Friday, July 10, 2015

What Do Generational Differences Look Like in Ministry?

We’re facing a clash of generations in America.

The Baby Boomers – the generation of “The Sixies”, Woodstock, and The Beatles singing, “You say you want a revolution…” – are kicking and screaming into retirement; while the Millennials – the first generation of “digital natives” (see http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/04/business/digital-native-prensky/) and the most-observed generation in history – are facing their 30’s.

Boomers don’t want to give up control – and Millennials are in effect saying, who needs you? And are creating new ways of doing things. This phenomenon is true with everything from pocket-sized computers (thinly disguised as cell phones) to the Church. This trend is maybe mostly true in the Church. Millennials are walking away from traditional churches en masse – and a new generation of pastors would rather plant new churches than take on an established, traditional church.

Yes, most Millennials want and are seeking out growing relationships with older, significant adults as mentors. (See https://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials.) But, from my perspective, the generations are looking at the basic aspects of ministry very, very differently. It is my conclusion that the different generations need each other, probably more than ever before. But, it often look like the two generations are speaking different languages when it comes to ministry.

  • Boomers think mentoring is an “information dump” (like orientation sessions) – Millennials want relationships with significant, older people.
  • Boomers think discipleship is a series of scheduled meetings – Millennials want to do life together.
  • Boomers think evangelism is most often a systematic presentation – Millennials seek to build relationship within communities.
  • Boomers think structured church programs should fill up their weekend schedules – Millennials are more attracted to relational conversations around a cup of coffee.
  • Boomers think Millennials should “pay their dues” before assuming positions of leadership – Millennials believe they have much to offer and want a voice in influencing the direction of the organization.
  • Boomers want fellowship with others from their own generation – Millennials crave growing relationships with members of other generations.

The generations need each other in the church. What can we do to build growing and intentional, inter-generational connections in the Church?


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

Over the last several months I took the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

1.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.
The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.
I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.
The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 
2.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.
Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.
3.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.
Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.
4.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have not been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.
Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.
Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!
5.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.
My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.
I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

(Note to Readers: Full disclosure - I serve on staff at Summit University of Pennsylvania, a school where all of our students are Bible majors. This means that I am surrounded every day by students who are preparing to serve the Lord in a variety of ministries or careers. These are students who are all actively involved in various local churches and therefore are students who have made the commitment not to walk away from The Church.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Is “Inter-Generational Youth Ministry” an Oxy-Moron? How to Involve Godly Adults in the Lives of Young People

We’ve all heard about “oxymoron’s”, right? It’s a figure of speech where contradictory terms appear together. Here are some illustrations from http://www.oxymoronlist.com/:
  • Accurate estimate
  • Act naturally
  • Adult children
  • All alone
  • Big baby
  • Calm winds
  • Casual dress
  • Sanitary landfill
  • Airline food
Someone asked me the other day if the title of my book, Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a
Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, is an oxymoron? While I get what they are saying, I really don’t believe that there should be a conflict there. I believe in youth ministry and I have been actively involved in it in some form or another for more than 40 years. But, I have a growing conviction that if churches totally separate their teenagers from the overall life of the church, they are making a big mistake.

Older adults need the life and energy of youth – and young people need the wisdom and maturity of older adults. The church was designed by God to be inter-generational and the generations need each other.

However, there are concrete and definite strengths for having a strong and effective church youth ministry. (I present some of those strengths in my book. See Chapter 7. Here is my list of youth ministry strengths that I posted in an earlier blog. http://www.melwalker.org/2014/01/13-things-big-church-must-learn-from.html.) It’s not time to overreact and eliminate the many positive aspects of youth ministry in favor of all ages meeting together for one more lecture in the church auditorium. The key is balance. I am convinced that today’s churches can and should balance their programming and methods so that peer ministry can exist and thrive alongside of inter-generational ministry.

Dr. Chap Clark, well-known youth ministry professor, writer, and researcher, has made the assertion that today’s teenagers need strong relationships with 5 significant adults (other than their parents) if they are going to continue involvement in church following their youth ministry years. (Note for more information about Chap’s 5 to 1 ratio see http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2004/in-spite-of-how-they-act/, http://www.cpyu.org/2013/08/13/5-adults-to-1-kid-but-who-are-the-5/, http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/moving-away-from-the-kid-table, and http://theparentcue.org/why-your-kids-need-five-other-adults-in-their-lives/.)  

Our young people need Godly adults to be actively involved in their lives. I believe that it is essential for the spiritual development of youth that older, Godly adults take the initiative to build growing relationships with them.

How to involve adults into the life of your church’s teenagers & young adults?

How can churches be proactive and intentionally build 5 significant, Godly adults into the lives of the next generation? Here are some suggestions:

1. Hire a qualified, trained, and experienced pastor to shepherd your church’s youth.

I admit it, I am a fan of youth pastors. I’ve spent the majority of my life involved in local church youth ministry, so I believe in the role of youth pastors. Plus, as a dad, I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the ministry the youth pastors in the churches we attended had in the lives of my kids. According to my friend Wayne Morgan with the National Network of Youth Ministry, the majority of young adults who stay in church after they graduate from high school had a youth pastor who invested in their life.

Let me take a moment to explain the adjectives I used in this sub-point:
  • Qualified: Pastors, even young youth pastors, must meet the Biblical qualifications that are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
  • Trained: Youth pastors should be trained before they begin. They need to know what they are talking about and they to know what they are doing. And, are they called of God to do this?
  • Experience: As a parent I don’t want someone who we pay to minister to kids that has never done this before. If someone is really called to be a youth pastor they will have already had experience in working with teenagers. It’s in their blood. 

2. Recruit a team of Godly, caring adults to serve as lay youth workers in your church.

With or without a paid youth pastor, your church needs a team of Godly and caring adults to work with teenagers. Please notice the plurality of my terms. I believe in team ministry - different models who can reach and minister different teens. The main responsibility of any lay youth worker must be to build relationships with teens. That really is the key. Opportunities to teach and disciple will grow out of positive relationships.

3. Recruit and train competent adults to minister as small group leaders in your youth group.

Your small group leaders are another level of adult interaction with students. Be sure to find adults who have the ability to guide discussions around the Scriptures and who can think on their feet in case the teens ask difficult questions. I think it’s also wise to look for small group leaders who are able and willing to interact with the students in occasions outside of small group. (Some churches are organizing their entire small group ministry around inter-generational connections; and of course, this would add an interesting dynamic to this type of ministry structure.)

4. Utilize church leaders, parents of teenagers, and other significant adults to serve your youth group.

Another way to build adults into the lives of the young people in your church is to use significant adults in various ways within the fabric of your existing youth ministry. Here are some practical ideas to consider:
  • Ask some parents of teenagers or other adults to accompany your group on youth events or trips.
  • Ask church leaders to speak, teach, or otherwise participate in youth group meetings.
  • Ask the lead pastor or other pastoral staff members to teach on a specific topic in youth group.
  • Ask select, Godly adults who have unique life experiences to minister to students who are facing some of the same experiences.
  • Give older, Godly adults the opportunity to share their story (or their testimony) with teenagers.
(Of course, you’ll need to be cognizant of your church’s policy on child protection or use of potential background checks before making these decisions.)


5. Ask key parents of teenagers to build healthy, growing relationships with their kids’ friends.

Parents of kids in your church can be the ideal people to minister to their kids’ friends – especially if you have young people involved in your ministry who are from dysfunctional home situations. When our own children were teenagers we often encouraged them to invite their friends over to our house. This provided a safe atmosphere for our kids and gave us the opportunity to get to know their friends. It might be a good idea to be intentional about making this kind of thing happen with Godly parents of teens in your church. 

6. Motivate your church’s senior citizens to pray specifically and intentionally for young people – by name!

I am excited about a growing trend around the country to intentionally involve senior citizens in specific ways with teenagers and young adults. This absolutely must start with prayer. Do whatever you can to motivate your church’s oldest adults to pray specifically, by name for the young people. This simple practice will put a growing burden on their hearts for the students - and honestly, it has the potential to revolutionize your church and shatter its’ generation gap!  

Friends, I am convinced that by implementing some of the ideas listed above your church can create that 5 adults to 1 student ratio that is so essential to help our young people grow up and go on for God. Blessings.