“The next generation of children and future leaders don’t need a program. They need a model of church that fosters an environment where relationship is more important than program—an environment where the church is an attractive alternative to culture.” This is how David Pinkston, senior pastor of Pasadena Foursquare Church in Southern California, sees the challenge of reaching the next generation, or NextGen.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, suggests that in order to reach teens and younger children and foster sustainable faith, NextGen ministry needs to develop significant bridges to parents; develop a personalized, relational approach; and focus on helping young people develop their ability to process the complexities of life from a biblical viewpoint.
The Barna Group’s 2010 “The State of the Church & Family Report” noted what they call a “red flag” when assessing the church’s effectiveness in bridging with parents. The report found that 75 percent of parents surveyed had no idea how the church can help support the family, and if churches have a family ministry strategy, most people didn’t understand it.
Melinda Kinsman, children’s pastor at Beaverton Foursquare Church in Beaverton, Ore., has found an effective way to involve and educate parents using the “Faith At Home” model developed by Mark Holmen. Melinda explains that children’s ministers need to step into a whole new set of shoes and see their role primarily as one that resources parents—making time to sit down with parents and plan with them.
At Beaverton Foursquare, the NextGen ministry holds regular “Take It Home” events, where moms and dads are given an opportunity to participate with their children in the Sunday program. Parents accompany their children to kid’s church for a time of worship and interactive lessons. Using an open house model, the children’s ministry team inspires and encourages parents with ideas and resources to teach and lead their children in the home.
“We see that so many parents have never opened the Bible with their children at home,” Melinda tells Foursquare.org. “The open house is a time where teachers can model to parents how to disciple their children.”
The Tween Crowd
But what about tweens? They are bombarded by a consumer market that relentlessly targets 8- to 12 year olds with images of what is hip and popular; friends and status are some of their biggest concerns. They respond to “cool.”
Brian Goodell, senior pastor of The Bridge (San Mateo Foursquare Church) in San Mateo, Calif., echoes the common cliché, “If you build it, they will come.” He recommends creating a separate environment that helps students at this age form a positive identity and builds an atmosphere that communicates how important tweens are. Brian suggests making a space that is “cool” for pre-teens—a space where they want to go and where they will feel unique and wanted.
“You would be surprised how little money it takes create a cool environment that is inviting to their tastes,” says Brian. He and his wife shop in thrift stores for inexpensive decorations and use paint that matches the bright colors like those seen on Nickelodeon.
Peer pressure is probably one of the greatest challenges our tweens face. It’s vital that churches cultivate an atmosphere where tweens can grapple with the tough questions and complexities they face in their everyday lives.
Judy Morelli, children’s ministry director at New Life Church (Santa Barbara Foursquare Church) in Santa Barbara, Calif., ministers with the understanding that God’s Word can become alive in the hearts of tweens, and the application can be played out in real scenarios. She concludes her lessons with these questions: “How are you going to be different because of what you heard or read today?” and “How will God’s Word today play out in your school and in your home tomorrow?”
She tells the story of one tween girl who was being teased about her jeans because they weren’t “cool.” After reading the Bible and journaling, the girl came to her own decision to forgive her friends, just like Jesus would have done.
“I didn’t teach her a lesson,” Judy explains, “but she was transformed by her interaction with the Word of God and came to her own conclusion. She wasn’t just hearing a lesson, but she was grabbing ahold of her own faith and living it out.”
Perhaps the most defining characteristic of this generation is that it is the first to grow up in an online environment. Chris White, NextGen pastor at Fountainhead (Carson City Foursquare Church) in Carson City, Nev., has found creative ways to use media and technology to reach teens.
“Teens live in a visual world, so we shouldn’t ignore the way the world communicates,” Chris explains. “Jesus used the culture around Him to communicate kingdom truths, and we can do the same.”
Chris set up a small computer lab in the youth room at his church, where young people can come and do homework or check e-mail. He says the computers serve as a tool to draw kids to the church environment, where he and his team make themselves available as mentors and role models who invest time with the kids and really listen to them.
Reid Powell, NextGen pastor at New Life Community (Pomona North Foursquare Church) in Pomona, Calif., sets aside time during his youth service for teens to use their cell phones as a way to interact during his message. He displays questions on the overhead screen and allows the students to text their answers to a moderator. He also lets the teenagers use their cell phones to text questions that he can respond to in real time.
Bridging The 20-Somethings Gap
The younger generations are moving from a belief-based religion to an experience-based religion. Emerging generations want more from church than flashy programs and good sermons.
Josh Pinkston, NextGen representative for Foursquare’s Central Pacific District, notes that in order for the church to be more effective in reaching the NextGen, it needs to redefine what it calls success, and become more interested in people psychologically and relationally rather than in evangelism for evangelism’s sake.
Twentysomethings prefer to congregate in open and friendly environments, and college-age students, especially those who have grown up in the church, need ministers who are willing to “hang out” and engage in a relational process that allows for genuine conversation about doubts and questions.
“It’s this kind of authentic discussion that leads to living faith,” Josh affirms.
Young people’s desire for authentic connection was illustrated in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which reported on current housing trends of the “Y” Generation. Instead of traditional “cookie cutter” family housing, NextGen consumers seek living spaces with plenty of common space to host parties and play games. They enjoy living in settings that foster togetherness.
“We have become a disconnected society, and college students don’t want to be isolated or busy,” asserts Heidi Strickler, assisting minister at Harbourtown Community (Vermilion Foursquare Church) in Vermilion, Ohio. “They don’t want to spend time mowing the lawn, they just want to be together and build relationships.”
Josh Pinkston suggests that ministry to twentysomethings involves “throwing out the traditional playbook.” As a college pastor, Josh created a NextGen gathering that was modeled after Acts 2:46, sharing meals together as a form of worship.
This kind of model won’t work without intentionality—intentional listening and asking relevant questions that lead people to discover what Christ is doing in their lives. But this kind of model can effectively open up avenues of real discussion that pave the way for a discipleship model where life is shared together.
You are reading Part 3 of a three-part series.
Read Part 1: “The Challenge”
Read Part 2: “New Paradigms for NextGen Ministry”
Get Resources » We’ve compiled a helpful list of NextGen resources, as recommended by fellow Foursquare leaders across the nation.
By: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church, a Foursquare church in Santa Barbara, Calif.