Can we have an honest discussion here? While this post will focus on reaching our youth and the next generations, it also applies to parents, churches, pastors and anyone looking to reach the lost and unchurched. Also, please don't shoot the messenger of this post because some of these concepts will surely frustrate you. These concepts were gleaned from Andy Stanley, David Kinnaman, research from the Barna Group and also from the opinion of my own son who gave me his honest feedback on why the youth and 20 Somethings often leave the church or do not feel engaged by churches and youth groups.
So if you care about the youth, our next generation of Christians and reaching the lost, we need to have an honest discussion about these issues while not getting defensive. Okay? Here we go.
The 3M's of Reaching the Youth/Lost/Unchurched are the Mission, The Message and the Method.
First let me give you some guidelines and context on the 30 year old and under crowd.
You do not have to like or agree with these data points but you should be aware of them:
Pre-Baby Boomers - Work Ethic, Respectful, The Depression, WWII, Smart
Baby Boomers - Smart, Work Ethic, Respectful, Loyal, The 60's
Generation X - Smart, Conservative, Work Ethic, Respectful, Technology Savvy
Millennials - Smart, Technology Savvy, Highly Social/Relational, Connection, Liberal/Open Minded, Heavily Marketed To, Mistrusting of Traditional Institutions
The big difference in the under 30 crowd over the past 100 years is their generation eliminated work ethic and respect and inserted highly social and wanting to be connected while mistrusting traditional institutions and marketing/sales ploys.
This generation favors and believes the Internet over Parents, Pastors and Teachers.
This generation is quickly bored and disengages from traditional lecture style teaching in school and church.
This generation prefers flat organizations and leadership as opposed to pyramid leadership hierarchy and organizations.
This generation finds ways to cut out the middle man and established institutions to obtain information and favors and believes peers, social media and grass roots organizations over traditional venues. A great example is that Microsoft spent enormous amounts of money on Encarta only to lose to grassroots Wikepedia staffed by volunteers.
This generation does not want to sit and be a bystander and observer, they want to be involved in the process and leadership. If not, they move on to another organization.
This generation is not as interested in truth as it is in connection and experience.
1. The Mission.
Every church, business and organization has a mission statement and vision. However, just because the mission and vision is written down or printed in a bulletin, does not mean the organization is actively pursuing that mission. Moreover, people resist change and love the status quo and their comfort zones, so if the leader of the organization cannot convince the people of the organization that the vision is worthy, the people will continue doing business as usual regardless of the mission and vision, especially if they have been around the organization for a while.
For this next example, I'd ask you to examine your own local church or youth group and mentally give it a grade of A though F in each area. Regardless of what is written down or said, would you say the actions, financial commitments and programs currently in place at your church/youth groups is aimed at Reaching People or Keeping People?
What is the ratio of lost/unchruched/newcomers to active believers/members in your services and youth groups? What is the ratio of 18-30 year olds compared with other age groups?
Are the weekend services, programs and groups comfortable, easy to find and accommodating to guests or designed for those who attend regularly every week? Does your church website give easy, clear directions, expectations and contact information for services, small groups and ministries?
Does your church fully utilize social media or text messages to communicate?
If I was a newcomer and I'd never heard or read the Bible, would I be able to follow the sermon? "Who's this Luke guy?" "Which Joseph are we talking about?"
If I wanted my kids to attend your youth group, are the dates, times, locations and point of contacts on your website? In the bulletin? Would I have to call and email multiple people because I'm not a regular?
While I'm being a little facetious here, most churches I have visited and attended over the past 30 some years focus mainly on keeping the regular attendees (Church People) happy. The messages and programs are designed for those who have heard the same stories over and over again. The leaders often assume everyone present is a believer and everyone in the room accepts the Bible as the infallible word of God. The message to outsiders is this "We are here to do our thing, you can join in if you want but this is our time and we're not going to stop an explain everything to you now."
If you think I'm being critical and judgmental, your right. But, I'm a committed Christ follower who understands the Bible and I often feel this way at some churches. Now imagine how the lost, outsiders and guests feel and imagine how patient, judgmental and critical they are going to be. It takes a lot of courage for some people to attend a new church and many are insecure and uncomfortable already. A lot of people will only give your church or youth group one chance to make a first impression. Many people are often visiting family or were invited by a friend and will unconsciously come to their own conclusions about your church or program in the first 5-10 minutes starting when they drive into the parking lot.
In all fairness, I'm trying to make a point but there also has to be balance. You cannot design your church or youth group solely for outsiders as you also have a leadership role to spiritually grow those who are already attending and committed followers. Besides, the role of the church is not marketing and selling "our thing". However, in my opinion, there needs to be an equal balance of mission focus.
I will never forget a conversation that I had while serving on a youth committee. The youth group had grown from about 10 to 50 kids in a few months but 50% of these kids were the lost and dealing with issues in their lives. While my opinion was that this was exactly what a youth group should look like and these kids were in the right place to find Jesus, a church elder spoke up and bluntly said "I think we need to get rid of those troubled kids and focus on the good ones." He also made some comments about kids rough housing and playing games in the house of God. His mission focus was loud and clear to me.
Next We'll look at the Message...
- Esse Quam Videri -