Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Failed Formula

“Less than ten years ago a large Church of Christ with a great preacher and a great youth minister called our campus minister and told him we would have twenty-two of their high school graduates join our campus ministry that fall. Our campus minister worked hard to contact them. He held summer events to introduce them to the ministry. But out of twenty-two students who enrolled at Alabama, not one was active in our church. Not one. And none was active in any student ministry of any church of any denomination. They had a great youth program, loved their youth minister, had Christian parents – and not a one attended a church of any kind while in college. And this is no isolated example.”

So begins Jay Guinn, an elder at the University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, AL in a recent blog (; 7/20/11). He goes on to describe radical changes his congregation is making in how they do children’s and youth ministry so as to help prepare teenagers for discipleship as adults (I highly recommend the article).

This squares with what we learned two months ago when we hosted a seminar at West Houston sponsored by Lipscomb University called, “Faith Search: Gospeling the Next Generation.” We learned about the Millennial generation (born between 1980-2000) and how they see God, faith, discipleship and church. Part of the welcome news was that this generation loves and respects their parents, and is tremendously committed to family. Moreover, they respect older adults. Indeed, in surveys they list the two most important influences in their lives as, 1) parents, and 2) other influential adults. Therein lies the crux University’s strategy, which is to lessen the age-segregation that pervades most midsize to large churches and to structure more (not all) classes, ministries and events so that children and teenagers work alongside and develop relationships with adults.

This will take some doing. For years I have joined with youth ministers, parents, preachers, and elders in lamenting the “Mickey-Ear” reality of the Youth Ministry as a sort of attached-but-separate appendage of the larger congregation. We know it’s not best for the students or the church but we devolve to it easily. Systems are hard to change! And yet we owe it to the next generation to help them form their faith so that they have a compelling vision for adult Christian life.

At our seminar, Dave Clayton, the lead preacher for Ethos Church ( in Nashville, a congregation of mostly Millennials, recommended four things mainstream churches can do to help connect this generation:

1. Raise the bar of expectations. Stop babying them. Stop setting the bar an inch above the ground and applauding them for stepping over it. That bores them. Challenge them in a positive and winsome way. They have enormous capabilities.

2. Drop your assumptions. Don’t assume just because they have attended church for years that they know what the gospel is, know the Bible well, or have a formed Christian worldview. Heck, most adult Christians don’t. Engage them where they are.

3. See yourselves as ministers of this generation. Just like a missionary does with his/her population, learn about their hopes, dreams, and passions.

4. Give them permission. Especially permission to dream, to own their dreams, and then to fail and pick themselves up and try again in pursuit of their dreams.

These are exciting times in the church, just not for the status quo.