Church that Engages the Next Generation
Although every generation has the same need for Jesus, it seems that millennials are searching for something in a church that is much different than the generations that have come before them. Thirty-eight percent of 18-29 year olds with Christian backgrounds have left the church because they no longer see it as relevant to the world around them. This knowledge suggests that we may not get away with doing church as we have always done it.
To address this new challenge, my church has launched a Research and Development team to create a worship experience engaging millennials with the truth of Jesus Christ. This worship service will act as a learning laboratory to experiment with different forms of worship in order to discover what truly connects with this generation. The results of this experiment will be recorded in this space as it happens. This is the first of the series.
A Cultural Shift Toward Community
I believe in youth ministry. After all, it’s been my full time job for the past 10 years. But I often think that if the church as a whole took connecting with the next generation more seriously, youth ministry may not even be needed. Make no mistake, I believe adolescents need to be ministered to differently than adults. However, according to the Barna Group, the church is losing connection with this demographic.
One of the complications of youth ministry is that it isolates an age range, and then launches them out on their own before they are ready. What they are really looking for is the church, but they cannot seem to find a place to plug in. I believe the first step in accomplishing this is to make a cultural shift in youth ministry. Here are some things to consider.
If the church has a worship service effectively targeting and reaching millennials, then it will also engage high school students. For this reason, churches do not need youth ministry specific worship services when it’s already happening within the life of the church. There are several benefits to this model. Students get to worship with adults and understand what it means to be a part of the church instead of isolated in a youth ministry. It will begin to teach them the responsibility of being involved in the church. Also, students are busier than ever before, so telling them that Sunday morning church is important but so is youth group and small group puts them at church almost 3 times a week. Combine this with other church events, homework, sports, social life, and technology consumption, and students are inevitably going to give up at least one church activity.
Because adolescents are still experiencing physical, emotional, and cognitive changes, there is a great need for age specific spiritual development. Finding adults to mentor them and dividing students into small groups is the most important part of youth ministry. The natural conclusion, then, is that instead of youth ministries spending a majority of time on programming, they can refocus their efforts on training adults to disciple students. Why not put all our efforts in that direction, and allow students to engage in the church as a whole for everything else?
Another important thing for students is to learn how to serve and lead. Instead of isolating their service opportunities to just the youth ministry, they would be best suited to serve within the larger church on Sundays just like the adults.
The concern is that students go through high school not ever seeing themselves as a valuable part of the church as a whole. For instance, our church does a Student Ministry Weekend once a year in the main services. That means that the students lead the services, from greeting and ushers to worship and up front leading. It’s all students, once a year. While this has been a very positive weekend for our church to be encouraged by the potential of the next generation, it also communicates that teenagers can be involved only once a year in the big church. Every other Sunday, the adults need to do it. If a church is thoughtful about engaging and keeping the next generation of Christians, every Sunday should have students involved in many different aspects of the service. After all, the Bible teaches that believers (of any age) have a gift that can serve the church.
The key to all of this rests on the church creating worship experiences that target multiple generations. If the church decides to take a serious shot at engaging this next generation, then youth ministry should be the first thing to adjust. That would be the first step in paving the way for developing the type of worship experience that will engage and keep young people loving Jesus and the church for a lifetime.
In part 2, I will discuss what needs to be considered when attempting to launch a worship service that targets millennials.
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