Like I mentioned in my previous article, I believe there are 4 components to a healthy student ministry. In summary those are healthy leadership, identity, discipleship, and strategies. This month we will be talking about how we can have a healthy youth group identity.
With our annual missions celebration coming up, I think it’s important to consider how our youth ministries fit into the big picture of our association. Often, senior pastors are celebrated as the faces of their organization—rightfully so. They take the heat, shoulder the responsibilities, and carry the weight of the the responsibility of the local congregation. Youth leaders and youth pastors come and go, but the senior pastor often remains and has to deal with the organizational changes. Often this leads to student ministry being an afterthought. Here’s how the thinking often goes— youth leaders are inconsistent, the kids don’t seem to care about church anyway, so let’s just focus on the regular adults who have the money. I obviously have some bias as a student minister myself, but now as I am now our church’s lead pastor and as the next gen strategist, I firmly believe that this adult-focused priority is an upside down way of thinking. If we focus on satisfying the older generation, then we will only get more of the same—and that’s not exactly working. If you look at some statistics from 2020, the future of SBC churches is on the decline. While some articles try and paint a brighter future, more current research from 2022 says that this is the 4th consecutive year of decline in the SBC. This is not good, but I don’t believe it needs to stay this way. So what are some ways we can rethink how we’re doing ministry?
1. Be like a Child
Consider the words of Jesus. In Matthew 18, Jesus famously said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, Jesus values the character of a child. Their hopeful view of the future, their overcoming spirit, and their trusting attitude are all things that I believe Jesus wants us to have as we seek his Kingdom. Therefore, we both need to be like children and uplift children. We need to shift our perspective on them because Jesus sees them in a positive light.
2. Embrace who’s Next
What are some of the biggest brands today? Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, I think of Apple, Nike, Google, and Meta (AKA Facebook). How did these brands find success? A common thread through all of them is their focus on young people. They successfully continue to target young people or create products that young people desire. Can we say the same of the Church? Are our gatherings marked by something that young people desire? Or have our meetings become stale relics of the past? I am not suggesting we need state of the art marketing strategies and technology to attract young people. In fact, I’m highly against hype to get people in the doors. What I’m proposing is that our churches need a genuine, loving community that embraces all of their flaws while effectively communicating to them in a way that makes them fall in love with Jesus.
3. Integrate students into the life of the church
Lastly, young people need to be connected to the church. Young people are not next, they are the now generation. They have everything they need to serve and become leaders in the church. Yes, they will need some training and polishing, but they are ready to serve! Some conclude that the 12 disciples were mostly teenagers. If this is true, then Jesus entrusted the hope of the world to young people. This is mind blowing. If we want to develop a healthy identity for our student ministries, then they must be functiong parts of the greater body.
In closing, we are the church. Let’s make every part of our ministries better together. As we celebrate 70 years of faithful ministry through our Orange County Southern Baptist Association, I pray that these next 70 years will be better than the last. But it can only happen if we all grow better together.
OCSBA Next Gen Strategist