One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone points out a problem but offers no solution. And I kinda did that. My last blog post about Millennials leaving the church and the need to refocus on the next generation came out pretty strongly advocating a change in perspective and strategy but offered no new perspective or strategy.
Lest I become what I dislike the most, here are 5 ways the church, and by that I mean you as a member of the body of Christ, can engage and fight for the rising generation of young believers.
Build Relationships – In as study done by Fuller Youth Institute into what helps young people to “stick” to their faith and church, the top stickiness factor was meaningful relationships with involved adults in the congregation. Adults that show up to ball games, ask about schoolwork, pray with them about decisions and most importantly, know their name. Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark in their book Sticky Faith recommend a “sticky web” of 5 adults in each child’s life to solidify connection to the church.
Disciple Parents/Caregivers – The Millennial generation who didn’t leave the church are bringing their kids with them each Sunday and dropping them off at Sunday school just like their parents did when they were little. Since discipleship in the home was not encouraged and resourced as they were growing up, these parents have a belief that Sunday school and Wednesday nights are enough to instill faith in their kids just like it was for them. But the truth is, that’s not enough. Neither is it biblical (see God’s heart for the family through Scripture here). If we want our kids to grow up knowing that faith is not compartmentalized and only applicable in a church setting, then we need to equip our parents for discipleship in the home. Just saying, “You should do this” is not enough. They need training, equipping, mentoring, resources and prayer.
Encourage Service – A recent survey by National Studies of Youth and Religion indicated that when teens were asked about what it meant to be a Christian, they listed actions not beliefs such as “serving at the food pantry, going to church, and helping neighbors in need.” John Roberto of Lifelong Faith states, “Both children and adults are more likely to have a growing, strong faith when their family serves others together. When parent and child/teen together perform service activities, the child/teen sees the parent’s capability, faith, and values in action. The cross-generational bond takes place not only in the service event, but also in the retelling of the event through the years.” Combining faith and service creates long-lasting impressions about what it means to “be the church” on our children.
Involve All Generations – Dubbed “intergenerational” or “cross-generational” ministry by family ministers, this aspect of
church encourages the worship and service of all members of the church community to engage in life together. One unintended consequence of the emergence of Sunday schools and youth groups was creating age-segregated, silo ministries that operate separate from each other and disconnect members from the body. This can lead to younger generations not knowing where they belong in church once they “graduate” from youth group. Involving all generations in service, worship, and community creates a landscape of belonging across ages and cultures in the church.
Pray… and then Pray some more – A battle is being waged for the hearts of children. It is a battle that has been waged for years and years. Children have been enslaved, sold, neglected, murdered, and targeted since the beginning of time. We cannot ignore the fact that children are the future and their very souls are being sought after by spiritual forces, media hounds, and cultural foes that will not relent. So we cannot relent. We cannot turn the discipleship of our children over to this world. We must fight for their souls, hearts and minds by praying for them, praying with them, and praying over them “without ceasing.”
Whether you are a parent or a minister, I truly believe a concerted effort to engage in these practices and focus our attention on strengthening the home as the primary place of discipleship and the church as a community of mentorship and service will lead to a generation that will stay connected to their faith, regardless of where life takes them.
And it starts the moment they are born, not when they are in youth group or graduating and leaving the church.
What we do today with our infants, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary kids will determine the types of blogs we will be writing 15 years from now.
I pray with all my heart we are not doing postmortem on this generation like we are on the Millennial one. I pray that instead we are celebrating a resurgence of faith, service and community in our churches worldwide. That, my friend, is worth fighting for.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.