Your first thoughts about the next generation might include violent games, loud music, and lots of energy. While some of those descriptions might be true, there are deeper and more creative ways to engage the this group. I have learned that they don’t want to be consumers, but instead, producers. So whether you are building a ministry, managing a volunteer team, or deciding the flow of services, please know that Gen Z wants to be involved in the development and leadership of these things.
Gen Z wants to be involved in development and leadership.
The time is over when we as adults build the ministry with other adults and assume we know what’s best. Teens live day-to-day in a new world where they have more influence than we will ever have. It’s a tough pill to swallow. However, once we get over ourselves and realize that God is equipping us to reach, renew, and release the next generation, we can relax and realize that our future is in good hands.
So how do we get there? How do we create engaging next gen ministries?
Reach the Next Generation in Strategy
It doesn’t sound pretty, and it doesn’t sound like something that attracts students to your spaces, but it will. We can not rely on charismatic personalities to get students into our rooms anymore. There are plenty of charismatic YouTube stars and social media influencers who can entertain and draw a crowd of kids and students to their platform. Gen Z doesn’t need ministry leaders and pastors to try to do the same.
They need leaders who can cast vision, model the mission, set the strategy, embody the values, and create a wake for others to follow. Our strategy question should not be based on expecting our students to come to us. It should reflect, “How are we going to them?” We should be inspiring, but we should also focus on playing the long game of building a sustainable ministry.
Gen Z needs leaders who can cast vision and model the mission.
In Scripture, we see Jesus often going OUT to the people. While a majority of us grew up in Christian homes, went to church weekly with our two parents, and were involved in serving, that is not the case anymore for many in the next generation. Rob Hopkins, president of One Hope, points out that next gen has:
- family fragmentation,
- lower rates of Christian affiliation,
- plummeting church attendance,
- decreasing Scripture engagement,
- increasing pace of cultural change,
- decreased biblical literacy among both parents and youth,
- new technology (especially mobile platforms), and
- a Pandora’s box of doctrinal and apologetic confusion on issues including Scripture, human sexuality, evangelism, salvation, pluralism, and secularism.
This list can seem overwhelming, but we are taking it as a challenge to design a better youth ministry that meets teens where they are in the confusion of these intersecting realities. If we are operating out of what used to be the “effective way” to reach next gen, we are missing so many kids and students. How can we set up environments, spaces, and ministries that renew our students?
Renewing the Next Generation
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
If you have sat in a small group with teens this past year, you might have heard words like stressed, tired, scared, and fearful. The pressure is on with school, sports, parents, and social media. If you want to reach the next generation, we have to create spaces for renewal. Leaders need training and equipping to provide safe places for our students to open up. The sad reality is that most students do not feel safe sharing their doubts or questions with their parents.
If you want to reach the next generation, we have to create spaces for renewal.
Our kids and students have gone through so much these past few years and do not have the fully developed capacity to process and discern. What if we set up environments where they could rest in God’s presence? What if our messages were, “You are seen, you are loved, and you have the authority from God to do the impossible”? Let’s encourage our students instead of putting pressure on them to succeed as the world does. Ask yourself if your ministry is draining them or giving life. Ask a student if they are feeling renewed in your church.
Release the Next Generation
Release. Release. Release.
This has to be one of my favorite things to do. A few years ago, a high school senior new to the Christian faith came into our ministry. At the time, I was the producer for our services and in charge of the program flow, social media, and other creative things like photography. One day, I saw him watching my camera with interest. I asked him if he wanted to use my camera to take photos. He said yes and started taking pictures.
Unfortunately, he was not that good. His photos were blurry, and he wasn’t capturing the service elements well. So I asked him if he wanted to come into the office sometime during the week and work on learning together. He started interning with me, took photos for camps, and got better. I watched him get baptized, graduate high school, and a few years later get hired on staff as the creative producer for young adults doing photography, videography, and so much more.
Releasing the next generation is taking risks on people despite what our eyes see.
A long time ago, someone took a chance on me and released me to do the work. It empowered me. Releasing the next generation is taking risks on people despite what our eyes see. We have to trust that God knows the outcome. Release the next generation to write songs for your ministry, serve your middle schoolers, open the doors on a Sunday morning, give announcements, or run a camera. They can do it.
Releasing is renewing. Releasing is reaching. Releasing is what Jesus did with his disciples. And if we aren’t making disciples, what will become of the next generation?
Sav Crow is a speaker, writer, and designer of captivating stories of a powerful God within the local church. She is passionate about empowering this generation of students to know who they are, boldly live out their purpose, and reveal God’s love to the people right next to them.
Sav is the Student Ministries Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. When not having disco ball parties, she and her husband may hang out with their golden retriever, serve with friends in ministry, watch Netflix, or cook on Taco Tuesday. You can connect with her through her social media @sav.crow