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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Select Bibliography:

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

Trends Youth Workers Will Face This Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Cultural Trends Youth Workers Will Face This Year –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Changing Households

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

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

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

A Post-Christian Mindset

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

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

A Lack of Loyalty to the Local Church

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

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

What do we do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Generations Change Things

Most of today’s youth workers are probably Millennials[1] – the generation we were told would change everything. With the recent surge of immigration, this age group became America’s largest generation[2] – and has certainly emerged as the most influential population segment in this country’s history.

In generational sequence, the Millennials were followed by Generation Z – which includes today’s teenagers and college age students. Gen. Z’ers have become the most diverse, progressive, and financially-minded generation in recent US history[3]. Older youth workers and other church leaders were told by some experts to “quit doing Millennial ministry[4]” because this new generation would look, act, think, and behave much differently than then their adolescent predecessors.

Now a new generation is looming on our youth ministry horizons. It is almost time for “Generation Alpha” to emerge. This moniker, coined by Australian marketer, Mark McCrindle[5], nicknamed the globe’s newest generation with the first letter in Greek alphabet[6]. While there is no real consensus yet about what will become the name that sticks for this emerging generation, there is no doubt that like their generational forefathers, this new age group is about to change everything – including the way we do local church youth ministry.

So, it will soon be time to quit doing “Generation Z” ministry and concentrate on reaching and ministering to Generation Alpha instead.

Introducing Generation Alpha

Alphas are the kids born between 2010 and 2025 and will be the first generation to live entirely in the twenty-first century. Ironically, based upon current life expectancy rates, they will also be the first generation to see the twenty-second century. They are also likely to be the generation most affected by the lasting impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The members of Generation Alpha have been featured on the internet their entire lives – from the “gender-reveal parties” thrown by their parents, to their own personal YouTube channels, and the TikTok videos they made during the pandemic. Because most Alpha’s are the offspring of Millennials, they are also more likely to be from non-traditional households – with older parents and fewer sibling than the recent previous generations before them[7].

The leading edge of Generation Alpha are today’s 11-year-olds[8]. In only two or three short years, they will be members of our church youth groups – and in ten years they will be the generation of young adults that everyone is talking about.

Alphas also have the potential to change everything we know to true about youth ministry – which means that it is essential for today’s youth workers and other church leaders to do all that we can right now to learn about this new generation and to anticipate the likelihood of sweeping changes we will need to make in our church youth ministries to reach this new generation[9].  

Changes Alphas Will Make in Youth Ministry

  • Generation Alpha will be the age group most impacted by COVID – and that means that church and ministry leaders will need to change the way they do ministry to truly impact this new generation.

The recent coronavirus situation will predictably be the defining moment for the members of Generation Alpha. Each recent generation in US history has been characterized by one seminal event or set of circumstances: for the “Greatest Generation”, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor; for Baby Boomers, it was the assassination of President Kennedy, for Millennials is was the attacks of 9/11; and for Alphas it will no doubt be the global COVID-19 crisis.

Generational defining moments tend to be cultural “game changers” in that these events have lasting emotional or social effects on the age groups that go through these life-altering circumstances during the same stage of their lives. Church and ministry leaders must recognize that the structures of their ministries will need to change in response to a new generation having experienced this global pandemic together.

It is no wonder that we are hearing so much about the mental health issues that today’s children and young people are experiencing. Alphas are a generation that will need to learn how to cope with emotional responses such as fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. They have been told to be “socially distant” from their peers and from other adults. They have also seen their parents and grandparents react to significant financial struggles.

Church leaders cannot expect this new generation and their parents or other caregivers to come back to church programs that feature a “let’s get back to normal” approach. Their “new normal” will look quite different than what things used to be.

The COVID crisis, and this new generation’s reaction to the experiences surrounding it, will be one reason why church and ministry leaders will need to change their methodologies to reach and impact this new generation.

  • The majority of Generation Alpha in America are from non-traditional or hurting and dysfunctional households – and that means the way churches organize their ministries to households and families must change.

The stay-at-home culture that developed surrounding the coronavirus situation was not a positive thing for most members of Generation Alpha. Being at home for extended periods of time was not always healthy or even safe for some members of Generation Alpha.

Demographics reveal that Alphas are much more likely to be raised in non-traditional households than members of any previous American generation[10]. The number of single-parent, co-habiting, same-sex, and multi-generational homes is growing significantly. The number of kids not living with both of their biological parents is also increasing rapidly. Plus, household violence and abuse are rampant. One writer put it this way, “When you look at a child in this generation, you never know what kind of family life they have experienced[11].”

Churches can no longer expect that the majority of kids who attend their “kids’ ministry” will do so with supportive parents who are on the same page as the church leaders. That is most likely not the case anymore. In fact, many youth workers have told me that their experience is that many of today’s families do not even attend church or church functions regularly due to other commitments and priorities in their lives.

Youth workers who want to effectively reach Generation Alpha will need to understand that the days when most Christian parents are committed to being the primary spiritual influence on their own kids is probably over.

  • Members of Generation Alpha are likely to be “tech creators” more than they are “tech consumers” – which means that churches and ministries must give this new generation space to create and connect online.

Generation Z was perhaps the first generation to truly deserve the label as “digital natives[12]”. As the offspring of Generation X (the first generation to fully utilize computers and tablets as tools in their own work environment), most Gen. Z’ers literally grew up with their own iPads and iPhones.

This phenomenon is even more ubiquitous with Alphas. As Mark McCrindle puts it, “They are the most technologically literate generation to ever grace the planet![13]” Most of today’s children already grew up with their own technology – and then COVID hit and forced almost every elementary school in this country to utilize virtual or hybrid education[14].

Using technological tools is not foreign to Alphas, but staying at home for school will perhaps prove to be another game changer for this generation. They didn’t have personal interaction with teachers or peers for several months – which is a long time in the life of a child.

There are likely to be lasting ramifications resulting from virtual or hybrid education, including the thwarting of children’s social skills and the increased development of kids’ use of technology. This new generation were already accomplished tech users, but the move to virtual and hybrid education will probably motivate them toward becoming tech creators more than just tech consumers. One writer says, “…kids especially—should be able to create technology. If you can create the technology you want, you can create the future you want, too[15].”

In fact, it is estimated that 65 percent of today’s children will end up working in a job as adults that doesn’t even exist yet[16].

  • Generation Alpha is growing up in a culture where the church is much less of a priority than it was for previous generations. This reality will mean that church leaders will be forced to demonstrate that church and church functions are vitally important for all generations.

The most pressing distinction of Generation Alpha is that the majority of that cohort will have had no connection with church at all[17]. As already mentioned, the members of this generation are generally the children of Millennials, the first generation who left “religion, and is not coming back[18].”

Alphas are not a generation who will make church a priority. Their parents aren’t making a commitment to church, and neither will they. This will force church leaders to take new and different strategies to reach and effectively minister to them.

  • There’s no doubt that most Alphas are growing up with a “post-Christian” and “post-church” mindset – which means that it will be essential for churches and ministries to act like cross-cultural missionaries to reach and impact this new generation.

Pastor James White, in his groundbreaking book Meet Generation Z, notes “the most defining mark of members of Generation Z, in terms of their spiritual lives, is their spiritual illiteracy…They do not know what the Bible says. They do not know the basics of Christian belief or theology.” This knowledge gap is the result of a massive cultural value shift from the sacred to the secular, and it has led to increasing numbers of students abandoning their faith and losing interest in the church[19].

If White’s observations are true with the previous generation, one wonders how the next generation will act about church and organized religion. Alphas are definitely growing up in a post-Christian and post-church culture.

It is true once again that this emerging generation is likely to change everything – which means that wise youth pastors and other church leaders should prayerfully strategize now how to change the look, structure, and focus of our ministries to students to effectively impact Generation Alpha.


[1] Personal note: I am assuming that the average age of a youth pastor in the United States at this present moment is approximately 25 to 35 years old. If this statistic is true, it means that most of today’s youth pastors would be Millennials.

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/28/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers-as-americas-largest-generation/

[3] https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-are-the-core-characteristics-of-generation-z/

[4] https://mymresources.com/2020/04/20/top-10-things-to-understand-about-generation-z/?fbclid=IwAR3hfCQ6B2731iAUc0wZcTck0o396R360w8q282b9XXy6gDOnw68FEXUT_c

[5] “The of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations”, by Mark McCrindle, published by the University of New South Wales Press, 2010.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Alpha

[7] https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/27/as-millennials-near-40-theyre-approaching-family-life-differently-than-previous-generations/#:~:text=They%20are%20getting%20married%20later,28%20when%20she%20first%20wed.&text=Some%2042%25%20of%20Millennials%20with,high%20school%20education%20are%20married

[8] https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/gen-alpha-defined/

[9] Here is a link to a Zoom webinar I did, “Why Learning About Generation Alpha is Essential for Church Leaders?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Torgru5cOTY&t=5s, and here are the notes for that webinar: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youthministryquestions.com%2Fs%2Falpha-notes_booklet_final.pdf

[10] https://prsay.prsa.org/2019/10/17/what-pr-pros-need-to-know-about-the-worlds-next-age-group-generation-alpha/

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

[12] https://www.voanews.com/student-union/gen-z-born-be-digital

[13] https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blogarchive/gen-z-and-gen-alpha-infographic-update/

[14] https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2018/08/22/hybrid-education-breath-future-and-death-teaching-we-know-it

[15] https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2015/12/why-its-critical-for-the-next-gen-to-be-tech-creators-not-consumers/

[16] https://www.primotoys.com/creating-with-tech/

[17] https://yfc.co.uk/from-z-to-a/

[18] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/millennials-are-leaving-religion-and-not-coming-back/

[19] https://www.kentuckytoday.com/stories/gen-z-is-spiritually-illiterate-and-abandoning-the-church-how-did-we-get-here,23397

NOTE: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Resources on Generation Alpha – by Mel Walker

in Generation Alpha/youth ministry by

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

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

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

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

Articles:

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

fbclid=IwAR0UoB0kqHU2XVD1RMy_ehyu0ORE08hh4W3-EtTkGfTLsyvR3PC_BcijRRA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dropout Phenomenon

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

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

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

Some Suggested Ingredients of a Transition Plan

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

  • Teach your teenagers about doing the will of God.

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

  • Schedule personal meetings each Spring with every graduating senior.

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

  • Offer vocational resources to parents and teenagers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

in Going On For God/youth ministry by

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

I don’t buy it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this happening today?

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

  • Young adults are dropping out of church.

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

  • No religious loyalty.

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

  • A post-Christian mindset.

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

  • A changing household structure.

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

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

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

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

Can the church go it alone?

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

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

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

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

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

How Can Leaders Prepare Now for “Generation Alpha”?

in Generation Alpha/inter-generational ministry/youth ministry by

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 Tenure: How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

in Ministry/youth ministry by

I remember my first year as a youth pastor. I was fresh out of Bible college, my wife and I just got married and we had moved over 500 miles away from any of our other family members. We moved into our first apartment, bought some furniture, and stood in line at the DMV to get our drivers’ licenses in this new state.

Yes, I had heard the statistics. The average youth pastor only lasts a year-and-a-half in a typical church ministry.

Looking back, I don’t believe that statistic was ever proven to be true[i]. But, that 18-month tenure number had taken on “urban legend” status even back then.

My “rookie year” as a youth pastor went great. I was almost the antithesis of my predecessor in the church where I was serving. His perceived weaknesses were my strengths. The kids seemed to relate well to us, and we worked hard to build positive relationships with the students. They loved youth group and responded with interest and even enthusiasm to my lessons and messages. Their parents seemed to appreciate us, and the senior pastor and other church leaders seemed to see me as the new “Pied Piper” of youth ministry success.

But, then year two rolled around.

It seemed then as if everything that was successful the first year was a total disaster the second year. It appeared as if the teenagers didn’t like any of the events that I planned and were quite disinterested during my talks. The parents began to complain about what I was trying to do – and then the senior pastor called me in for a meeting with the church board to confront me about the struggles in the youth ministry.

I was worried that I was about to become the poster child for that year-and-a-half statistic. Things were not going well in that second year; and it was time for a “gut check” of my commitment, resolve, and calling. I wondered if I had made a mistake when my wife and I moved so far away, and I began to doubt if a young youth pastor with only 18 months of experience would ever be able to find another ministry position.

Let me move to end of the story. That was over 40 years ago. I actually served in that church for about eight years before the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin teaching youth ministry in a Christian college. In one way or another my wife and I have been actively involved in youth ministry ever since. In fact, even though I hate to admit it, I am currently 66 years old and still serve as a vocational youth pastor.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but let me share with you some of the things God has been teaching me over the years about longevity in youth ministry.

How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

Here are a few questions every youth worker should ask themselves if they are interested in serving as a career youth pastor or as a volunteer youth worker for a long time.

  • What has God called you to do?

Friends, if the Lord has called you to serve Him as a youth worker, keep doing that as long as God provides you with the opportunity to do it. To relay more of my personal story, I sensed that the Lord called me to youth ministry the summer following my sophomore year in Bible college.

In one way or another, I have been actively working with young people in various aspects ever sense. God used His Word (I was studying 1 & 2 Timothy at the time), the life-changing experience of leading a young man to Christ, and the encouragement of influential, Godly adults as the catalysts for me to recognize His direct leading in my life. I began to recognize that He had wired and enabled me to work with teenagers – and I still believe that even now as a full-fledged senior citizen. I know that this is an adaptation of an old cliché, but if the Lord calls you to be a youth worker, don’t stoop to working with adults.

  • Do you have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish?

Humanly speaking, the most important contributing factor for long-term youth ministry effectiveness may be an uncompromising and unobstructed vision of your sense of mission and purpose. It is not nearly enough to just love kids – although I believe that is critically important! Youth workers, and especially youth pastors perhaps, must see their role as shepherding kids toward a lifetime of growing in Christ toward lasting spiritual maturity. And make sure to communicate what you are trying to do in every way possible. You will want to stick it out, and churches will want to keep you around, if your long-term objective is to see kids come to Christ and grow up to go on for God.

  • What significant relationships are you building?

Strong, genuine relationships may indeed be the key to long-term survival in youth ministry. Of course, this begins with building loving and caring relationships with young people. Almost everyone who has ever written anything about vocational youth ministry has mentioned the importance of relational youth ministry. But I’m talking here about developing strong relationships with the senior pastor and other church leaders, parents and family members of your students – and carving out time to network with your peers in youth ministry as well. My fellow youth workers don’t take this point lightly. Put some energy into building strong inter-personal relationships with others. Then if things start to “go south” you will have established and durable relationships to rely on for stability or comfort

  • How do you handle personal conflicts with others?

Let’s face it, conflicts with people are going to happen. Some of the teenagers might not like you. Some of their parents may not appreciate what you are trying to do – and the leadership team in your church may even want you to leave. No matter what, it is important to handle conflicts in a Biblical, loving, and respectful manner. It is probably true that if we handle conflicts in an adult-like manner with maturity, kindness, and wisdom, we are much more likely to win over the objections of others in the church. I admit that is not always the case, but people conflicts tend to be much more vocal and heated if we allow our personality traits and human insecurities to get involved in the disputes. Without a doubt, it is always best to not allow human conflicts to get heated and confrontational in nature. My years of experience in ministry have taught me that those who last over the long haul are usually the people who can avoid or manage conflicts with others in the church.

  • Are you committed to faithfulness?

In what must have been a moment of insanity, as a high schooler I decided to try out for my school’s cross country team. My one-year fiasco as a long-distance runner revealed that successful runners are those who are committed to finishing the race – no matter what. That observation undoubtedly applies to the tenure of youth pastors as well.  I have found that youth pastors who last are usually those who are committed to long term ministry. They are not continually searching for a position in a different church, nor are they looking to do something else. The ones who stick it out are they ones who are committed to sticking it out over the long haul. They realize that it takes time to build an effective youth ministry.

As someone who has spent a long time in ministry, I have also observed that most veteran youth workers who are leading profitable ministries with students, and who are reaching out into the households where their students are from, are usually also faithful in their own walk with God and in their personal relationships with their own spouse and family.

On a personal note, I’m not buying that 18-month tenure statistic. I do not believe it was true when I started in youth ministry and I’m positive that it is not the norm today. I know many youth pastors who have spent 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years in very profitable ministries.

By the way, I lived through that meeting with the senior pastor and the church board. In fact, they encouraged me in some very specific areas of my ministry, and they helped me focus on a long-term vision of what church youth ministry should accomplish. By God’s grace, our ministry turned the corner and we began to see Him do some amazing things in and through the lives of many of our students.

After all these years I still have that God-given focus on the lasting mission of youth ministry, to see young people grow up and go on for God.


[i] For example see: http://youthministryforum.blogspot.com/2005/10/18-month-myth.html.

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