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youth ministry

Is It Their Church? 5 Things to Help Teenagers Build Loyalty to the Church

in Going On For God/inter-generational ministry/Ministry/youth ministry by

Fellow youth workers and church leaders, I would like to ask you a serious question – and, please make an honest evaluation of your ministry.

Are your teenagers more loyal to your youth ministry than they are to the church as a whole?

If they are, it’s no wonder so many teenagers quit participating in church following their days in youth group. Let’s remember that youth ministry was never designed as a terminal program – with a specific ending point for the students to be finished and then walk away.

Here are 5 things that any church can do to help build loyalty to the church as a whole:

  1. Teach them the importance of God’s church. Loyalty begins with an understanding of what church is all about. Develop a series of lessons on the church. Perhaps you could take them through Acts, the Epistles, and even the 7 churches in Revelation to give them exposure to what the Bible says about the church. Talk to them about basic ecclesiology and your church polity. There are lots of materials out there to help you with this, but if you feel uncomfortable doing this series yourself, I’m sure your lead pastor could offer some suggestions or resource material to help you.
  • Provide opportunities for them to serve in the church. Loyalty also comes through what some would call “sweat equity”. Give your students practical opportunities to get involved in your church’s ministries and programs – and give them practical ways to use their God-given spiritual gifts. Provide ways for them to serve alongside adults and motivate them to get involved in work projects around the church. People are much more likely to continue in church if they have been actively involved themselves.
  • Motivate them to give financially to the church. I encourage all youth workers to teach their students to give financially to the church. The majority of today’s teens have their own money. Their parents must be involved, of course, but teach them the discipline of giving financially to the Lord and to His church. It’s hard to walk away from something after giving financially to it.
  • Expose them to church business and key church leaders. I also believe it is a wise move to give teenagers some basic instruction on how their church works. Why do you have communion? Why do you baptize people? What is the purpose of church business meetings? These are vital questions and your kids should know the answers. It is also a good idea to give your students some exposure to the key leaders in your church – and that starts with the lead pastor / senior pastor. Don’t forget he’s their pastor, too. I encourage youth workers to invite deacons and other church leaders to share their story or testimony to students. Maybe our kids are leaving the church because they really don’t understand it.
  • Help them develop positive inter-generational relationships in the church. Chap Clark has said that if we want our kids to stay in the church after they graduate from high school, they will need personal relationships with 5 significant adults other than their parents. How are you doing with that? These adults need to be people above-and-beyond our teams of youth workers. They could be adult mentors, prayer-partners, Godly parents of other teens, work project leaders, or senior citizens who are genuinely interested in the next generation. I really believe that we are doing our students a disservice if we totally separate them from other generations in the church. We must think this through if we want our youth to go on for God as adults.s

These 5 things are just recommendations, but I think they are very practical and workable in a church situation – and I think these strategy suggestions will help build loyalty to the entire church instead of just the youth program.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to implement these concepts into the fabric of your church!

Reaching & Ministering to “Spiritual Orphans” in Your Community

in Going On For God/Mentoring/youth ministry by

The rise of “spiritual orphans” in our communities is a reflection of the true state of the family in today’s American culture. I define this category of student as those who have come to Christ, but who do not have the spiritual support system in place to grow in Him, or they are young people who do not have any Godly adult influences in their lives.

According to a recent national survey, almost 65% of Americans come to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14[i]. This is an important reality for any church to think through. If your children’s ministry and student ministry are reaching young people for Christ, you undoubtedly have connections with spiritual orphans as a part of your ministry.

Plus, we are living in a culture today where most likely the “good, Christian family” does not exist. According to recent statistics, more and more couples are living together without being married; the number of single-parent homes in the US is growing dramatically; there is a changing definition of “family” and there is a growing number of households in America that do not fit the classification of a “traditional” family; and the number of dysfunctional or fractured families is also increasing[ii].

Theologically, of course, there’s no such thing as a spiritual orphan:

  • God loves us so much that He sent His Son so that we can have a relationship with Him – John 3:16 and 1 John 4:10.
  • Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family – Ephesians 1:4-5.
  • Also, through a personal relationship with Christ, we become children of God, and are actually “heirs” of God – Romans 8:16-17.
  • God Himself cares deeply for human orphans – Psalms 68:5.

Humanly however, the likelihood of us having the opportunity to minister to spiritual orphans is great. If we are seeing kids come to Christ, there will be several of them who are from households with very little Godly influence. This fact presents our ministries with a huge responsibility to help these young people become assimilated or integrated into the Christian community.

Ministering to “Spiritual Orphans” –

Here are 5 strategic suggestions for your church to consider:

  1. Creatively and effectively present the Gospel. We must never forget the truth of Romans 10:15, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” God brings people into His family through His Word, and people grow in Christ through His Word. Because we are very likely to have a growing number of kids without any other spiritual influence in their lives, it will be imperative for us to make the clear communication of God’s Word a top priority in our ministries.
  2. Provide Godly adult mentors. Most of today’s students will respond positively to the influence of significant adults who care enough to build growing and healthy relationships with them. (Of course, it is imperative to build safeguards into our ministries including a well-defined and implemented “child protection policy[iii]”.) However, Godly mentors can provide a new layer of inter-generational relationships in your church’s ministry to young people[iv]. Many of the kids you reach for Christ today will be from households without the positive influence of significant adults. This is one of the reasons why is it so important for the church today to be inter-generational[v] in its ministry philosophy and programming.
  3. Show them God at work in the lives of their peers. One of the key advantages of any local church is the larger community of God’s people. Positive peer pressure is so important for kids. If we can help spiritual orphans see God at work in and through the lives of other young people, they will begin to see this activity as the norm. Churches must never be dominated by fun-and-games, nor should they be entertainment-driven in their programming. Activities like that are important of course, but only as a way (along with other means of programming) to show the reality of Jesus Christ in life. All new believers need to see that other Christian can have fun, and that it is exciting to serve the Lord and to live out their faith in real-life situations.  
  4. Help them connect with the total church. God designed His church to be inter-generational. The end result of student ministry is not participation in youth group. It must be that kids grow up on and go on for God as adults[vi]. We must grasp the fact that youth ministry was never designed as a terminal program where our students graduate from high school and then walk away from God’s church. We can help connect them to “big church” via intentional involvement in serving, giving, worship, teaching and preaching, outreach, and other means of developing sweat equity. Young adults are much less likely to walk away from involvement in church when they become adults if they have been personally involved in church-wide activities when they were kids.
  5. Encourage good families to “adopt” spiritual orphans. It’s interesting that the world grasps this idea and yet the church falls behind in implementing it. The general community where you live probably has programs like “foster kids” or “big brothers & big sisters”, where solid families take an active role in building relationships with kids from broken or dysfunctional households. Why shouldn’t the church lead the way in this kind of ministry? Probably churches leaders will need to paint the vision of how this could work. But the concept is sound – and it works. Good parents can be motivated to “adopt” kids who need to see what positive family relationships look like by including them in typical family activities like meals, sports, movie nights, etc.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to reach out to the “spiritual orphans” in your community.


[i] https://www.nae.net/when-americans-become-christians/

[ii] A great resource on the current state of the family in the US is: Households of Faith, by Barna Research. https://shop.barna.com/collections/family-kids/products/households-of-faith

[iii] I recently wrote a post on my blog about building safeguards into our mentoring ministry. Check it out. https://melwalker.org/mentoring-safeguards/

[iv] See Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church, by Mel Walker, published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2019. https://goingonforgod.com/product/mentoring/  

[v] See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why A Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church, by Mel Walker, published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2013. http://intergenerationalyouthministry.com/the-book/

[vi] See Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, by Mel Walker, Published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2108. https://goingonforgod.com/product/going-on-for-god/

WAYS OLDER ADULTS CAN MINISTER TO YOUNG PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH

in Going On For God/Mentoring/Older adults/youth ministry by

“Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” Psalm 71:18

According to the US Government’s Health & Human Services Department we live in a country with a dramatically increasing population of older people. At this moment, almost 50 million people in the United States are 65 years of age or older – and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. This demographic trend will definitely impact church ministries and programming as we consider how to reach and serve this growing cohort.

Even though most of us have been raised believing there is a considerable “Generation Gap”, I am absolutely convinced that the different generations in the church need each other and that both sides of the generational divide actually want the same things in the church. Younger people and older people alike desire to serve and worship God in a local church environment that honors God, that teaches and preaches the life-changing Word of God, and that effectively reaches out to the unsaved and un-churched members of the surrounding community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches the unity of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-16) and that older people can and should mentor and encourage young people in the church (see Titus 2:1-10). Today’s young people need Godly and loving encouragement from the older people in the church – and actually current research points out that this generation of young people is very, very receptive to building close relationships with older people. (See https://www.barna.com/research/multigenerational-friendships/?mc_cid=5df38c9891&mc_eid=bfbee3c1fa.)

If you, like me, are one of the “older” generations in your church, please join me in doing all we can to encourage emerging generations to grow up and go on for God. Here are 5 simple things older adults can do to minister to younger people in church:

Pray for them

I highly encourage senior citizens to pray for their church’s younger generations – specifically, by name! It’s probably easy to obtain a list of their names from your church’s youth workers. Take each one to the Lord individually. God will begin to put a burden on your heart for them. You will be amazed at how external things fade away as you pray specifically for them and their spiritual growth. Once you have developed the habit of praying intentionally and individually FOR young people – then take the opportunity to pray WITH them. You will be amazed at how receptive today’s young people are for a time of special prayer with older people.

Encourage them.

It’s also important for the older, established people in the church to actively and purposely encourage them in their walk with God. Take the Biblical examples of Barnabas and Onesiphorus to heart. They were exceptional encouragers. Today’s young people hear so much criticism and negativity. Let’s change that trend in the church. Imagine the positive influence you could have on your church’s teenagers and college age young adults just by being a verbal encouragement to them. Ephesians 4:29 puts it this way, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Older people should take the initiative. Just say an encouraging word or two to young people in the church foyer or hallway. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.

Tell your story

Today’s youth love stories. Most of the recent blockbuster movies have been epic tales told as stories. God uses human interest, real-life accounts of real people to touch the hearts of others. I think this is the idea behind the truth in Psalm 78:1-8. Older generations were instructed to tell the next generation “the praises of the Lord. And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done….” So that, “They may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.” This generation loves “God stories”. Seniors should take every opportunity they can to share what God has done and is doing in and through their lives. Practical ideas abound. Invite young people over to your home and take the opportunity to share your testimony with them. Take a few young people out for coffee. Today’s young people love to connect with older people. I strongly recommend that churches use this as a ministry advantage. This simple action step will help break down the Generation Gap.

Minister alongside them.

It should be the standard norm in your church for each ministry position (ushers, Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, work days, etc.) to include a mentoring relationship with a younger person. Our churches must be intentional about becoming inter-generational. So, if you have any kind of ministry position at all in your church, why not invite a younger person to serve alongside of you? Even if you are not a ministry leader you can still minister with teens by asking them to help you bake cookies to encourage someone in the church, or to go with you to visit a shut-in. The key is to demonstrate your desire to serve the Lord to emerging generations.

Mentor them.

I believe that every mature Christian in the church should have growing mentoring relationships with younger people. This is the Biblical pattern (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and Titus 2) and it should be replicated throughout our churches today. Over 90% of today’s young people have indicated that they would appreciate an older mentor. Yet, most adults feel like they don’t have time to so something like this. Friends, I have said for years that true mentoring is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. It is doing what you already do, just doing it with someone younger. The best mentoring takes place at church by the way. Begin this Sunday by building intentional, growing relationships with younger people.

              It makes sense for older, spiritually mature people to be intentional about personally ministering to younger people in the church. Let’s bridge that Generation Gap!

5 Ways to Transform Your Church Youth Ministry Into a “City on a Hill”

in Evangelism/Outreach/youth ministry by

Youth room. Church kids. Snacks. Games. Praise band. Youth speaker. Small groups.

How long has church youth ministry looked this way in America? I am 41-years-old and it’s been this way since I was in youth group… and possibly before. I was in youth group in the 90’s, specifically from 1990-1996. I have also traveled extensively and observed many American, church youth groups since graduating from Bible college, and almost everyone has looked almost exactly like mine did.  

If your church youth ministry still looks like this, should it? Are you content with where it is currently, or do you dream of and pray for more?

Many, if not most, church youth ministries right now are in decline. A good number of churches have even decided against paying a full-time youth director.  Middle school ministries are doing better, but high schoolers are checking out due to busyness and simply feeling too old for youth group. 

Would you like to experience growth, both numerical and spiritual? Reach your community? See students embrace real, radical relationships with Christ? Watch them become disciple makers and world changers for Christ?

The following are five, strategic changes to implement in your church youth ministry this year to create a “city on a hill” culture that shines a light in your community, and not just in your youth room:

  1. DETERMINE WHO YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY IS ABOUT. Who is your desired target audience? Is it ONLY “church kids,” or would you like to see your youth ministry reach outside of the walls of the church into the community? My guess is that you would love to impact more than just the kids who attend your church. If not, this article might not be for you, because you might be more content than you realized with the state of your current ministry.
  2. FORMULATE A PLAN TO REACH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. (Step one might require talking with your church leadership and casting your vision. Based on how that conversation goes, step two might require a great deal of prayer and fasting for a shared unity of vision, or even a re-location to a church that shares your vision. Radical action is usually necessary and worthwhile in order to bring about great impact and change!) If your desire is for your youth ministry to transform your community, you’re thinking BIG and I applaud you, but you have to have a plan! Sit down with your youth leaders and/or student leaders and create a MIND MAP (https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Mind-Map). Use this exercise to determine your next steps.
  3. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE IN YOUR COMMUNITY. It’s likely that you have already planned outreach or evangelistic events (ie. a Super Bowl party) in hopes of attracting students in your community, only to be disappointed with the end result. Students who have yet to embark on a relationship with Christ, will likely not join a church youth group which feels like a members-only, or elitist Christian club. It is much more effective to go to them! Find out the needs of the students in your community. Ask your local high school principal, letting him or her know that you are willing to help in any way. Perhaps there is a need for tutoring, volunteers for extra-curricular activities, help with repairs and renovations, etc. Start small and continue to ask for ways to help. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, ESV).
  4. DARE TO LEAVE THE YOUTH ROOM. From where do you want the growth to come? If you’re dreaming of reaching your community or local high school students, you need to GO to them. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) commands us to GO in order to reach people:  Therefore go and make disciples…” A city on a hill does not hide!Dare to leave the youth room. Take your existing students and GO somewhere. Be strategic. Go where the needs are. Go let your light shine before men! A church in northeastern Pennsylvania skips church all together one Sunday every year to spend the day instead serving their community. Take your cues from the high school principal, teacher, coach, PTA president, social worker, etc. and GO reach your community . . . WITH your students! Make this a regular activity on your youth calendar!
  5. THINK LIKE A MISSIONARY. Your church may be your job, but your community is your mission/harvest field. Make your community a higher priority than it’s ever been before. Almost weekly in the news we are hearing devastating accounts of students being bullied, committing suicide, or shooting their teachers and classmates. The local public schools need you. They need your youth ministry. Most of all, they need the hope and light of the Gospel. Take it to them! Don’t expect them to come and get it. Go and make disciples. Do this and your youth ministry will become that “city on a hill” transforming darkness into light!

By Kristi Walker – CrossWay Church in Berlin, Germany


5 Ways Parents Approach Youth Ministry

in Parents/youth ministry by
  • 5things.jpg?time=1562331235

Let’s face it, a lot of youth workers sometimes view parents as almost one of the necessary evils of youth ministry. A friend of mine took a survey a few years ago in his network of approximately 400 youth workers. He asked them to name the biggest concerns they faced in local church youth ministry. The most listed answer was “parents of teenagers.”

Here are 5 basic ways that parents of teenagers approach youth ministry. It has been my experience that somewhere along the line all youth workers will face parents in each of the following categories:

  1. Protective – Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the phrase “Helicopter Parents” – those parents who “hover over their kids” and are overly-protective of them. A recent survey reported that freshmen in college sometimes send and receive 11 text messages a day from their parents – and those were college students! We noticed during our summer youth missions trips that many of the participating teens used their cell phones to call their parents almost every hour. It’s true; we are ministering to a generation of hovering parents. My advice is to use this as an advantage and take every opportunity you can to communicate clearly and carefully to the parents of the teens involved in your ministry.
  2. Afraid – Some parents are afraid, and they worry about the negative influences facing their kids. These parents look at their kids’ peers as potentially harmful and manipulative. They also tend to see even the church youth ministry as a problem. The roots to this particular approach are often deeper than just surface negativity. There are some parents who seem to be pessimistic and critical about almost everything. Probably the best thing you can do to help these parents is to keep communicating to them the positive virtues and characteristics of the church and youth ministry.
  3. Proud – Akin to the last approach is something I’ve seen growing over the past few years of my ministry. There are some parents who are so proud and arrogant that they feel as if they are the only ones who can have a positive influence in the lives of their kids. I’ve met some parents of teenagers who will not allow their kids to attend youth group or other youth ministry functions because they see those ministries as a problem. This group of parents looks at other Christian youth and even church youth workers as part of the problem, so they do everything they can to keep their kids with them in everything – including school and church activities. Again, I believe that communication is the key to ministering to this group of parents. Show them Biblical examples of the church in action and help them see the advantages of building other Godly people into the lives of their children.
  4. Idealistic – Some other parents are quite idealistic. They think that everything will turn out okay in the end, so why worry about anything. These parents are often somewhat permissive and lenient with their kids. Plus, this group will often prove to be materialistic in getting their kids anything they want. I suspect that in most cases, their motives are good. They want their kids to grow up to be positive and constructive citizens; it’s just that they try to smooth out all the feathers for their kids along the way. I have found that this group of parents may respond well if they see the positive aspects of youth ministry that includes actively serving the Lord and motivating students to enthusiastically share their faith.
  5. Engaged – Praise the Lord for active, engaged parents. These are the parents who stay involved in the lives of their kids as they mature through adolescence and they are the ones who value the church’s youth ministry and realize how important it is for the family and the church to work together to help kids grow in Christ and go on for Him as adults. This is the group of parents you should try to recruit to be a part of your team of youth workers. They will have a positive influence on their own kids and will often help minister to other teens as well. Praise God for engaged parents of teenagers!

The Keys to Longevity in Student Ministry

in Blog/youth ministry by
  • youth_ministry_image.gif?time=1562331235

Let me introduce you to 2 of my heroes:

The first was my Sunday School teacher when I was in 6th through 8th grade. I thought he was way too strict, too conservative, and way too quirky to work with students. I hate to admit it now, but I’d complain about him to my Dad. Come to find out, he was also my Dad’s Sunday School teacher when he was that age. This faithful leader served the junior higher youth group in my home church for over 30 years! He’s in Heaven now, but you’ll meet him there someday. He’ll be in the front row – after working with early adolescents for that long (with guys like me in his group), he deserves to be the front row!

The second was a youth worker that I’ve known for over 40 years. He served for almost 25 years as a youth pastor in two local churches and coached in public high schools for over 20 years. He still leads an international youth ministry organization and he travels to speak to hundreds of kids each year in camps, retreats, and other youth events. The bottom line is that he’s a youth worker, and I can’t picture him doing anything else.

I’ve told churches for years that people may get too old to play tackle football (I would probably fall on you and crush you), but you never get too old to minister to kids!

So, what are the keys to longevity in student ministry?

  • What has God called, gifted, and equipped you to do? It’s really quite simple, if God has blessed you with the ability to work with students – then do it, and keep doing it. Honestly, why would you stoop to do anything else?
  • Do you love students? If the Lord has put a burden on your heart for middle schoolers, high schoolers, or even young adults, then I believe that you’ll do anything you can to spend time with them and their families in an attempt to reach them for Christ and to help them to go on for Him. It’s not just a cliché, youth workers keep working with youth.
  • Are you willing to be a servant? Let’s face it, sometimes ministry is hard – and it takes faithfulness over the long haul. Kids need adults to be faithful – to be the kind of people they can depend upon. You may want to resign every Monday morning, but don’t do it! Teenagers need loving, caring, and faithful adults to be an ongoing part of their lives.
  • How can you make the greatest impact for eternity? Reproducing yourself in the lives of the next generation may be the most important characteristic of a true leader. As I write this post, I am reminded that there is one real advantage to getting old in youth ministry. You stay around enough to see the students that you invested your life in grow up and go on for God.

 

I’m praying that the entire front row of heaven (if there really is such a thing) is totally full of youth workers. To quote the old crooner, Steve Green, “May all who come behind us find us faithful!”

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