Wednesday, November 19, 2014

THE MISSING GENERATION: Young Adults Are Leaving the Church (Maybe it's Because We Don't Have Anything for Them)

Young adults are leaving the church in droves – and many churches are simply letting them walk away!

In preparation for my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, I had the opportunity to visit almost 90 different churches. My journeys took me to a wide variety of church sizes. One church attracts almost 18,000 people each weekend; while another church struggled to reach double digits. I visited churches that gather in homes, in shopping centers, in veritable cathedrals, in store fronts, in traditional “churchy” buildings, in health clubs, in schools, and 1 church that met in a barn.

These visits provided a revealing glimpse into current developments in church programming and function.  I am certainly no expert on the effectiveness of the different ministries of these churches. In most cases, my stopovers consisted of 1 service or 1 day. However, I did notice some interesting trends. One of the most noticeable was a lack of emphasis on college age or young adult ministries in so many churches.

It’s easy to spot. In fact, many church leaders have openly admitted it. College age or young adult ministry is often one of the weakest aspects of our programming. I’ll say it again: young adults are leaving the church – and many churches are simply letting them walk away. The churches I visited seemed to be at least somewhat concerned with children, youth, adults, and older adults. But, young adults are often the missing generation in the church.

Current research substantiates my observations. For instance, one recent article claimed, “One-third of Americans under 30 say they have no religious affiliation.” (See And David Kinnaman of Barna Research adds, “Millions of young adults leave active involvement in church as they exit their teen years.” (See You Lost Me. Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.)

So, what can churches do about this dilemma?

I am convinced that almost any church, anywhere (with a burden to not let this generation leave the church) can provide a relevant and effective ministry to college-age young adults by implementing the following features:

r  Bible study. This age group needs the Scriptures; not just entertainment or programming. They crave life-related, theologically-oriented teaching. Young adults are in the process of figuring out what they personally believe, and they are in the process of making some of the most important decisions of their lives. Churches must make the creative presentation of truth a top priority – but, the teaching must include the opportunity for young adults to ask their hard questions.

r  Prayer. It sounds simplistic, but they also need powerful and personal times of prayer that are a genuine reflection of a total and urgent dependency on our all-powerful and all-knowing God. Our ministries with young adults must include specific time for them to collectively and privately cry out to God.

r  Fellowship. Social interaction with other people their own age is very, very important to this age group. That, seemingly, is why mega-churches do a better job at attracting young adults than smaller churches do. Young adults are looking for friends – and perhaps they are looking for a mate. There’s no shame in that. Of course, church leaders must not forget that “fellowship” with this age group shouldn’t look like youth ministry’s all-nighters, or trips to amusement parks. I’m being somewhat facetious here of course; but seriously, this cohort would probably be more interested in hanging out at a coffee shop than participating in a scheduled, high-energy activity. And any church can host young adults for coffee.

r  Leadership development. I’ll put this as simply as I can: let your church’s young adults lead the program. They are adults now; involve them somehow in leading the ministry. They won’t have ownership unless they have a voice. Of course, they will need to be mentored through it, but it’s imperative for churches to be intentional about developing younger leaders.

r  Ministry. This is another simple one. Young adults need to serve. Ministry is what the church is all about. Churches must give young adults the opportunity to serve – even if we have to create service projects for them.

r  Use homes. My wife and I have been actively involved in our home church’s college age ministry for several years now. This experience has taught me that this generation loves to be in homes instead of institutional rooms in conventional church buildings. Plus, utilizing the home gives the church an ideal way to connect the generations. And that leads me to the next point…

r  Inter-generational connections. Developing inter-generational relationships is a must! College-age young adults need older people – and your church’s older people need the infusion of “new blood” that young adults provide. (See my chapter entitled “Don’t Let Anyone Look Down on You Because You Are Young” in my Inter-Generational Youth Ministry book. You can order a copy online at: 

r  Food! Our many years of ministry with young adults has me convinced that one other priority must be mentioned – food. This is something you could ask older adults or church families to provide for your ministry. Believe me, it’s important. And it will provide the occasion for other ministry to happen.
Blessings as your church seeks to minister and reach out to this important age group!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children to Go On for God

The books are flying off the presses in seemingly endless numbers; and frankly, I’m sick of hearing the statistics about the young adults who are dropping out of church. I know, I know – I listed many of those statistics and quoted a great of the research about this trend in my last book. But, please keep reading… 

I want to start hearing about the kids who stayed in church. I want to hear the stories of Christian kids who grow up and go on for God. I want to hear about the successes of Godly, Christian parents who are proactively working with the church’s youth leaders to develop strong, stable, and mature Christ-followers who as young adults decide to stay engaged in the church.  
I know many of these young adults who are absolutely committed to Christ and His claims on their lives. Some of them are currently in college, others are in the military or work force, and many of them are currently living productive live as God-honoring adults.  
So, what can Christian parents do to help their children to grow up and go on for God? I’m convinced that we must look to the Scriptures for the answers! In the pages of the New Testament we are told the stories of some young people who grew up before our eyes (so to speak) in the Biblical narrative and who continued to live for God long into their adult lives. One of those young men was Timothy. We meet him in Acts 16 as a young man growing up in church and we read his story throughout the Epistles, including Paul’s last letter to him in 2 Timothy. There are many things in the Bible that we can learn about Timothy, but for the sake of this quick post let’s talk a look at some of the things his parents (especially his mother, Eunice - see 2 Timothy 1:5) did right. 
It’s important to note that parenting is never a formula or a recipe. It doesn’t work to frivolously think that a few quick ideas lead to spiritual success with our kids. However, if we look at the sweeping principles that seemed to guide this family, we can take away some very practical advice for raising our own kids for God today.
A Consistent Lifestyle – 2 Timothy 1:5

Probably the most obvious thing that this family did right was Eunice’s and Lois’ consistent or genuine walk with God. The Bible calls theirs an “unfeigned” (KJV) or un-faked faith! Timothy’s mom and grandmother demonstrated a genuine relationship with God – and it impacted Timothy. Notice in verse 5 that Timothy also demonstrated a genuine faith. He grew up and went on for God – and that’s what we want from our kids, too.

Communication of God’s Word – 2 Timothy 3:15

The second thing this family did right was that they made it a priority to communicate Biblical truth. Notice that from his earliest days, Timothy learned the Scriptures. The next two verses (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17) reveal that this strategy was much more than a rote memorization of the Text. He also learned that Biblical principles are “profitable” for life and that these principles lead to true spiritual maturity. 
Collaboration with the Church - Acts 16:1-3

There’s another key element to their strategy that is worth identifying and that is their cooperation with the church to help develop Timothy’s faith. Acts 16 identifies him as a “disciple”, who as a young man already had a good testimony with the other believers. He also was personally selected by the Apostle Paul to go along on this missionary journey. The text expounds on the purpose of their ministry, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (NIV)” Obviously, the church was a priority to young Timothy. He grew up in church and committed himself to a church-based ministry.

Concern for People and Culture - Acts 16:3

The Acts 16 passage also presents an interesting scenario of Timothy’s circumcision even though his was a Greek (see verse 1). He perhaps was willing to submit to this spiritual and cultural ritual due to the cross-cultural background in his own family. This somewhat dysfunctional family environment undoubtedly produced a heart-felt concern for other people and a genuine sensitivity for others.

Commitment to Ministry - Acts 16:1-4

The final positive thing I’d like to identify from this family was their dedication to God’s work. They were willing to allow their son to follow Paul along on this journey. Without any visible hesitation on anyone’s part, Timothy joined the missionary team and set off on what was the beginning of his call to vocational ministry.

Timothy was a young man who grew up and went on for God. The narrative of Scripture points out some identifiable things that helped in this process. Perhaps there is practical wisdom here for today’s Christian families to implement into the fabric of raising their own kids.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some Reasons Why Youth Ministry Might Fail –

Our kids are leaving the church!

We’ve all heard the statistics. The number one time people walk away from active involvement in church and their own personal walk with God is following their years in high school.
A wealth of research is out there that provides the proof for this alarming trend, and there are almost as many voices blaming youth ministry for this epidemic. There may be certain common denominators within some churches that lead to the mass departure of young people following high school graduation.
Here are some of my observations based upon my almost 40 years of active involvement in youth ministry:
1.       Activity-Based Youth Ministry. If a church’s youth ministry is built upon programs and a variety of seemingly unrelated activities, your graduates will probably walk away after they graduate from high school. Young adults can and will find their entertainment elsewhere. The appeal of amusement parts and all-nighters fades fairly quickly.

2.       Program-Based Youth Ministry. Another reason why high school graduates walk away from regular involvement in church is if the youth group has been characterized by the structure of a “boxed” youth program. These canned approaches are, in fact, designed to be terminal program, with a specific and publicized ending point. There tends to be one final step or one top award to earn. The students finish the program and they’re done.

3.       Personality-Based Youth Ministry. A common indictment of many church youth ministries is the tendency to center the ministry around the strong personality of an energetic and magnetic youth leader. Strong personalities may attract impressionable high school students, and it seems to make sense for churches to do that – until the inevitable transition between personalities. If the students are attracted to the presence of one strong personality, it will be very difficult for them to transition into the church as a whole without the involvement of another equally-strong personality.

4.       Narcissism-Based Youth Ministry. Akin to the “activity-based” model is a narcissistic approach where churches seek to entertain teenagers by providing everything they want. If the kids want to go skiing, they go on ski trips. If the kids want to go swimming; they take them to the beach. This approach will ultimately produce self-absorbed and self-centered graduates who believe the church is all them.

5.       Generationally-Based Youth Ministry. I absolutely believe that a ministry that totally separates its’ youth from the overall life of the church is making a big mistake. In the long run this hurts students because they do not develop significant and long-lasting relationships with a number of influential adults which is imperative for teens to ultimately transition into the life of the church.
      This article is taken from my new book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church – available in print or e-book at Other resources (PowerPoint slides, video, bibliography, and Bible studies) about this subject are available on my book web site at: