Five Strategies to Reach Young people at Church

I hate when this happens! It seems that every time I start speaking on a certain topic, I find someone (often Will Mancini) who is saying it so much better than I can. So, here it is:

What he said!


Where Did the Young People Go?

I hear it all the time, “We wish we had more young people in our church.” In my last post, I spoke about signs that point to a future of decline in a church. One of these is the lack of young people being developed into leaders. Actually, it isn’t just small, older congregations that have this problem. Actually some fast growing young congregations suffer from the same symptom. They aren’t developing leaders.

Developing leader means more than throwing some poor kid behind the sound board and saying “How about mixing the sound today?” Or, “You are good with computers, make us a new webpage.” What I am talking about is an intentional process of developing leaders. Churches more often use people rather than developing them. They get in this desperation spiral of trying to throw everything together every week and never develop a process.

Churches that have an ample amount of young leaders tend to have a few things in common:

1. They have a process. They take people from Point A to Point B and then to Point C. This process is repeatable and reproducible. It is written down and clear.

2. They have people who are dedicated to developing leaders. There are people whose calling is to coach or mentor – and they focus on that calling. These people aren’t overloaded with a bunch of other responsibilities.

3. They have a clearly defined outcome. They know what they are trying to achieve in a young leader’s life, and they know what it looks like when they get there. Expectations from the church to the young leader and from the young leader to the church are spelled out.

4. They develop more than skills. They are interested first in developing character and a servant’s heart, and only then in developing skills. Most churches only teach skills (Let me show you how to run the sound board).

5. They allow young leaders to try. They are willing to take appropriate risks with young leaders, knowing that sometimes they are going to fail. These churches will sacrifice Sunday morning “excellence” in order to allow “air time” for developing musicians, teachers, etc.

So the next time you ask yourself “Where did all the young people go?” many of them are at that church down the street that practices these five things. They are being stretched and challenged. They are being allowed to grow and develop. They will become bored with a church that offers them anything less. Wouldn’t you?



How Many Churches Are Dying?

I get this question a lot: Of the 63 churches you work with, how many won’t be around in five to ten years?  I was asked this again yesterday as a matter of fact. I have heard lots of people make predictions about the percentage of churches in America that will be dead in five years. What I have found is that the answer just isn’t that neat. Churches have an amazing ability to stay on life support for years as long as there is money in the bank. They tend to die very slowly.

Perhaps a better question is: How many churches are on a trajectory that will, if not reversed, eventually lead to their death? I can answer that question with more confidence. As a matter of fact, a lot of churches are on that trajectory. Here are some signs that point to this path.

1. The church members cannot articulate a clear vision for the future. They may have vague notions but not a vision. Often when I ask people what their church will look like in five years I get wishes like: more young families, more children, more youth, etc. But they don’t have a clear picture of what that would look like.

2. The church members can’t articulate a specific mission or purpose. They often answer “to spread the gospel”, or “to grow God’s Kingdom” or “to reach our community”. But nothing they do matches these vague concepts. In reality, for many people the mission of their church is to hang in there long enough to bury them. That sounds harsh, but there is some truth in it.

3. The church members cannot point to young leaders who are being developed to step into leadership roles in their church. There is no process or plan to develop the next generation of leaders. Often they will say, “I wish we had some young people to develop”. But, the reality is that even when they had young people they didn’t have a process for training them up to lead.

4. The church is surviving off of the past. As I mentioned, a lot of churches will keep on doing the same thing the same way as long as they can pay the bills. There is no sense of urgency. And, by the time things do get urgent they have depleted the resources that could help them make a turn around.

I really like a concept I read from Will Mancini about how churches look at the future The concept can be illustrated like this:

Most churches that are declining are in quadrant#1 Same Thing/Same Way.

Change will never happen in that quadrant. In fact, the only church that should operate in this quadrant is the one that is successfully growing. And even then, you can’t stay there forever. Stay tuned for more about this in another post.