I like living in my bubble. My bubble is nice. It is comfortable. It is happy. Life was good until I read, “Meet Generation Z” by James Emery White at which time my bubble burst. I thought that since I was working with elementary age kids, I should learn more about this generation. These are kids born between 1996 and 2014. Wow! What a wakeup call! I think I’d like to go back into my bubble now. Unfortunately, it does not work that way when serving the Lord.
So what did I learn? Perhaps the most startling fact was that this generation is the first true POST-Christian generation. I supposed I should not be surprised, after all, we cannot talk about God in the work place (unless you work in ministry). We cannot talk about God in schools. Our monuments tied to Christianity are no longer welcome. And then we watched evil sweep in. We cannot talk about God in school but we can teach the science of evolution. We cannot discuss God; however we can talk about accepting the homosexual lifestyle. We cannot talk about God but transgenders are welcomed into elementary schools and encouraging kids to accept this lifestyle. No, I guess I should not be surprised at this latest statistic.
This generation makes up more of the American population than Baby Boomers. This is a large group and only 4 out of 10 attend church services weekly. Today’s generation is very secularized and has little to no knowledge of the gospel. Here’s how White summarized Generation Z, “First, they are lost. They are not simply living in and being shaped by a post-Christian cultural context. They do not even have a memory of the gospel. The degree of spiritual illiteracy is simply stunning… (Second), they are leaderless. Little if any direction is coming from their families, and even less from their attempts to access guidance from the internet. So how can they be reached?”
Reaching children when we have them is one thing, but getting them to us is a whole other dilemma. Then, of course, there is keeping them focused on God as they grow and we know that parents have more influence on this than church leaders. It seems to me that yes, we need to make our children’s ministry attractive; after all, the statistics on how much a child influences decisions in the home these days is truly astonishing! None the less, we must deal with reality. Equally important to an inviting and engaging children’s ministry is a parent’s ministry.
The parents of our Gen Z kids are mainly from Generation X. We need to understand them to know what pulls at their heart string. These parents are more cautious and frugal than generations past, but are known to spend more on their kids. They want good things for their children. Most of our kids homes have two parents working outside the home so kids come home to an empty house after school every day or are enrolled in after school care. Then there’s divorce… much higher divorce rates than years past. So their kids are growing up more independent, but not necessarily learning what they ought to.
Now, we know how important their kids are to them but we also know how pressed for time they are. Parents are short on time and want to spend time with their kids so they put their kids in sports. Baseball, soccer and cheer is fun for everyone, but this means even less time for the church each week. It may appear hopeless, but let’s look closer. Parents want to be good parents. They love their kids. The church needs to teach parents what is happening to children when they are not hearing about God every day. They need to be shown them very real and scary statistics of our children growing up without expressing and showing them that God is the focal point, the priority for the family. Then we need to teach a parent how to do this. And finally, we do not need to overwhelm parents with more programs, but we do need to offer them the tools to raise kids for Christ with the church as their partner.
What tools do they want and need? Here are just a few ideas:
- Scriptural answers for why we believe in God
- Time management tips
- Prayer suggestions
- 5-minute devotional with discussion question
- Share their bible lesson from Sunday and give ways to reinforce at home
- Fun family activities that allow discussion of God
- Discussion starter questions about God for the dinner table, traveling to school, etc.
- Make counseling available. Being a parent is hard and sometimes, we just need extra help.
Remind parents of Deuteronomy 6:5-8: 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Why would God instruct us to talk about God’s commands ALL the time, at every opportunity? Are parents doing this? If parents had been doing this all along, do you think the state of America would be where it is today? Make your children’s AND parent’s ministry a priority.
Interested in reading more about Generation Z?
Feelings. We live in a time where feelings dictate behavior. And it has become acceptable in our culture. Many of our youth does not seem to feel like God meant what He said. Dress modestly? I don’t feel like it and God would want me to be happy. Sexual preferences and gender identity? I feel this way and God would want me to be happy. Worship the way God says? But I feel like God would like it this way better because I can get into the service better this other way. Love your neighbor? But he has stolen from me twice and lied about it. Surely God doesn’t mean for me to love a sinner like that? Regardless of what scripture may say, many of our youth have developed an attitude that our feelings outweigh obedience.
Yes, our awesome God wants His children to find happiness, but not happiness of the world. Not a self-centered happiness, but one with a servant’s heart. Here are just a few verses of hundreds that tell us what our God expects, and selfishness is absent.
- “The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)
- “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)
- In 1 Samuel 15:22, Samuel tells Saul that it is better to obey than to sacrifice. Our God wants obedience, yet our youth are more focused on how they believe God wants them to feel. They’ve made this life all about them, not God. So how do we turn this backwards way of thinking around?
We have a problem, now how do we fix it? It will not happen overnight, but we can teach the next generation, our children. It’s important that we teach them how much God loves them and wants a good life for them, but this good life comes with obedience. We should reinforce often God’s desire for obedience and share the many bible stories that teach this. They are everywhere! Saul grew impatient waiting for Samuel so he offered the sacrifice before going into battle and this act of disobedience cost Saul his kingdom. Yes, we could easily see how Saul justified his decision just like we often do with our own choices today, but God expects obedience. Then there is Daniel. He chose to obey, praying to God in spite of an earthly law and God closed the mouths of the lions keeping Daniel safe. We can show this point in just about every biblical account beginning with Adam and Eve. Take the time to do this and explain to our children that it is clearly not about what we feel, but what God asks of us.
Need ideas? Take a look at my curriculum (FREE) and use as is or just for ideas. (More to come.) The goal is to reach our children with the God’s Truth, teaching our kids to KNOW God, LOVE God, and SHARE God with others.
Hello! Hola! Salut! Privet! Shalom! Ciao! God Dag!
Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language? I took French in high school against my mother’s urging to learn Spanish. Living in Texas I sure wish I had listened to Mom, but I don’t know that it would have made much difference. I can’t speak but a few words and phrases in French. I’m not sure how beneficial it is to know how to formally introduce myself in French, especially if someone happened to respond; I’d have no idea what they were saying! So where am I going with this?
When learning a foreign language, the teacher always begins by teaching vocabulary… and lots of it. After months of vocabulary we start asking the teacher, “When are we going to learn to speak the language?” And the teacher kindly encourages patience and explains that we have to start with a bank of words first. Before we can do anything else, we must have a set of words to pull from. And so it continues, more vocabulary.
Building on the foundation.
After building a strong vocabulary, the teacher finally begins helping us form sentences. Even then, we continue adding to our vocabulary. And years later, we might speak fairly fluently with lots of practice, but even my friends in Advanced Spanish III still weren’t there yet. However, when immersed in the language and around natural speakers, we learn more quickly and even better. Studies show that after six months to a year of full immersion, we can speak a foreign language rather fluently! That’s a long cry from three years in school and still not really speaking it. It’s part time verses full time usage.
What on earth does this have to do with God’s word and our children’s ministry?
Well, how often these days do you see families coming to bible class about once or twice a month on average? This seems to be the norm now whereas when I was a kid, my parents had our family there every time the doors were open. It frustrated me as a kid, but my parents were immersing me in God’s word and the Christian culture. (It was more than just attending, of course. God was in our home.) Immersing ourselves in God’s word and with other Christians is like immersing oneself in another culture and language. By being around other Christians frequently and consistently we gain a better understanding of God’s plans for us, what He desires for us and what He expects of us. We will better understand who God is, our king.
First we teach children the bible stories to give them a base. This is their “vocabulary.” Then we teach them how it applies to their lives. This is the “sentence forming” phase. Then they are prepared to pull from all of this when they need it in life. They need to continue practicing it regularly so it stays fresh and strong, so they are “fluent” in the language of Christianity.
If we could help parents see the value of Christian immersion, maybe this would change attendance and involvement. If parents saw bible class as teaching their children valuable information preparing them for their future, would it matter more? I feel like parents often look at their children’s classes teaching irrelevant bible stories that don’t really help their kids. And most times if there’s a sporting event, it takes priority. On vacation? It turns into a vacation from church too, not just worship service, but the body of believers. Where are our priorities and would they be different if we realized the difference part time verses full time Christian immersion makes?
Into the hands of parents
How do we get this message to parents? Share it and consistently reinforce it! Thankfully, we have the internet! We have email and social media. How do we get the message out?
- Teach it incorporating pieces into every lesson so if someone misses one week, they hear it the next. And if they forget from week to week, they hear it again.
- Email it Send a weekly email to the parents in your congregation reviewing the lesson from the week, suggestions for reinforcing God with their kids at home during the week and then, this message! (A free MailChimp account is good for this.)
- Social Media Sharing Share tidbits throughout every week. Maybe a verse on a colorful background and a quick blurb to reinforce Christian immersion.
- Print it making a flyer or even a brochure about children’s and family ministry with a section dedicated to Christian immersion. Don’t be too wordy or it won’t get read by most.
- Signage is a great reminder. Put the idea of a Christian lifestyle at the forefront of people’s minds as they drive by your congregation, or the front yards of kids in your children’s program. Use a catchy phrase such as “What do they learn from the world?” or “Grow confident kids here.”
Now that you’ve spread the message and parents are getting the idea, what can you offer them for keeping God in the home daily? Here are just a few ideas:
- Discuss what kids learned in bible class and how they can apply it to their lives over Sunday lunch
- Pray together before school to start the day off with the right mindset and/or at the dinner table reminding kids that we are thankful.
- When disciplining kids, remind them that you love them AND God loves them. God wants them to have a good life and gave us what we need for this, but we need to obey. Share with them that when we disobey God like (give biblical example), we often run into trouble (like the biblical example). Help them see our loving God’s plan for them.
- Help kids see the good in others the way Jesus did instead of being judgmental or upset at those around them for petty thing.
- Memorize a bible verse together as a family. Choose one verse a week or even a month to focus on really putting it to memory, understanding it and seeing how it can be active in their lives. You might get a poster board and markers. Print the verse on it and let the family decorate it to hang in an area you all see daily. Make a family calendar and print a new verse for each month. Craft stores have plenty of options for this (or Amazon, my go to resource). Check out this wall calendar kit your family can have fun decorating. (This would make a great family event where you teach the families the importance of this time together with God’s word. Provide the calendars, stickers, printed verses (Large so they can cut and paste them big enough to see), markers and whatever else you can think of. Charge a small fee to cover your cost and I bet you still have a great turn out! I plan on trying this before the busy school year starts up in the fall.
It won’t happen overnight, but we can help parents see the importance of the church as a BIG part of their family life. It will take consistency and dedication! Please share some of your ideas. A group of ideas is always better than just mine!
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What you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing
“In essence,” the researcher noted, “what you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing. Of course, there are many individuals who go through life-changing experiences in which their beliefs are altered, or instances in which a concentrated body of religious teaching changes one or more core beliefs. However, most people’s minds are made up and they believe they know what they need to know spiritually by age 13. Their focus in absorbing religious teaching after that age is to gain reassurance and confirmation of their existing beliefs rather than to glean new insights that will redefine their foundations.” (Barna Group)
Are they ready to move on?
I work with elementary students and LOVE it! These are the years when they are still cute, inquisitive, think you are super cool and are still acting like themselves. Typically, they haven’t reached the stage where they have to act a certain way or do certain things to fit in and be cool. Seeing my fifth graders leave my children’s ministry program to move up to the middle school is bittersweet. Are they ready? Did I positively impact their lives with Christ?
Wait just a minute! I have to remind myself that God is working through me to reach His children. Of course they are ready! God is with them and will continue to be with them. They will need encouraging Christian teachers and role models to surround them helping them mature in their spiritual walk, but God’s got this. I’d encourage each of you to find reassurance in this too. Of course, we will continue to pray for “our” kids, but we can find peace in the knowledge that we have been God’s ambassadors, water our little seeds, but God is the one who will help them grow.
Send them forward
We love to send our kids off with a gift to help them remember who their Savior is and to be obedient to Him. A very simple idea is a rubber wristband with an inspirational word or verse. Kids love these so they will actually wear them! I got some from Amazon.com: “Walking With Jesus” Bracelet (1 DOZEN) – BULK There are tons of options. I liked the reminder that Jesus is with them every day, at every step. (Oriental Trading has them too!) Send them away with a short devotional explaining what it means to “walk with Jesus” so they will remember this each time they see their bracelet. Plus, it’s a good way to get other kids to ask them about their bracelets giving the perfect opportunity for kids to share their faith with their peers.
Other suggestions are bible journals or teen devotional books. Encourage them to keep God in their daily lives. Take God to school with them. Take God to athletics. Take God everywhere! As teachers we do our very best to help our kids make wise choices and remember their Heavenly Father! I’d love to hear some of you ideas! I often find my readers have some of the best ideas!! Post them in the comments.
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