I can't tell you how many conversations I see about reaching the next generation:

  • "Our average age is getting older..."
  • "Our neighborhood is changing..."
  • "Our kids don't come to church anymore..."
  • "Did you see those stats on millennials..."

In an effort to help church's think through their strategy, I have developed "the five." Please excuse any notion that I have figured out "the" strategies. Rather, I am trying to provide a water-tight approach that logically covers all of the possible directions. It is meant to challenge assumptions, uncover expectations and reveal best practices. Warning: this post is pretty direct and will be a wake-up call to some leaders.

Before identifying the four strategies let's cover one guiding principle:

Generational relevance is always a leadership issue first. Because the gift of leadership naturally develops leaders in its wake, a lack of presence with the next generation is a lack of leadership in some way. The implications are:

  • Leaders beget younger leaders
  • Those leaders and churches who reach young people aren't thinking about it as much as it is happening naturally
  • The more conscious you are of the problem of reaching younger people, there is a leadership issue to identify
  • Younger people are primarily reached by younger leaders
  • If you don't have young leaders, you don't have old leaders

Now to the five strategies:

Strategy #1: Segmentation

Segmentation is the most common approach for churches. It happens whenever empowered leadership lets younger leaders "do their own thing" in a separate environment. For example, a church launches a "contemporary service" to reach young people. Or a youth group has its own events and programming as it spins in its own orbit.

While all churches do segmentation at some level (children and youth), the general approach warrants some caution. Here are some things to consider:

  • Segmentation usually occurs because a more natural approach doesn't (see strategy #2). Therefore it may reflect a lack of the leadership gifting (Romans 12:8-9) in the leadership team.
  • Segmentation may lead to a fragmentation. It reinforces a personality-based culture, rather than a shared vision, if two sub-congregations form around preferences of different leadership styles

Strategy #2: Sharing

Sharing sounds simple because it is. And for a Holy Spirit-gifted leaders it happens naturally. Sharing means that younger people are consistently and seamlessly being integrated into the empowered leadership core of the church. Sharing means that a senior pastor who is the primary preacher is not threatened by sharing pulpit time. Sharing means younger leaders are given real authority, not over a segment but over the whole. And make no mistake, sharing is how our most effective churches reach young people. Examples include:

  • At Faithbridge Church, Senior Pastor Ken Werlein spends less than on-third of the time in  preaching. Two younger leaders preach regularly during the other times. Other young men play key roles on their lead team.
  • At Clear Creek Community Church, Senior Pastor Bruce Wesley brings younger men on the elder team. One is Yancey Arrington (a teaching pastor ten years younger) who preaches just as often as Bruce during weekend services.
  • At North Coast Church, Larry Osborne keeps a younger leader,  Chris Brown in front of the congregation 50% of the time .

Keep in mind the general rule that a typical communicator's "sweet spot of connection is 10 years older and younger than their current age.

Strategy #3: Succession

The big question with succession is whether or not its intentional. Unfortunately, most are not. Usually, a beloved senior pastor retires too late (for an ideal transition) and fails to raise up leadership through an empowered process. But we are seeing more and more successful transitions. For example, I'm working with a pastor in his mid 50s, who is young-at-heart and very energetic. He is handing his point role to a guy (over 15 years younger) after an 18-month succession plan. This church has and will continue to reach young people.

Strategy #4: Sending

Some ministries will only reach young people by sending their best young leaders into different ministry initiatives or geographic locations. The difficulty here is that these young people don't stay "at home" to work on the generational needs of the sending group. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate way to invest resources into the next generation, even if it means accepting with grace the necessary decline and death of ministry. Last week I talked with a development leader of a national parachurch ministry. The ministry's founder is making the difficult decision to discontinue its existence. Practically, this will disperse all of the younger leaders into different roles and ministry vehicles.

Strategy #5: Stopping

I debated whether to include this fifth strategy. I did because it is a decision that some churches make. And they must know it is a decision. If a church doesn't segment, share, plan for succession, or send with younger leaders it will stop reaching young people.

Which strategy are you using?

About Will

Would you like more meaningful progress in your church? 

I want you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, I’ve worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing mega-churches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. I have the privilege of being the founder of Auxano, a church consulting group and Younique, a personal vision and life planning training company for the church. Most people know me from two of several books that I have authored: Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision and Create Movement and God Dreams: 12 Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church's Future.

More About Will
Will Mancini