Generation Z is often called “the next generation,” but that title is somewhat of a misnomer. Generation Alpha is at least seven years old, so Gen Z is a now generation. We are growing up quickly, and the window for us to be discipled at a prime age is elapsing. Statistics show some may already be missing this window. The Barna Group’s State of Pastors¹ study shows median pastoral age rapidly increasing. In 1992, the median age was 44, but in 2017, the median age was 54.
51% of protestant pastors note “reaching a younger audience” is a major issue for their ministry.
Another survey from Wesley Theological Seminary² showed the percentage of Methodist elders under 35 dropping from 15% in 1985 to 6% in 2021. The State of Pastors also revealed that “51% of protestant pastors note ‘reaching a younger audience’ is a major issue for their ministry.” Many pastors know our need for discipleship, but the stats show half aren’t sure where to start. It’s easy to create new ministries, meet for coffee, and do life with someone who can drive, but what about the 7th-10th graders? Do we have a plan to spiritually form all of Gen Z, including the 20+ million 12- to 15-year-olds?³
My primary experience with discipleship had others pouring into me. I’ve observed various discipleship processes at the youth groups and churches I’ve visited. In this range of methods, one particular framework has borne the most fruit in my life and community. I believe this framework will allow us to form 7th-10th graders successfully. Pastor Joel Evrist, a man whose leadership has profoundly shaped my life and walk with God, outlines these four things: (1) a reproducible process, (2) understandable content, (3) consistency, and (4) community.
1. A Reproducible Process
A reproducible process is a way to disciple a person or group in a repeatable way. When that person matures, the process should allow them to go off and bring another to maturity by the same procedure without you present. You do not have to create a strategy from scratch, but you need a process. The most fruitful process in my life has been going through a set of resources (co-written by Pastor Joel) known as The CORE4.
2. Understandable Content
In my experience, it is impossible to habituate a practice into my life without it being explained understandably. We need to formulate content in a way where it will make sense in our contexts. When I’m with my 7th-grade discipleship group, I often try to explain concepts in a few sentences plus an analogy that they can understand and apply. A 7th grader will zone out if it takes me more than a few minutes to explain something.
The most challenging seasons of my life have been when I have talked with my leaders least consistently. The less you meet with someone, the slower they will grow. What we spend time on shapes who we become. The less time you spend on discipleship, the less those you teach will grow to be like Jesus, and the more they will become like the world. Pastor Joel adds, “Biweekly should be the bare minimum for discipleship.” I agree. Though it is difficult to meet with those who can’t drive, consistency is necessary for all discipleship.
The goal of discipleship is not to make people like you but to make them like Christ. In my experience, if you do not have at least two discipling voices speaking into a disciple, there can be specific gaps in their formation. Community brings healthy perspective, support in areas you are weaker in and will help bring someone fully into who God has called them to be.
In My Life
This framework for discipleship has changed my life. Without the discipleship I have received, I guarantee you that I would be walking in deep sin and worldly ways. Recently, I started passing on what I have learned through Seek First. This gathering that Brennan Watson and I started takes place biweekly at my house. We begin with a time of food and fellowship, have a time of worship, and end with my teaching or extended prayer. One of our primary goals is to reach 7th–10th graders who usually wouldn’t have a space to gather outside of church and youth group. We see 7th–10th graders come to Seek First by working with my church’s youth to build relationships with students and trust with parents.
Do we have a plan to spiritually form all of Gen Z?
I also have the honor of co-leading a middle school discipleship group and discipling a 7th grader one-on-one. Over time, it has encouraged more middle schoolers to come to the group.
I firmly believe that if we spiritually form this younger portion of Gen Z, it will take intentional time to build relationships with youth groups and parents. With intentionality, strategy, and the Holy Spirit’s leading, the church will see all of Gen Z effectively discipled.
Elijah Crouch is 18, lives in Nashville, and is passionate about seeing Gen Z seek first the Kingdom of God by developing counter-cultural, set apart lifestyles. His heart’s desire is for discipleship and to see Christ formed in people. Elijah and his best friend Brennan started a biweekly ministry called Seek First, where both middle and high schoolers gather in his home for worship, fellowship, and learning. He attends New Song Nashville and is passionate about building unity amongst ministries in his city. Elijah is finishing up his senior year in high school and works roasting coffee for Narrow Gate Coffee Co.
- “The Aging of America’s Pastors.” Barna Group. Accessed May 2, 2022. https:// www.barna.com/research/aging-americas-pastors/.
- Center, Lewis. “Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church: 1985-2021.” Lewis Center for Church Leadership, November 2, 2021. https://www.churchleadership.com/ research/clergy-age-trends-in-the-united-methodist-church-1985-2021/.
- “POP1 Child Population: Number of Children (in Millions) Ages 0–17 in the United States by Age, 1950–2020 and Projected 2021–2050.” ChildStats.gov-Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Accessed May 2, 2022. https://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/ pop1.asp.