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Recruiting Gen Xers

Xers, like generations before us, need to serve because service is the real, powerful expression of God's love to the world

As a member of Generation X, I'm concerned by my generation's absence in the children's ministries of our churches. Xers are looking to make their way in the world and the church, but Generation X has had a hard time finding a place in most churches.

By the time you read this, Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981) will be close to 80 million Americans -- nearly as numerous a segment of the population as the boomers (born in the Post-World War II baby boom). My generation looks and acts very different from our parents and grandparents. It's not just the clothes we wear and the way we talk, but it's also our internal values and lifestyle choices.

Many things have shaped us, from the perceived end of absolute truth to the fallout of living among broken homes and disillusionment with institutions. Yet Generation X has a burning passion and commitment to offer the church. If recruiting Xers has been a struggle for you, let me tell you what just might hook us.

Be yourself. Goatees and hanging out at the local coffee house aren't requirements for recruiting Xers, unless you already do those things! If you try too hard, you'll probably turn us off. Just remember that we want to get to know you first, your ministry second. It's the personal contact that's more important to Xers than institutional involvement. But before you think this requires deep soul-searching with every Xer you encounter, think again. Xers simply want to connect with you and get to know you. And to us, that's often just the first step to getting involved.

Tell us a story. We need to hear the stories of the children in your ministry. To us that's what makes it real. Xers know that statistics can be misleading; we hear them everywhere. And cliches are tiresome; we know the world isn't that simple.

But stories climb and dive and laugh and demand that we get involved. Tell us about the people we can touch. Tell us about the funny thing that happened in the toddler class last Sunday. Tell us about the kids' lives who are changed by coming to church. Tell us the story that'll show us how we can make a difference.

Give us the chance to serve. Xers, like generations before us, need to serve because service is the real, powerful expression of God's love to the world. Xers want to make a difference in the lives of people around us. We want to share God's love.

Give us feedback -- fast. Xers don't stick around very long if we don't feel or perceive that we're valued. We value our time and choose not to waste it where we're not appreciated. Feedback, however, is the best way to keep us focused on our potential and the potential of the children.

Watch over a new volunteer. Tell her what she did well, and also tell her what she can improve for next time. Don't be afraid that we'll leave if you tell us how to do something better. If we think you want us to succeed, we'll listen to what you say-good or bad.

Trust us. We feel important in the ministry when you give us increased responsibilities -- as we earn them. This is a great way to publicly affirm our potential and confirm our abilities and giftedness by God. Xers are more likely to first distrust you as an authority, but we'll let you earn our trust slowly. If you show us that there's more for us to do, inevitably your trust in us will spark loyalty and creativity as we take increased ownership of the kids and the ministry.

Remember when you're thinking about recruiting and keeping Generation X , we want to help. We need to help because that's something we believe in. If we don't feel like there's a place for us working with the kids of your church, we'll most likely help someone else.

Matthew Eckmann is in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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