In the Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a significant event happened in track and field. It was the men’s 4×100 relay. This was one of the best relay teams the United States had ever sent to an Olympic games. Four men who had trained for the previous four years to prepare for this one race. The starter’s gun was shot and off the runners flew, rounding the corner. Darvis Patton rounded the turn and began his set up to hand off the baton to Tyson Gay. But they dropped it. In one moment, in one failed handoff, all that work, four years of training, all that investment was disqualified because of one bad handoff.
We struggle with generational hand offs; especially in church. We are afraid the next generation won’t do things the way we do (like). We are afraid they don’t understand and appreciate the sacrifices that have been made. We are afraid they won’t maintain our traditions. Ultimately, we struggle with generational hand offs because we make it about us and what we think needs to happen (what? How?)
Generation Next is not about US or THEM but about HIM. God’s glory is at stake in how we serve the generations before and after us.
How can the church reverse the trend of missing on Generation Next? An article by Alvin Reid from several years ago has helped shape my thoughts on reaching the next generation.
- Give them unchanging truth, differently. The gospel doesn’t change, but how we intersect our changing culture with the gospel is going to look a little different (Acts 2 & Acts 17). The next generation we seek to reach lives in a world like Athens, not Jerusalem. Have gospel conversations rather than make gospel presentations. Engage persons and their stories with the story of Jesus.
2. Focus less on behavior and more on wonder. I spend a lot of time around students and young adults. They have a skewed view of God, Jesus and the gospel because the churches they have attended focused on behavior modification. One young lady said of her youth group experience, “I remember two things: Don’t have sex and invite a friend.” While these are good behaviors, they are not gospel discipleship. Behavior modification has marked the church’s focus of ministry to the next generation. Morality matters, but that’s an effect of the gospel, not its essence.
3. Call them to surrender, not survival. Kenda Creasy Dean wrote, “The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God require little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on ‘folks like us’ – which, of course, begs the question of whether we are really the church at all.” (Almost Christian)
Young people sacrifice everything to win gold medals in the Olympics. Teens learn trigonometry in high school; they can learn theology in church. We need to stop giving bare-bones Christianity aimed at children and dish out a robust, life-altering message to young adults instead. Call them out to give everything for the glory of God to make His fame known among the nations. They relish the journey and the experience. This is why they talk selfies of everything they do (so did we, we just had to develop the film and put it in a picture album).
4. Emphasize community over the institutional church. This is a generation starving for community. They are starving to find a place to belong. One of the primary reasons young adults stay in church after their teens is because they developed meaningful relationships and developed a sense of community. Students and young adults need relationships in church with adults of multiple generations.
5. Serve the next generation. The best way to reach a generation is to serve them. You cannot lead those you do not influence. You cannot influence those you do not serve. If we are going to reach the next generation an pass the faith on, we are going to have to turn around and serve them and stop only expecting them to serve us. Reaching any generation is about serving them. The best way to serve a generation is to show up in their lives and demonstrate that we genuinely care about them as individuals. Relationships are at the core of all ministry. Relationships are only developed through consistency over time. This is true of any relationship.
Part of “getting in their world” is showing up where they are … school, ballgames, dance recitals, band concerts, etc. I liken it to parenting. I don’t necessarily understand some of the things my children like, enjoy or want to participate in. But, that is not an excuse not to try. I must take an interest in what they are interested in, because ultimately is about taking an interest in them. This values them as individuals and opens the door for dialogue. I may even have to read up or watch some YouTube videos to catch up. The investment is worth the time and energy because it is an investment in relationships.
One last note, next generation ministry must have a strategy that ministers to the entire family. Student ministry does not replace the family as God’s primary place for discipleship. The local church is a partner to families in fulfilling the Great Commission in the home, not a substitute or replacement. This means facilitating ministry to the family and discipling parents.