NextGen ministry is one the greatest challenges and joys for the church right now.
Because NextGen (Millennials, Gen Z & Gen Alpha) are not homogeneous demographic groups, as we established in my previous two articles (here and here), there is no secret key to unlock their heart and grab their attention.
In a world of unlimited choices, NextGen are forcing us to deal with them one-on-one. That may seem like bad news, but it’s actually very good news, especially if you’re a small church pastor, leader or member. One-on-one ministry is what small churches excel at – or what we can excel at, anyway.
If you’re in a big church it can be good news, too. We just have to choose to see it that way.
By forcing us out of a group approach to church and into a more individualized way of seeing people, NextGen may be poised to bring about the biggest shift in the way churches do ministry since the Reformation. Or we can refuse to acknowledge this reality and slip into even further perceived irrelevance. It’s our choice.
The Number One way we can reach NextGen? Lean away from the church-as-business model and into the church-as-relational-community model. Love God and love others.
If you’re looking for ways that your church can be relevant to people in today’s culture, that essential relational component of the church – what Jesus called the Great Commandment – is more relevant than any program, method, or musical style you’ll ever adopt.
Here are a few ways churches of any size can reach NextGen by leveraging the power of relationships.
Relationships > Demographics
It’s important to know the demographics of the community you’re serving. Like a missionary going to a foreign country, it’s an essential part of knowing how to communicate the gospel with them.
But we must realize that demographics are the starting line, not the goal. Relationships are the goal – with Jesus and each other.
Know Their Names, Not Just Their Needs
The church growth era may have been started with the phrase “find a need and fill it.” That principle will always be a valid approach to ministry.
But after we start meeting people’s needs, we need to know and remember their names.
When our church started doing homeless ministry several years ago, we trained our volunteers not just to hand people a bowl of food or an article of clothing, but to look them in the eye and engage them in conversation. Those relationships were what touched more people’s lives than any material goods we gave them.
The same goes for those who aren’t homeless. In many places, we’re raising a generation that’s rich in material goods, but poor in relationships. That’s the need we should be finding and filling.
The “Take a Number” Era Of Customer Service Is Over
For about 100 years, mechanization was the height of efficiency and customer service.
It still is the height of efficiency, but people are realizing that it’s not so great for customer service. No one wants to be Customer 63 anymore.
When they come to church they don’t want to be a member of a target demographic, either.
Tell Stories, Don’t Recite Stats
Pastors tend to be impressed by church numbers going up and to the right on a graph. But people don’t care about your church numbers. Their hearts are touched by hearing stories of life-transformation.
I love it when I hear “we baptized 75 people last Sunday!” That’s 75 eternities!
But hearing one story of life-transformation will touch more hearts than any stats you can give – no matter how impressive the numbers are.
Do Ministry With Them, Not For Or To Them
Boomers are watchers. From TV, to movies, to airline flights, to churches, we’ve been trained to “sit back, relax and enjoy” whatever is being done for us.
The internet has turned passive entertainment into participatory activities. Churches that are succeeding with current generations aren’t doing ministry for passive observers as much as they’re doing ministry with active participants.
Go Digital And Analog
The most common changes on church stages in the last several years are because of the presence of live streaming cameras. Even for the smallest of churches, our lighting, furniture, and even paint colors have been adjusted to look good online.
Because of the ever-present cameras, what happens on the stage is no longer the main reason people come to your church building anymore (if it ever was). After all, if they can watch it online, why come in person?
The main reason people come to church isn’t because of what happens on stage. It’s because of who they meet in the church lobby. The face-to-face analog experience of relational church before and after the main service is more important than ever.
Go Deeper, Not Just Bigger
Size impresses Boomers and Builders. Big stores, big screens, and big churches.
There will always be a place and an appeal to bigness (I’m talking to you, my American readers!) but people are less impressed with that now than they used to be.
In going big, we’ve forgotten to go deep.
We’ve built bigger businesses at the cost of our families. And some have built bigger churches at the cost of our souls. I know I almost did.
Yes, big churches can be great churches. You can go big and deep. But only if going deep is your first priority.
Connect Them Intergenerationally
Boomers cried “don’t trust anyone over 30!” (How stupid were we?)
That’s not true today. If we’ll engage them in two-way conversation, not just one-way criticism, this generation is hungry for connection with the wisdom and friendship of previous generations.
They may not know how to express it in a way that we understand, but the need is there.
Be Genuine, Not Cool
Be who you are. (Unless you’re a cranky old coot, that is. Then change who you are.)
NextGen have their phoniness detectors set to 11. And there’s nothing we can do to set them off faster than trying to be cool when we’re not.
Allow For Hard Questions
According to Hadyn Shaw, the single biggest reason NextGen are leaving the church is because they had questions no one would answer.
The truth is, when sincere people ask hard questions, they’re often not requiring an answer as much as they’re needing a sympathetic ear.
People need to know it’s okay to ask hard questions. Even if the answer is “I don’t know the answer to that. But let’s see if we can find one together.”
Worship, Work, And Play With Them
When we keep our relationships separated into work, school, family and church, we create a schizophrenic society.
People need to see how their faith connects with life outside the church. And the best way for them to know that is by seeing us live it with them.
(Photo by Solomon Joy)