Despair has a permeant address deep in his gut. Everything he reads paints the picture that it’s his fault and the damage has been done. He knows something must change, but in the church that seems less likely than addressing the issue itself.
If he were honest, he doesn’t want to read, study, converse or even consider how to reach the next generation. The issue is too big, too complex and way outside his wheelhouse. Fear washes over him while failure in this area nips at his heals. The next sermon looms one-third complete.
Between today and the pulpit await elder meetings, funerals, hospital visits, staff meetings, email responses to disgruntled members and more budget bad news. By the time Sunday rolls around, he looks out to the people in the pew and wonders to himself, “Why would any young person come to our church?”
Over the last few months I have had multiple conversations with senior leaders in churches who, in one way or another, exemplify the leader I’ve described. To be honest, youth pastors feel the same way, but with the added complexity that it’s their job – they are the hired gun.
Many church leaders are caught in the stark reality that while the emerging generations are growing, their presence and participation are declining in the church.
Let’s face it, you, as a Senior Leader, are not going to radically change what is happening week in and week out at your church in order to reach the next generation. It’s just not practical or even close to being the answer. But there are some things you can do that will have lasting impact and influence on the next generation present in your congregation.
As you sit in your office, coffee shop or library to prepare your next sermon, keep them squarely in your view as a participating listener. When you speak, acknowledge their presence and speak to them, not about them. Speak highly of them with hope, encouragement, and inclusion. Adjust your sermon illustrations to be modern and current. Don’t shy away from speaking about issues that matter to them. Help them see and apply God’s eternal wisdom to today’s complex issues.
As a senior leader, the best opportunity you have to reach the next generation is to pull some close. Show up at a football game. Go to a play. Attend an event that your youth group is doing. Go crazy and be a leader on the next missions trip, retreat or conference they are attending. Make being around students as important to you as being around their parents and grandparents. You have the luxury of pursuing relationship with the next generation without expectation. Be real and transparent. The next time you speak, they will want to hear from you, because they know you and they know that you know them.
Take some time to educate yourself on millennials and Generation Z. Add some articles and books to your to-be-read stack to get insight and perspective on who they are, how they think and the differences between generations. (Try Youth Ministry 2027 by Brock Morgan and Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations shaping the Next Generation by Barna Group.) Observe current culture norms and prevailing winds of thought. Go to lunch with your youth pastor and other NextGen leaders in your area to understand what they are doing to reach the next generation.
GET ON YOUR KNEES
You know this but, nothing tunes your heart to an issue more than talking to God about it. Make it your habit to pray regularly for the young people in your church and community. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to pray. The truth is that gospel transformation only happens because the Holy Spirit of God shows up.
No matter where you find yourself today, don’t fear or wring your hands. You can have tremendous impact on the next generation. It does not take radical shifts in ministry or programing, but simple and doable effort on your part. Little by little your influence will have lasting gospel impact on the next generation. You don’t have to do it all right away, just do something today.
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