Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Leadership Conundrum: Transitioning Generational Ministries

The transition from children's ministry to student ministries is largely hitch-free, but those of us who play on the older end of the spectrum (the high school portion of student ministries, college ministry, college/young adult ministry, Gen-X ministry, etc) are encountering the problem of "the gap" more and more frequently.

If you haven't seen it already, look up the research on the church drop-out rate for those graduating from high school. It is alarming.

How do we fix this? Can we?

I have a hard time believing the fix is for the post-student ministry to mimic the approach and methodology of student ministry, unless of course the student ministry of a church is community and discipleship oriented. But in most churches, the student ministry is not.
One of the things I talked to my church about when Element was in its formative stages was my conviction that it should not be a "13th grade" ministry, just another stop for students on their way out of the life of the church. We wanted to focus on discipleship and the building of community, something college students and young adults are in desperate need of.

Yet if the value for those things hasn't been cultivated in younger believers at earlier stages in the life of the church, they will likely not suddenly be attracted to those values when graduating from high school. At the same time, if we just give them the values that have been cultivated in them, we will only forestall their exodus and end up losing them anyway.

How do we bridge the gaps? My focus, for practical and experiential reasons, is on the transition from student ministry to college/young adult ministry, but I think the problems are faced in any church approach to ministering to those moving between "life stages."
How do we transition churchgoers from one sort or form of ministry community into another when the previous and future ministry communities typically differ in challenges, values, and spans of time?

I have my thoughts. What are yours?

The Leadership Conundrum series is the place for you seasoned leaders, pastors, and ministry directors to weigh in with your advice and tips and practical ideology!

Previous entries in this series:
Leadership Conundrum: Rescuing the Trampled On
Leadership Conundrum: Challenging Apathy


David said...

Ok, I'm seasoned now (40). I'm a worship pastor. Here's what I see. Youth should see their parents worshiping sooner. Our goal should not be to keep kids out of "big church" as long as possible. It should be to get them into "big church" as soon as possible.

We have the same issue with "younger" adults (<45-ish) and "older" adults (50+). We did the "blended traditional" and "New Generation" services for several years, and not only did it not do what it was "supposed" to, it got people who truly loved each other to be out of touch with each other.

So. At this point, no good music from any period in church history will be off limits in either of our services. If you're over 6th grade, you're in the service. You may even have a role of participation. And we will be doing most of your 11 innovations listed in the above post.

Bless you.

Jared said...

David, that's some great stuff. Thanks for your insights.

Youth should see their parents worshiping sooner. Our goal should not be to keep kids out of "big church" as long as possible. It should be to get them into "big church" as soon as possible.

Man, I'm so with you on that.

My brother does student ministry in Houston and he and I have been talking about this very thing for a while. The danger of a youth "church within the church."
He just gave a message to his high schoolers about the importance of worshiping with the full spectrum of believers at church, and he said it actually went over very, very well.

Positive signs for the future.

Thanks again, brother.

Bill said...

As the parent of some students who heard your bro, yes, it made an impact. We've always had great student ministry, but it was truly "a church outside the main church" for many, many years. I'm so glad we're moving it more to a vital part of the church.

On the gap - ironically, the singles ministry my wife and I teach at is called the "GAP" (Graduates and Professionals). It's hard to think of the hundreds in the student ministry and the tens in ours. Something's missing.

I think part of the conundrum, to be very blunt, is that churches don't value college kids and singles. Neither group are big givers, neither group are parents who will complain if their kids aren't taken care of, etc. They are tough, transitory ministries and I think some churches (possibly even my own) just consider it a loss and lets move on. We are, for instance, without full time pastoral staff focused on the singles. To see what a church values, look where it puts it's money.

I may sound like I'm unhappy with or mad about the situation. I'm not, really. Just assessing it as it is - things need to change. Trying to figure out what my role can be in that change.

David said...

Funny. We have zero budget for college/post-college/singles ministry. We have one man who has been called to minister to them, because he was a volunteer while many of them were in youth group. So they have a Bible study.

We have a vibrant college/post-college/singles group where most of the ones who come are active in the ministry of the church. They are growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Money? No.
Relationship? Yes.

salguod said...

I'm encouraged to hear some of the ideas here. Encouraged because it revealed to me some ways my church is succeeding that I hadn't noticed before.

- Our kids are in with the big folk at 7th grade.
- Our middle school and HS ministries are active and volunteer run. Most importantly, the emphasis peer relationships and community.
- We are actively pursuing a revival of our campus ministry and see it as important to the strength of the church as a whole.

As far as managing these transitions and ministries, the focus has to be on Jesus, His people and the Bible. We aren't converting our kids to this fellowship of believers, we're converting them to Christ and the fellowship of believers. If their attraction, allegiance and devotion (at all levels of ministry, little ones to old fogeys) is to Christ and those who are His, that can last and be transferred to another fellowship when they go off to college or into the workplace. If we instill in our youth the importance of Christ, His Word and His community, they will seek all 3 when they get older.