or “Generation Covid”.

It is time now for leaders to learn all they can about America’s newest generation. Here are some resources which may help:

https://www.businessinsider.com/new-generation-covid-comes-after-gen-z-gen-c-2020-11

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Alpha

https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-is-generation-alpha/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecarter/2016/12/21/the-complete-guide-to-generation-alpha-the-children-of-millennials/?sh=784c1c453623

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW?end=2019&locations=AS&start=1961&view=map

“Youth Ministry Heaven”?

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In June of 1974, the Righteous Brothers released their hit song, “Rock and Roll Heaven” which lamented the passing of rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin. The song imagined the gathering in “heaven” of these talented, but now deceased artists. With my apologies of the writers of “Rock and Roll Heaven”, Johnny Stevenson and Alan O’Day, I want to use their analogy to share my thoughts about the recent passing of one of the legends of youth ministry, Dr. Dawson McAllister.

Here is the link to a press release from “The Hope Line” which shares much more information about this influential youth ministry trend setter: https://www.thehopeline.com/passing-of-founder-dawson-mcallister/?fbclid=IwAR2YjQLzc-aguMqEK4uZm7zNPBVCQ0-JGkwaK5DkCPhkUSkl0Qk972hvnsA.

We lost another youth ministry “hall of famer” this week with the home-going of Dawson McAllister. Undoubtedly, every youth worker in America for over three decades used the materials or attended a conference written or led by this visionary and incredibly creative entrepreneur. I was one of those youth workers.

His bio claims that he spoke to over one million teenagers in a twenty-year span of his ministry, but he was also a pioneer of Christian radio. At the height of his popularity, his call-in show, “Dawson McAllister Live!” was featured on over 250 radio stations from coast to coast. He was also a prolific writer with 18 books to his credit.

Dawson McAllister was ushered into heaven this week where he heard his Lord and Savior proclaim, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Dawson believed in kids and youth ministry – and he dedicated his life to pointing the next generation to Jesus.

When I heard of his death just today; my creative, but perhaps warped mind, immediately thought of that Righteous Brothers’ song.

I can imagine Dawson being heartily welcomed to a table where other youth ministry legends who had passed on before were seated reminiscing about the glory days of reaching kids for Christ.

Seated there were:

  • Jack Wyrtzen, who rented Yankee Stadium in 1944 for America’s first “Word of Life Rally”;  
  • Percy Crawford, who began the “Young Peoples’ Church of the Air” just a few years later;
  • Torrey Johnson & Billy Graham who helped launched what became “Youth for Christ” – also in 1944.
  • Art Rorheim and Lance Latham, who helped found the “Awana Youth Association” outside of Chicago in 1950.

Those guys had already been welcomed to the table by people like Francis Edward Clark, who established the “Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor” in 1881; George Williams, who founded the “Young Men’s Christian Association” in 1844, and Robert Raikes, who developed the first Sunday School back in 1780.

I can also imagine Mike Yaconelli being there – he helped found “Youth Specialties” in 1969. But he may have too busy being “Getting Fired for the Glory of God” or dancing on the “Jones Memorial Carpet.”

Others were there to be sure – men and women God used to create and develop what we refer to as youth ministry. These were visionary leaders all, people with a God-given burden and vision to impact lives of kids for eternity.

Dawson is welcomed to that table for sure because so many of us do what we do today in part due to his influence on our lives and upon our careers.

My imagination sees this make-believe “youth ministry heaven” and believes that the conversation around that table today has been enhanced and invigorated by Dawson McAllister joining in on that discussion.

Welcome to the band, Dawson. Welcome home!

(Disclaimer to Readers: This is may be my most sacrilegious post ever. I am not a fan of the language and message of the Righteous Brother’s song “Rock and Roll Heaven. I’m just using that song here as an illustration. Please don’t be offended.)

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