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Does your church prioritize reaching the Millennial Generation? Studies show that they are the largest generation in half a century, and their participation in church is declining rapidly. Millennials are people born between 1980 and 2000. They’re tech savvy. They’re educated, and they’re passionate. One of the ways to reach any generation is to meet them where their passions are. According to Dr. Rick McClatchy, Millennials are deeply passionate about four things:
Did you notice a few things missing? Flashy programs, stupid games, lock-ins, and Christian concerts didn’t make the list. If your youth ministry program aligns with the above values, then older high-school students may not turn elsewhere to find them. Also, many youth volunteers (and potential youth volunteers) are in their twenties and thirties. If your student ministry (and your church as well) care about getting Millennials involved, then LET THEM SERVE! But beware, they are not interested in serving to just get more butts in seats at your church. They desire to make a significant difference in the world. That means Millennials are looking for a deeply fulfilling way to serve. Perhaps they would be great as a sponsor on your next mission trip, as a small group leader, or even as your church’s next youth pastor!
Here is a great video from Dr. Rick McClatchy that lays out ways to reach Millennials. If we don’t think about this, the church in America could be dead in 30 years. That means this video is probably worth 15 minutes of your time:
How do you grow your youth group? There are lots of writers in youth ministry today that quickly say “growth is not the point! Discipleship is the point!” I would say that according to Jesus, more disciples is the point. Discipleship and growth are not exclusionary goals in ministry. Consider these verses (NIV):
“He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” -Luke 10:2
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” -Matthew 28:19
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:8-10
Jesus and Paul understood their ministries in terms of harvest. All too often youth ministers resign themselves to the idea that they are only on the planting or growing side of things. Some youth ministers think thoughts like “If I just plant the seed now then one day these students might actually be disciples,” or “since the message of Christ was planted in these students by our children’s ministry, it’s just my job to water.” While both of these statements may be true, depending on the student, student ministers should not overlook the harvest.
What does harvest look like in youth ministry? Is it growth in numbers? Is it new salvations and baptisms? Is it the number of students in your group that feel called to ministry? Without defining how the harvest is measured, it’s difficult to define the harvest. The student population is ripe for cultivation and growth in Christ. There are seeds to be planted and watered, there are weeds to be pulled, and the harvest, as Jesus says, is plentiful.
A harvest is the result of diligent work mixed with the blessing of God. Here are three keys to realizing harvest in your student ministry:
1. Cultivate Fertile Soil. It is important to the principle of harvest to plant seeds in fertile soil. If the soil is fertile then the crop will be bigger. Roots will run deeper. How have you set your ministry up to be fertile soil for youth in your city? Sometimes fertile soil doesn’t naturally exist, and so we supplement it and cultivate it until it’s rich enough for something to grow. Are there any elements missing from your ministry that would lead to an environment that is fertile for growth? Students in my youth ministry recently told me of their desire to have youth-led worship at our mid-week meetings. Over spring break they helped knock out a wall to make the youth room bigger, helped install donated sound equipment and staging, and repainted the youth room to make it more inviting. Now students are excited about the possibility of weekly worship, excited about the freshly-renovated space, and excited about bringing friends. More fertile soil for ministry has been created.
2. Water Often. Plants need water to grow. Without some water, even the most drought-tolerant plant will eventually die. Students need opportunities for discipleship. This includes Bible study and fellowship times, but might also include personal mentoring relationships, service and mission projects, or planning a weekend retreat. Some students will come to youth group and get fed regularly. They will be the ones who spiritually mature the fastest. Others will be on the fringe of the group, and may need extra attention. Jesus heavily invested in a few dozen disciples who then went out and changed the world. Investing heavily in the discipleship of a small number of students may have more of a long-term spiritual impact than entertaining hundreds of students with a slick but surface-level youth ministry. Remember, the payoff isn’t in the watering, it’s in the harvest.
3. Stay Harvest Minded. There are TONS of disciples to be made. There are millions of people to win to Christ! In your own community I bet only a small percentage of youth and families are heavily involved in a church, even if they say they’re Christian. If we cultivate rich soil and faithfully water the seeds that have been planted, growth will happen and the Lord’s bounty will bless our youth ministries. Staying harvest minded means having big enough vision to see the importance of long-term strategy. The payoff is always in the end game in ministry. In the harvest there is celebration. There is the reward of hard labor. In the harvest ministry reaches maturity as disciples win new converts and in turn, make new disciples. NEVER be satisfied with the status quo, because the harvest is plentiful. There are ALWAYS more people to reach with God’s love.
Having a theology of harvest is essential to building a thriving and growing ministry. I believe some churches die because they are not harvest minded enough. Other churches poison the soil instead of making it fertile. Many churches don’t provide enough opportunities for the spiritual watering of young souls. How is God calling you to grow your youth ministry and make more disciples? The harvest is plentiful.
Audrey (my ever-so-lovely bride) and I were talking the other day about promoting events in student ministry. She mentioned that she had recently skimmed a student ministry book from the early 90’s. The author described several ways of promoting youth events that had proven successful. They included buying an ad in your local newspaper, using public bulletin boards at city libraries, and making an announcement at the local Bingo hall. Ok, so I made that last one up! The truth is we all know that there isn’t a youth on planet Earth that looks for cool stuff to do in the classifieds, and library… yeah, I’ve heard of those. There simply MUST be more relevant promotional and marketing approaches for 21st century youth ministry. So what are they?
- Face to face invites: In a culture already oversaturated by media of various types, face to face communication is more crucial than ever. Studies regularly show that 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of the direct invitation of a friend. This statistic has been around for a while and everybody has probably heard it, but did you know that last year Barna Research released a poll showing that only 30% of Christians planned on inviting a friend to Easter services. That’s a HUGE disconnect!!! Personal invitations have much more meaning than direct mail, local advertising and pulpit pleas. Encourage your students to rise above that 30% mark and set the example for the rest of your congregation. What if just 50% of students regularly invited a friend? Or 75%? Our ministries would explode!
- Use Social Media: Ten years ago Facebook didn’t even exist. Today it has between 500-600 MILLION regular users with almost 500,000 new users weekly. Chevy updated its Cruz Sedan with a feature that allows the car’s computer to read you Facebook status updates while you drive. Regular radio: look out!!! Facebook is taking up your airtime in the one place people still listen to your broadcasts!!! The power of social media is ever more apparent to me as I continue in student ministry. Students RARELY check regular e-mail accounts, if they even have one. They are likely to be on Facebook and other social sites daily. Create an event, invite students online, and get students to invite their friends.
- Communicate Crucial Info Early: This means YOU must plan early. Many people try to plan big events and don’t get crucial info out in time to participants or other partner groups. This is plainly evident at many youth events where forms and event info are not mailed out until a week or two before the event. FYI, if you have a sizeable youth group, it will be impossible to plan ANYHTING on short notice. Set your dates 4-6 months out for events like lock-ins and concerts, and 12-18 months out for events like camps and mission trips. Mail all crucial forms no later than 10 weeks out, and give the info away in every possible format. Audrey and I once planned a lock-in in partnership with 8 churches, and 250-300 kids attended. Each church received a “FORMS CD” with all the event forms, artwork, and other info in multiple formats including Word, Publisher, PDF, JPEG, and PNG. Also, if you expect people to use your artwork for an event, make sure and send them the fonts you used or they won’t be able to print customized posters and flyers.
- Build Buy-In and Ownership: One of the best ways to promote your event is to get as many people to buy-in as possible, and give as many of them ownership as possible. When people have ownership of an event, THEIR reputation is on the line as well in promoting it. This means that by putting together a leadership team of people for large events, you exponentially increase your marketing capacity, creative ingenuity and forward momentum. Bringing multiple youth ministers to the table for an event like a camp or lock-in ensures that the best ideas come to the table, and that all the church groups involved feel needed for the event’s success. When others have ownership of an event, they’ll promote it just as hard as you will.
- Shoot A Rediculous Promo Video…or two: Viral marketing is the rage. It’s called viral for a reason. The word ‘virus’ comes from a Latin word in the late 1500’s meaning slime or ooze. The medical definition is “an infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts.” (Dictionary.com) Shoot a wild and crazy promo video and see how many hits it gets on YouTube and how many youth post it to their social media profile! If the video is off the wall enough, it will become “viral” or self-spreading. Don’t stop at posting the video online. Burn it to DVD and mail a copy to every group and organization you are trying to target for the event. For the lock-in we made a 6 minute music video and a 30 second promo ad. These can also be used at youth group meetings in the months and weeks leading up to the event. Video cameras are too cheap these days for churches not to invest in one. Basic editing software is too easy to learn. There are no excuses! Welcome to 2012.
- Use A Text Messaging Campaign: A few fun facts from iZigg.com… 96% of text messages are opened. 83% are opened within 1 hour. Over 1.5 trillion texts were sent in America alone last year, triple the same number from 2007. All three of those numbers will no doubt continue to climb. Can your e-mail or direct mail campaign do that? Hardly!! I have found that even more than Facebook, students respond to text messaging. Churches that do not use text messaging are BEHIND the curve. So churches are always behind the curve right? Maybe, but texting is not a trend that is going away and its clearly more effective than email for certain age groups. To churches who are leery about paying for one more monthly subscription or service, and who may question the wisdom of spending tithe dollars on text messaging I say “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead.” (Ephesians 5:14) (Check back in a week or so for the Top Ten Texting Services For Churches! ttyl!)
- Let Others Promote It For You: I sent out the promo DVD and Forms CD for our lock-in to the regional denominational office. The day they got the packet with the cover letter (on church letterhead) our lock-in was the first thing listed on their youth ministry page. A huge part of networking is to build relationships with people who may be in a position to help you. Are you planning a cool event at your church and want to get the word out? Go straight to the top of any regional office for organizations or denominations with which your church may be affiliated. These hard working folks have the mailing lists. Their endorsement can give your event legitimacy in the eyes of churches that may be on the fence about bringing students. Many times, they are the gate keepers for truly branching out to get good saturation as you advertise your event.
- Advertize Internally: If you have not done it already, make a checklist of ways you can advertise and promote a ministry event internally. I try and hit all bases when advertising an event. Many parents still communicate best by e-mail and phone. I ask myself, have I used the church bulletin, the monthly newsletter, the announcement slides before church, the announcement monitors in the church hallway? Have I used regular mail, a phone tree, brochures and flyers, posters around the church building, the church LED marquis, screen printed vinyl banners, promotional t-shirts, stickers, postcards, riding around in a church van with a megaphone? You get the picture. There are countless ways to advertise internally and externally.
- Face to Face invites: I’m pretty sure I already mentioned this. But just in case it didn’t sink in, 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of a personal invitation from a trusted friend.
- Giveaway a Sweet Prize: Want kids to invite their friends to your next major event? Then you shouldn’t be above bribing them to do it! Once, we gave away an LDC TV to a student for bringing the most friends to an event. When there is an incentive students get competitive. They might initially just invite friends to church to win whatever the prize is, but they’ll also learn that they won’t turn into a pumpkin if they actually invite people to church.