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15 Approaches to Reach the Next Generations

 Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it – George Orwell

Pastors and church leaders everywhere are seeking to better understand the Next Generations* and develop practical ways to reach them with the gospel. And for good reason. These emerging generations will impact the trends, movements, ideas and faith of the 21st Century and pose the most significant cultural challenge facing the church.

We have yet to fully understand, much less respond to this challenge, but below are some practical approaches emerging from churches that are effectively reaching and discipling the Next Generations.

  1. Listen, Observe and Learn
  • Increase your generational IQ. What you don’t understand holds you back.
  • Become a cultural missionary by learning Next Generations customs, rituals, dress, music and preferences as if you would do if you were a missionary in a foreign land.
  • Form Advisory Teams and Focus Groups of Next Generations individuals to critique and advise church strategies.
  1. Trend Young
  • The natural evolution of a church is to skew older. It requires a disproportionate amount of energy, focus, funding and intentionality to maintain a vibrant younger presence in the church.
  • To attract young people you have to hire young people and enlist young volunteers.
  • Who you platform is who you attract – Next Generations need to be represented in your greeters, musicians, and communicators.
  • The Next Generations want a seat at the leadership table. Involve them in key teams, committees, decisions, and leadership groups.
  1. Emphasize Children’s Ministry
  • A high emphasis on children is a golden thread found in all thriving churches reaching the Next Generations.
  • Make children’s ministry a priority in staffing, volunteer enlistment, budgeting, promotion and programming.
  • Recognize that the effective discipleship of children is the heart of your church’s growth engine.
  1. Focus on Diversity
  • The Next Generations have grown up with a variety of ethnic groups, races and nationalities.
  • Your church needs to look like the culture where they live, learn, work and play.
  • Ethnic diversity in your church will help break down the Next Generations negative perceptions of the church.
  1. Genuine Worship
  • The Next Generations aren’t looking for perfect music, clothes light and sound but rather people leading worship who are passionate and genuine.
  • Music tastes are more diverse than you might think. The Next Generations don’t liked over produced music but do like high energy music as well as a mellower acoustic sound.
  • The Next Generations want services that are designed and led to point to God not people.
  1. Show Your Passion
  • Nothing will turn the Next Generations away from the church faster than a lack of passion.
  • Show your excitement and joy about the church, the gospel, ministry, and your family.
  • The Next Generations want to be inspired by a compelling vision. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  1. Be Real Rather Than Relevant
  • The Next Generations have grown up with reality TV. They want to see and hear what real people are going through. Don’t shy away from tough issues.
  • They have a radar for honesty. Strive for transparency. Fact check everything you say.
  • Don’t overpromise and under deliver. Maintain a consistency between what they experience when they come to church and the messages you communicate.
  • The Next Generations want us to be different. They are not leaving the church because we are too much like Jesus, but because we are not enough like Him.
  1. Share Captivating Stories
  • One of the major themes of the Next Generations is their proclivity for narrative. They are drawn to captivating stories.
  • Tell your church and denomination story.
  • Share life change stories and examples of people who are making a difference.
  • Tell them God’s story and your faith story.
  1. Small Groups for Relationships, Care and Service
  • Use small groups to connect relationally, as a place to get to know people and to be known.
  • Use small groups to provide serving opportunities that connect and create community and provide easy “invites.”
  1. University and Mentor Model of Training and Discipleship
  • The biblical illiteracy rate of the Next Generations demands a more formal and structured educational approach to teaching scripture. Provide graduate level biblical courses and instruction.
  • Provide a safe place where they can have their questions answered.
  • Provide real world training (bank accounts, cooking, etiquette, parenting, dating). Use established leaders in the church and community in classroom and mentor settings.
  • Offer formal gifts and personality assessments to help them discover their purpose.
  • Provide reverse mentoring opportunities, where Next Generations can inform and advise previous generations.
  1. Create Meaningful Ministry Experiences
  • The Next Generations don’t want to sit on the sidelines and observe. They want to contribute, make a difference and help people. If it’s not meaningful or add value to them they won’t participate.
  • The Next Generations want to be a part of a church that is putting their words to action.
  • The Next Generations are drawn to incarnational Gospel. Provide being the hands and feet of Jesus opportunities.
  • Offer unique ministries that make a social impact, particularly “the least of these” ministries such as helping senior adults, assisting the homeless, providing tutoring and tax return services, etc.
  1. Invest in Your Web and Social Media Presence
  • Technology changes culture. Fall behind in technology and you will fall behind in reaching the Next Generations.
  • Your web and social media presence are where the Next Generations will check your church out first.
  • Make your web and social media presence not just informational, but where they can connect and engage with your church.
  1. Strive for Visual Clarity
  • Make certain your branding communicates accurately the kind of church you are.
  • The Next Generations don’t like to ask for directions. They appreciate clear visuals.
  • Make sure your signage and messaging communicates where I am, what the space is for, and what is expected of them.
  1. Create Spaces For Rest Rather Than Action
  • The Next Generations crave a respite from our fragmented and frenetic world. Offer them something they can’t get elsewhere.
  • Provide sacred places in your church and grounds for silence, solitude, reflection and prayer.
  • Nature is a key way the Next Generations connect with God. How can you bring nature into or imitate nature in your church’s setting?
  • Provide café’s, lounges and large gathering spaces for connection and community.
  1. It’s Not About You
  • The mission of the church cannot be focused on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed and satisfied and expect to reach the Next Generations.
  • Stop talking about why the Next Generations won’t come to church and start talking about what you are willing to start doing differently.
  • Understand it’s not about Disney caliber children’s programs and flashier facilities but presenting the Gospel in ways the Next Generations can hear and understand.

  *Next Generations:

  • Older Millennials: Born between 1980-1989
  • Younger Millennials: Born between 1990-1992
  • Generation Z: Born between 1993-2010

Posted on August 22, 2017
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Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5