A Huge 21st-Century Challenge: How to Engage the Younger Generation

What challenges do you face in trying to reach millennials?
What challenges do you face in trying to reach Millennials? (Lightstock)

One of the greatest challenges for the church in the 21st century remains to be how to engage and mobilize millennials and students, who, to some, often appear indifferent to the gospel.

This week, I am focusing on a series of posts that I have written dealing with millennials and students—how to meet them where they are, engage them at their level, and mobilize them for the mission of God. We will first take a look at millennials and what churches can do to capture not only their interest but also their hearts. Then we will look at a two-part post that I have authored concerning students and the mission of God.

Jesus came serving, but He also came saving.

Reaching and Retaining Millennials

In this post, How to Effectively Reach and Retain Millennials, I wanted to direct our attention to my book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and Churches that Reach Them. In this book, my co-authors and I focused on the generation often called "millennials" today.

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The first part of the book dealt with the views of the unchurched. But the last part of the book dealt with churches that were successfully reaching young adults. There were three predominant characteristics that emerged among churches that were successful in reaching this often unreached group:

1. Be contemporary and culturally engaged. The first clear pattern among churches that are reaching young adults is that they tend to be more contemporary. They are engaged with culture and are aware of societal trends, helping young adults think through their context with discerning, biblical eyes.

Yes, it is much more than that, but any scenario that does include these issues is not being honest. Millennials tend to engage in contemporary and culturally engaged churches.

2. Be authentic. The second feature of churches who are effectively reaching millennials is authenticity, a characteristic that many of those millennials felt was not as present in churches of the Baby Boomer era.

3. Care for the hurting. Thirdly, churches that are engaging millennials are often known for caring for the marginalized, the hurting, and the outcasts. These churches are focused on reaching others in need. Student ministry must be more than a four-year holding tank with pizza.

While these trends are essential for reaching millennials, what more can we do to engage students in the gospel mission? This leads me to my next post.

Looking to Jesus

In my post, Connecting Students to God's Mission Part One, I wanted to focus on how students understand mission and put it into practice. To do this, we need to consider what the mission is, how we might point students toward it, how they can begin being involved right now, and how we can prepare them for an entire life on mission. This can be done by examining Jesus' life on mission.

Two passages in Luke may help us from the two big categories of how we are sent by Jesus into the world. Now certainly these are not the only categories, but they can help us better understand all the others.

In Luke 4 we learn that Jesus came to bring freedom for captives, sight to the blind and minister to the hurting. Simply put, Jesus came serving. If we're going to join Jesus on His mission, as John 20:21 tells us, we are going to serve the hurting. In Luke 19:10, Jesus clearly said He came to share the good news. He said, "I have come to seek and save the lost."

Jesus came serving, but He also came saving. So likewise, we have to direct students that life on mission is a life that seeks to serve the hurting and save the lost. But once we focus them on mission, how do we send them? This leads me to my final post.

Sending Students

In my final post in this series, Connecting Students to God's Mission Part Two, I focus on how and when we send students out. Once they understand the mission, how do we mobilize them and send them to serve and save the lost? Again, student ministry must be more than a four-year holding tank with pizza.

Kids may be happy and at church when they're younger, but unless they are shown how Christ is significant and His mission matters, they will leave in high school when they get jobs and cars. They have to be challenged to be more than consumers. Every believer is called to be an agent of ministry. People who have spiritual gifts have begun a Christian life, and part of that Christian life is that they are gifted to serve others.

Here are three thoughts on engaging and sending students:

1. Have an overarching mission strategy for the student ministry in your church. The extent of your goal should be challenging, but not impossible for a church of your size.

2. Encourage each student to own a ministry personally. My 15-year-old daughter leads the kids each week through a small group ministry in our church.

3. Consider the spiritual gifting of each individual student. As we intentionally invest in their lives in a way that helps them grow and discover their gifts, we could discuss their gifting with them and encourage them in finding ways to serve accordingly.

Students and millennials are vital parts of the body of Christ, and as leaders we are called to shepherd this generation and raise them up to engage in the mission of God for His glory, hopefully these thoughts will help you and your church tap the potential of this generation.

Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.

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