NextGen Ministry

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Unless you’re a big Star Trek fan, chances are
you hear the phrase “next generation” mainly while shopping in your
favorite big-box electronics store or watching a smart-phone
commercial. When it’s used to describe technology, next generation
means the latest and greatest innovation. The term promises an
improved version of your favorite device, as long as you’re willing
to shell out the money for a new one.

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When it’s used to describe children’s ministry, next generation
also implies a better approach-specifically, a more effective way
of reaching and teaching young people of all ages. Because next
generation, or “NextGen,” ministry is family-friendly and
collaborative, churches are jumping on board-and reaping the
benefits.

NEXTGEN DEFINED
Traditionally, Christian education has been organized according to
age groups, with each church having a preschool ministry,
elementary-age ministry, junior high ministry, high school
ministry, college-age ministry, and so on. Although this approach
allows people to specialize in a particular field, it can also lead
to isolation (called a “silo mentality”) rather than a shared
ministry effort. Separate ministries with separate objectives and
competing calendars inevitably frustrate ministry leaders as well
as parents.

When I began serving in children’s ministry 10 years ago, my job
was volunteering at the check-in table. That’s the only area I knew
anything about. But as my children grew older and transitioned into
other ministries, I began learning about new age groups, too. As my
role developed, so did my understanding, heart, and vision.

NextGen ministry embraces this broadened perspective. Simply put,
it’s ministry to multiple age groups who are the next generation.
It involves a strategic plan for young people from cradle to
college, with measurable goals and clear objectives for each age.
Proponents of NextGen ministry encourage mixed-age activities,
relationships, and family involvement. They also believe young
people should take active roles in the local church.

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NextGen ministry has its roots in the burgeoning family ministry
movement, in which churches partner with parents for children’s
spiritual education. From a practical perspective, it’s tough for a
church to truly partner with homes if families must race in 50
different directions to meet each of their children’s needs. So
NextGen ministry is emerging as the solution. By using an
intentional, shared ministry effort, churches are striving to
collaboratively reach the next generation as a whole.

NextGen isn’t another program; it’s a philosophy. With unified
vision, purposeful planning, and steadfast prayer, it’s becoming a
reality at churches across America. They’re using NextGen ministry
in different ways, based on their size and circumstances. Some
people describe it as an all-encompassing umbrella that connects
their separate programs, while others have abolished many of the
age-related boundaries that previously defined their education
programs.

NEXTGEN MINISTRY IN A NUTSHELL
Only you and your leadership can decide what’s best for your
church. But you’ll want to keep some big-picture concepts-and your
end result-in mind as you hammer out the specifics.

Unified Vision-All of your church’s programs for
children and teenagers must work toward a common goal. Children’s
and youth ministers are laying the ministry foundation for children
for the rest of their lives. That’s no small task. So first decide
what you want kids to walk away with when they graduate. Then
you’ll have a clear measuring stick to determine whether you hit
the mark. Sample vision statements include: “Each generation will
learn from the generation before it and serve the generation after
it.” “Every family will be equipped and encouraged to fulfill its
God-given role.” “Each leader will see his or her part in the big
picture of building faith-filled young people.”
“Creating this type of environment begins at the top, with a vision
owned by the church’s senior leadership,” says veteran children’s
minister Greg Baird, founder of KidMin360. “The vision must be
translated to strategy and practically implemented as a church and
for each specific department. Each major decision must be weighed
against the vision and strategy.”

Collaboration-Prayerfully brainstorm and map out
your ideas together. After you determine your end goal, develop
smaller goals for each age-specific area of ministry. With your
leaders and staff, decide which concepts children need to
understand before they transition from one ministry area to the
next. Then choose specific lessons and approaches that’ll best
prepare and equip children for the steps ahead. Agree to
troubleshoot any issues that arise during the transition. When I
sat down with our church’s leadership to plan a NextGen approach, I
was amazed at how the details fell into place after we were all
agreed about our vision.

NEXTGEN MINISTRY IN ACTION
Now onto the day-to-day aspects of NextGen ministry. You may be
wondering how you can possibly add more to your overflowing plate
of responsibilities. Although NextGen ministry requires some
upfront planning, it ultimately offers a simplified version of
Christian education-with everyone moving in the same direction. Use
the following tips to make NextGen ministry a reality at your
church.

Be intentional. As a generational team, set aside
time to dream, plan, and pray. Regular meetings allow everyone to
learn to work together as you explore what NextGen ministry can
look like at your church. Study what other churches have done, and,
if possible, meet with them in person or by phone. Read up on the
needs and desires of today’s children, young people, and
parents.

Be a team player. “I now care about what preschool
is talking about because I want to make sure elementary kids are
prepared,” says Dan Scott, director of elementary at Ada Bible
Church in Ada, Michigan. “I care about junior high because I don’t
want the investment I’ve made in the kids to disappear.”

Gina McClain, children’s ministry director at Faith Promise Church
in Knoxville, Tennessee, bridges ministry gaps by helping her
church’s young-adult and small-group pastors increase their
effectiveness. “Most frustrations those pastors experience can be
tracked back to spiritual maturity…or lack thereof,” McClain says.
“Allow those leaders to help determine core competencies so you’re
working together and unifying your goals and your message to
families.”

Rethink the schedule. Study the programming
calendar from a family’s perspective. Camps, social events,
outreach projects, and so on must be coordinated so parents and
children aren’t stressed out by all the available opportunities.
Schedule events that bridge age groups; for example, all of our
church’s ministries for fifth through 12th grades (preteens, junior
high, and high school) meet on Wednesday nights. They all have
separate meeting areas and age-specific teaching, but we’ve aligned
the general scope of the lessons. All these kids take home the same
“bottom line” each week. Plus, once a month, we bring the groups
together and invite parents to join us for worship.

Develop a mentoring program. It’s essential to
recruit and train older kids to invest in younger children. Create
opportunities for college students to serve in the high school
ministry, for high schoolers to assist with junior highers, for
junior highers to help out in the elementary ministry, and for
preteens to volunteer in the preschool ministry.

Don’t compete for volunteers. Discuss recruiting
strategies so you’re all working together to seek out potential
helpers and leaders. At our church, a staff person handles
volunteer assimilation, asking interested people what age group
they’d like to work with. Volunteers are encouraged to try out each
group to find the best fit.

Celebrate ministry transitions. When children move
from one program to another within NextGen ministry, it’s a big
deal to them-and it should be a big deal to us, too. Last August,
we collaborated on something we called “Elevate Week.” For an
entire week, we had parties for each transitioning age group. We
concluded each event with a short parent meeting to share our
vision and expectations for the year ahead.

Create experiences for the whole family. When one
family’s children are in three different age-specific ministries,
it’s hard to participate in every scheduled event or activity. So
create opportunities for the whole family to worship, learn, and
serve together. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Equip parents. Parents want to know that our
ministries are working together and that each area is doing its
part. Keep parents informed of your team’s common end goal-and help
them make it their own, as well. Create or offer resources spanning
all ages and stages; that way, parents can be their children’s
primary spiritual influence, no matter where they are in the
parenting journey.

Capitalize on every encounter with families.
Cross-promote within the various areas of your NextGen ministry so
families know what’s happening and can get involved, if they’d
like. This communicates that each ministry area knows about and
believes in what the other areas are doing. A children’s ministry
newsletter, for example, can include information about the high
schoolers’ food drive. E-newsletters or tweets can alert teenagers
and their parents about volunteer needs in the younger
grades.

NEXTGEN MINISTRY THE CHALLENGES-AND PAYOFFS
When you switch to the next generation of any electronic device,
you’ll initially face some hurdles. But with a bit of
reprogramming, learning, and experimenting, you’ll not only adapt
but also discover more efficient and effective ways to complete
your tasks. Then you’ll wonder how you ever managed with the old
version.

The same is true with transitioning to NextGen ministry. It takes
time, teamwork, humility, and persistence. It requires
outside-the-box thinking, as we allow God, in his wisdom, to reveal
new ways to reach children and partner with parents.
But the payoffs are amazing. Because NextGen ministry creates a
partnership, it redistributes the pressure that each pastor,
leader, or parent feels. Children’s and youth ministers no longer
need to run at Mach speed to plan, program, staff, and promote
individual ministries. Events and activities are completely staffed
with student volunteers. Parents are onboard because you keep their
whole family in mind. And, most importantly, you reach the ultimate
goal: seeing children grow in their faith-and live it out as they
help minister to the next generation.

Megan Lacefield is a children’s pastor at New
River Fellowship in Hudson Oaks, Texas.

 

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