There is a dichotomy that exists in the world around young people, which unfortunately exists within the church.
Young people are the “future,” but we treat them and view them as less-than, not fully realized people, so they get relegated to the sidelines until they are ready to contribute.
Now, I am writing this to a group of people who absolutely VALUE the next generation; as influencers of Gen Z people, you get it. I also recognize that this is not the norm in all churches or organizations. But the unfortunate truth is that this is the norm in most places. Teachers are underpaid, youth ministries are under-resourced, and burnout among those who sacrifice so much for these up-and-coming individuals is too real and too high. We must do better.
The church is the one place where every generation is represented and learning together. Yet, in so many of them, this unique opportunity is still separated into small silos where everyone can just be themselves in the echo chambers of kids, youth, and adult ministries.
I think about the disservice we are doing long-term to the church as we continue to live in this model. I am not here advocating for the “just put ‘em all together and let the Spirit sort it out” type of concept. There needs to be strategy, relevance, and contextualization in all the areas to help the Gospel stick. But, we are far behind the eight ball in adapting and innovating for the church’s future.
As those who engage with young people regularly, you recognize the need for a different approach. This generation wants to engage in conversation, ask questions and get answers. They want to wrestle with the very nature of what truth is and come out with a better understanding of how to live and apply that truth to their lives.
They are questioning the status quo of what church and society are about, and they believe that those who can do something to change things for the better should. We can’t assume that these intrinsic values will go away once they are adults. So, as we look at our churches, how are we preparing for this generation to be in the seats, raising their children?
I have been in youth ministry for over a decade now; that milestone came and went this year with the birth of our second son (a medically complex miracle of a little guy). But it’s dawned on me that I have done little to nothing to move the needle in this area. Sure, there is a healthy ministry, sure there are engaged volunteers, and like most, I have made many mistakes and learned from them over the years. But what have I done to make the Church more forward-thinking? Have I helped them view young people as the church now? If I’m honest, not really.
I always thought I would be in youth ministry forever, but I have realized that God has something different for me. I think it is to not just bring about more awareness to the young people at our church but dramatically shift the structure of how we do church to be building the church of the future.
As someone regularly influencing the next generation, what are some ways you can start to partner with others in your church to make room for youth?
How can you help your community see young people as the complex and beautiful wonders that God made them be?
They need to know the value they bring to the church NOW, not just as something to be excited about, but that we are seeing them drive God’s kingdom forward.
Cody Kiwaczyk is the Youth Pastor at Alive Church in Tucson, Arizona.