Many evangelical churches in the U.S. are in trouble. On average, 3,700 close their doors each year. Studies show that 65 percent of all churches are either not growing or are in decline.
Why is this happening? There are many factors that are contributing to the decline of our churches, but I believe that one of the most important reasons is that we are not reaching the next generation. A recent study revealed that only 25 percent of the millennial generation (ages 21 to 36) attend church and that 59 percent of millennials who were raised in the church have dropped out and no longer attend. Sadly, most churches have no strategy and no plan to address this problem.
So, what is the solution? What can we do to turn this around? I have studied this over the past couple of years and have reached the conclusion that the church must make investing and involving those in the next generation a top priority. This does not necessarily mean that a church must change its style of worship or its type of music. Recent studies tell us that with the younger generation its not always about the music or our worship style. Instead, they are seeking people to invest in their lives. They want to be part of a community that calls them to a deeper and more meaningful life, and they want to be part of something that is making a difference in their community and in the world.
How do we do this? Jesus gives us the model. If we want to do as He did, we must invest in the few. Jesus spent the vast majority of his ministry investing in His disciples. Yes, He preached to large crowds but that was not His focus. He knew that for His ministry to carry on into the future that He must equip and develop the disciples so that they could “go, and make disciples” and build His church long after He had left them to go back to the Father.
The Apostle Paul gives us the process or method. In 2 Timothy 2:2, he writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul is telling Timothy that an essential part of his ministry must be to invest in the next generation. In this verse of scripture, we see four generations of disciples: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others.
Here are six practical ways you and your church can invest in the next generation:
1. Focus your time and resources on reaching them. This must become a priority for our churches. Your budget and how your pastor, leaders, and staff spend their time will show where your priorities are.
2. Teach them the basic foundational principles of the Christian faith and help them understand what it means to have a Biblical worldview. Sadly, many of our youth programs are not equipping young people to face the challenges that our secular world throws at them.
3. Coach and mentor them. Every church leader, staff member, and mature believer (men and women) should have 2 to 3 “Timothys” that they are personally investing in.
4. Give them significant responsibilities. Put them to work. Utilize their skills and take advantage of their passion and enthusiasm. A great place to use them is in serving outside the walls of your church as part of your evangelism, outreach, and missions teams. Train them, give them guidance, and let them go do it.
5. Listen to them. Be intentional about meeting with them, answering their questions, and seeking their feedback.
6. Spend time with them. Its important to build relationships. Do things together. Go to ballgames. Take them fishing. Invite them over to your home for a cookout…and ask them to bring their friends. Most importantly, pray for them and show your genuine concern for them.
The leadership of every church should constantly be asking themselves: Are we raising up the next generation of pastors, missionaries, elders, deacons, and small group leaders in our church? Are we equipping those who will later equip others? Just as Jesus equipped His disciples, we too must equip others to carry on after our season of leadership is over.
Start investing in the next generation now and you will create the leaders that will one day step in and build upon the kingdom work that God has blessed you with. If we fail to do so, there just may not be anyone running alongside us when it’s time to pass our baton.