Renewal congregations have a short list of things they do well. That short list should include next generation student ministries. This is particularly important given that according to a Pinetops Foundation report, 1 million young people who grew up in the church are annually leaving North American faith communities. Transformational NextGen ministry is essential for the future of our young people and the church.
Here are seven goals for NextGen ministry:
Goal 1: Joy
Students go where they want to be. Where they want to be is in joy-filled community. Renewal congregations create a “want to be there” environment through joy-filled community building experiences into which students are naturally drawn. These joy-filled communities must be emotionally healthy (i.e., they must be safe) or students will not stay.
Goal 2: Connection
Students must feel connected to peers, adult volunteers and the church as a whole. The oft-repeated rule of thumb is that students who remain connected to the church into adulthood have at least five relational connections. A particularly important goal is “no student left behind.” Connecting must extend to the disconnected.
Goal 3: Relevence
NextGen ministry must adapt to the changing context and needs of youth. Student ministry in the ‘20’s cannot look like student ministry in the ‘90’s. Students must guide this transformation. They alone understand the unique worlds and challenges of their generation. Being relevant will demand avoiding easy answers to difficult problems.
Goal 4: Disciple-Making
The highest aspiration of NextGen ministry is making life-long followers of Jesus. The goal is for youth to become more and more like Jesus in attitude and behavior. This demands more than fun and games. NextGen ministry must serve others, develop faith practices, participate in church life and teach the art of being salt and light to their generation.
Goal 5: Mission
We cannot be content to gather in joy-filled community while ignoring the world around us. Jesus said, “Other sheep have I who are not of this fold” (John 10:16). The “other sheep” include young people who are disconnected from faith and a faith family. NextGen ministries must create gravitational pull, attracting the disconnected into a shared faith journey.
Goal 6: Authenticity
The mega-power of NextGen ministry is authenticity. Adults must model an authentic life in Christ including triumphs and set-backs. Students must be free to share their authentic lives, thoughts and challenges without fear of being judged or rejected. The faith that is explored must be authentic to the Bible and to real-life concerns.
Goal 7: Ownership
Most young people have grown up in a world where many things are planned for them. The old sandlot that was supervised by kids has given way to organized sport that is supervised by adults. One consequence has been delayed adulthood. Owning faith demands owning faith formation. Give youth the keys and teach them to drive.