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5 Ways to Keep the Next Generation in Church

5 Ways to Keep the Next Generation in Church

Recently, I taught a class on missional student ministry with veteran next generation leader Jeff Lovingood from Long Hollow Baptist Church. It was a great class! Each student gave a brief report on a topic of interest. One student shared an article from the Barna group I found to be quite interesting.

Lots of information abounds on young people leaving the church. But not all leave; many stay, thrive and are impacting the world for Christ. Why do they stay? You can read the original article for yourself here, but I want to note the main five points with a few observations. My thoughts are in italics. 

1. Make room for meaningful relationships. When comparing 20-somethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and 20-somethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59 percent of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31 percent among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28 percent of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11 percent of dropouts who say the same.

Notice “with an adult.” Titus 2 relationships—older men with younger men, older women with younger women—must increasingly be a priority in student ministry. 

2. Teach cultural discernment. Active Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to say they “learned about how Christians can positively contribute to society” compared to those who drop out (46 percent versus 20 percent). Actives are also nearly four times more likely to say they “better understand my purpose in life through church” (45 percent versus 12 percent).

We must take students out of the Christian subculture to develop skills and knowledge for interacting with the real world. Faith and culture increasingly matter to this generation.

3. Make reverse mentoring a priority. The next generation wants to be taken seriously today—not for some distant future leadership position. In their eyes, institutional church life is too hierarchical. Kinnaman says, “Effective ministry to Millennials means helping these young believers discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn…”

I wrote a whole book on this called As You Go with a focus of helping students live and think missionally now, not when they are out of college. We must disciple students, but we can also learn from them.

4. Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship. A fourth way churches can deepen their connection with the next generation is to teach a more potent theology of vocation, or calling. Millennials who have remained active are three times more likely than dropouts to say they learned to view their gifts and passions as part of God’s calling (45 percent versus 17 percent). They are four times more likely to have learned at church “how the Bible applies to my field or career interests” (29 percent versus 7 percent).

This is huge. Young people are four times more likely to stay if we help them see how the Bible relates to their career. We must do more to show how no matter one’s vocation or location, they can be on mission for God.

5. Facilitate connection with Jesus. Finally, more than a mere community club helping youth cross the threshold of adulthood, church communities can help Millennials generate a lasting faith by facilitating a deeper sense of intimacy with God. For example, Millennials who remain active are more likely than those who dropped out to say they believe Jesus speaks to them personally in a way that is real and relevant (68 percent versus 25 percent).

In the face of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, churches who teach a gospel-driven perspective focusing on a personal, intimate, daily walk with God will keep students. Helping students own their faith, see faith lived out in the real world, and moving beyond a check-list Christianity to a lifestyle of following Jesus matters.

In other words, when a church lives out a vibrant faith that demonstrates to a younger generation how faith, culture and life can intersect in a way that brings glory to God and makes sense of life, she will see young people who want not only to stay in church, but advance the gospel. I’m part of a church that seeks to do just that. I hope you are as well.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.