Reaching out to the ‘NextGen’ is a mission which has been in the hearts of many church leaders, parents and educators.
Ps Joey Tan shares his insights and heart.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Do we realize that the “village” also includes the Church? Do teenagers and young adults remember that they are still a “child” to their parents? Who else is in this village? When does this child become an adult? Does the Church even know what it takes to raise a child?
It would be diﬃcult to find a church that is not desperate to reach the next generation, or ‘NextGen’ as they are commonly known these days. In an endeavor to connect with young people, some churches have tried to be ‘hipster’ (by following the latest fads) and even mimic influential churches or Christian movements from Western countries; more worryingly so, some have even implemented worldly strategies and methods to market church and religion to xennials, millennials and post-millennials.
How is that going for them? And if you are in such a church, how is that going for you?
Does designing a cool website or employing a trendy youth pastor really work? Is serving Chai Latte in a cafe outside your service hall or using EDM (go google it!) in your worship session really effective? These are just a tip of the supposedly effective NextGen outreach iceberg.
Come on, church. We can do better than that!
There is some value in such methods, but I am convinced that these would just provide temporary benefits. In the long-term, it will create a new set of challenges. Perhaps we should only use what is relevant in our culture to impart what is timeless in our Christian faith. Let us not lose sight of eternality, biblical literacy, and ultimately, life transformation.
It is far wiser to prepare the next generation now so that we do not scramble to repair them later. As such, I would like to suggest five timeless ways to shape this generation that is caught in a cultural kaleidoscope that they have created.
#1 Connect the NextGen inter-generationally
Let’s make a concerted effort to get godly and mature adults to host youth and young adult cell groups. It does not matter if these adults are single, married or have children. Any adult who has finished studying and started working immediately adds a different and often fresh perspective to those younger than they are. If you are that adult, do not fret about what to say, what advice to give or if what you are saying is beneficial, or not. Your job is not to be a sage but to be a friend. Your priority is to befriend the young people you are hosting; let the relationship-building happen organically, and the deepening of friendship with individuals unfold naturally.
I have seen the benefits of this unique bond blossom in my church and I would love for you to experience this as well in yours. Often times, these adults would actually offer the same advice as you and I, but somehow young people are more receptive when they hear it from another source besides their parents or pastors.
#2 Provide a stable and familiar environment for the NextGen
There are several transitional years for someone in the NextGen: at seven (from pre-school to primary school), 13 (primary to secondary school), 17 (secondary school to tertiary education), along with the first year of National Service (the army),University, as well as their first year in the workforce. I believe the most crucial years are at 13 and 17 years old because they might be too old for regular parental supervision, but too young to make life-changing decisions wisely.
Therefore, the church can alleviate some of these transitional stresses by providing a safe and familiar environment as a base for young people to navigate through these life-stage changes. By keeping them in the same ministry during transition (for example, the age ranges for the pre-teens and youth ministries in my church are from 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 years old respectively), they are returning to a similar milieu every weekend; hanging out with the same people, learning from the same pulpit, and going through the same program. This anchors them in much needed stability, as they experience a sea of changes in their lives outside the church.
#3 Remember that pastoring the NextGen is just as crucial as preaching to them
I might get slagged off for this but I honestly think that the young adult cry for expository preaching is overrated. Please do not read what I did not write. Expository preaching is absolutely necessary for the edification for our faith and the transformation of our lives, but the young adults’ supposed desire for it is overstated; it is almost as if it is a trendy thing for a young person coming of age to declare that he or she wants expository preaching. Here is the reality—if you ask five young adults for their understanding of what “expository preaching” is, you will get five different definitions. As such, it is not far-fetched to assert that the average young adult perhaps has no idea what he or she wants from the church. Maybe the sermon is not “deep enough” for the young adult because his or her walk with God is not deep enough.
Therefore, what I think young adults really need is solid shepherding—parents, adults, pastors and leaders who would disciple them properly and challenge their convictions, words, and actions whenever the occasion calls for it. Before they can truly appreciate expository preaching, they need to be recipients of solid pastoring first. After all, what is the point of learning another biblical truth when they have not applied the previous one? It is not truth that changes lives, but the truth applied that does.
#4 Encourage the NextGen to be engaged in multiple mentoring relationships
I have the privilege of mentoring two groups of young men—a group of six in their late twenties and a group of seven in their early twenties. I have been journeying with the older group since they were in National Service and some of these are planning for marriage soon. What I have observed is that in different seasons of their lives, they need different types of mentors. And I have always pointed them to other adult mentors whom I feel can enrich their young adulthood.
To those who are actively mentoring the next generation, may I lovingly suggest that you simply cannot mentor them in every arena of life. That is the reality—either because you cannot be available enough, do not have experience in that area, or are too far away from their current season (that your advice may seem jaded or irrelevant). And for those who are hoping to find a mentor (or another one), I encourage you to ask God to provide, press on in your search, and be open when he or she appears. There is no perfect mentor but with many mentors, there is a perfect mentoring experience.
#5 Inspire the NextGen by issuing a big challenge far greater than they are
Globalisation results in two realities—being instantly connected to what happens on the other side of the globe (helped by the Internet), and people coming into our nation from all over the world. I have also observed that the NextGen is more inclined to social justice than the generations before them. This combination of factors means that we are now in an incredible season with an incredible opportunity to participate in global, local and even ‘glocal’ missions (reaching foreigners in our home country). However, we who live in Singapore have become risk-adverse and comfort-seeking. This has impacted the way we raise our own children as well as our spiritual children. Sometimes we end up preparing the path for those in the NextGen instead of preparing them for the path.
Therefore, to accelerate a consciousness of the urgent evangelization of the world, I am a strong proponent of conventional missions, where we head overseas to participate in the redemptive work of God among unreached people groups. Nothing fast-tracks spiritual growth and awareness in the way missions does. After all, nothing short of a global mission is worthy of a global God. On average, my colleagues and I take at least one or two NextGen teams out every year. The post-trip effect of participating in our missional God’s heart for the world (That is, the “missions bug”) is tangibly felt and even contagious upon the NextGen communities. And instead of reinventing the wheel, I am also actively looking out for sustainable ways to partner with like-minded individuals who are already active in the local scene and sending young people their way to aid their cause. There is nothing more energizing than seeing ground-up initiatives because it maximizes the NextGen’s entrepreneurial spirit.
And so, whether you’re a children’s pastor, a youth minister, or a young adult leader, I want to encourage you from 1 Chronicles 12:32; Firstly, to understand the times, and secondly, to know what to do next. Trends will pass but the truth found in the Word will last forever. Let us not just myopically reach the NextGen in this period (and lose them later) but also prepare them to thrive in the church and the world in the future. May the Lord give you and me wisdom to win the NextGen for His glory!
About Pastor Joey Asher Tan
Ps Joey Asher Tan is the assistant head of the next generation ministry in Grace AG, and the pastor-in-charge of the youth and children’s ministries. He also serves as the Next Generation Commission coordinator in AG Singapore. Joey is passionate about preaching, desires to relate authentically with the young adults he mentors, and firmly believes in what God can do through young people. He is married to Huiyi and has two young children, Eden and Judah.