Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Key To Reaching The Millennial Generation

There have been many studies and articles proclaiming how the Millennial generation (born from1984-2004) has left the church.  Our Missional Association church planters for the most part are trying to reach this generation. I think many churches can be successful attracting young married millennials but when it comes to reaching the single adult in their twenties, most are falling way short.  This is concerning because a recent PEW poll showed only 26 percent of the millennials in their 20's are married. When they were the same age, 36 percent of the Gen Xers, 48 percent of baby boomers and 65 percent of the Silent Generation were married.

What this means is that 74% are single, so if you are not reaching single adults it stands to reason you are not reaching many Millennials.  The large singles ministries of the 80's and 90's fizzled out as the baby boomers got older and most churches have abandoned specific ministries for single adults and focused only on married couples and couples with children.

I was part of that large singles ministry experience, being a pastor to single adults in Austin in the 90's.  We had over 300 singles, almost half of those below 35 years of age, attending Sunday morning classes specifically for singles. We offered specific ministries designed to meet their needs.  We started a Metro Bible study that met on a week night.  At its peak, this "singles sort of get together thing" as we called it, had over 700 singles on any given Tuesday night.

Ministry was incredible with these singles because they had the energy, enthusiasm, and time to serve God.  I loved to take a team of 16-20 singles each summer on mission trips to churches in small towns in other states.  We would host sports camps for youth and teenagers and share the Gospel to kids who probably had never been around young singles who were passionate and excited about God.  Most all the young men and women in their town had left when it was time to go to college and seldom returned and the only Christians these kids saw were adults the age of their parents or older.  So our young singles made an incredible impact on these kids, loving on them and sharing the Gospel.  Our church also benefitted tremendously from their energy and passion, as they served in the different ministries of the church.

But somewhere along the way, churches lost their zeal to reach singles.  Maybe they didn't see their value. Perhaps it was because most pastors are married with children and they don't really understand singles and don't see their value to the church. They are much more comfortable with families and so their programming and sermons are directed toward families with children.  The perception is that singles don't tithe and they come with so much baggage.

One of the singles that served with me when I was a singles minister has remained single. He confided to me that it is really difficult for him to go to church nowadays. He feels like a fifth wheel and there just doesn't seem to be anywhere he fits in.  He said, "people think I am gay and I have to overcome that stigma everywhere I go". This is a very talented man who has been in ministry and could do amazing ministry in the church. But he is often ignored because he is not married.

I also run into countless young singles in businesses in which I am chaplain, through Marketplace Ministries. Most of them do not go to church, yet most will say they have faith in God. They have all kinds of excuses but I get the feeling that if someone would offer to pick them up and take them, they'd go.

New churches could do well to target the millennial singles. And so many of them need the community, structure and relationship with Christ that they'd find in your church.  But to reach them you'll need to be strategic:
Recruit a single adult to lead the ministry.
Instead of hiring a married pastor with children to lead the ministry like many pastors do, look for a young Christian single who is outgoing and a networker. A single adult leader will have much more time and involvement with singles than a married pastor. Whether you pay them or make them a staff member depends on your budget. You could also recruit a core team of singles to lead the ministry. Whether one leader or a team, provide them with some resources, give them a vision for what could happen and the freedom and encouragement to build a community of single adults that will reach out to other singles.
  • Involve them in ministry.  Encourage them to serve in all areas of ministry in your church. Recruit them.  Ask them to serve.  
  • Create Single Adult Missional Communities. Missional groups larger than your typical 10-12 person life group work better for single adults. These groups focus on missions and community and growth. New singles to the group provide energy and excitement. You want to always be growing and serving together. 
  • Preach and teach and provide ministries about issues that are relevant to singles.  For example, when I was Singles minister I would hold a Single Mom's Expo each year and invite single moms from all over the city.  It was a Saturday designed to pamper the single mom, to make her feel special. We provided childcare (a VBS experience), would serve them lunch, and have a speaker that would give them practical and spiritual advice and encouragement. We collected lightly worn clothing from the congregation and set up a clothing store where the single moms would get to pick out clothing they could wear to work. We put on a fashion show with our single ladies modeling clothes that had been donated. And I had tons of door prizes donated from merchants in the community. We invited them to come to church the following day and introduced them to singles in our ministry.  At the end of the day many of the ladies would be in tears, walking out with a bundle of clothes and feeling inspired. 
The single adult is a big percentage of our population that the church has ignored. Any church that values singles, provides space, resources and time for them will reach them.

Read more what the millennials are looking for in a church here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bike secrets to the abundant life in Christ

I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend who shared with me that he was having difficulty trusting God.  Does it surprise you that someone who often preached on the topic of grace was afraid to release control and trust God? Yes, pastors, theologians and regular believers, we all have issues. On one hand, letting go and trusting God may be one of the most difficult things to do. Yet, on the other, it is also the key to experiencing the abundant life that Jesus came to give us!
We all can accept an idea as being true but our struggle is moving from head knowledge to heart, from embracing to embodying the truth. This is where the rubber meets the road.  Truth is not worth much if we can't or don't apply it to our lives.  My pastor friend knew the truth, he just didn't or for various reasons, couldn't trust God enough to put his life in God's hands and live it out.

The big question for all Christians is how do I actually "pick up my cross and follow Jesus"?  I've discovered that as I attempt to live out this life in Christ, the depth of this new experience is incredibly difficult to comprehend.  It's like jumping into the ocean and being told to discover what's on the bottom.  Where do I begin and how do I accomplish this? How do I live by and in God's grace and not do this life on my own?

The wonderful thing I've learned over time is that I don't have to discover it all or do it all, over night. I can relax and learn from God as I pray, read and study his word allowing God to shape Me.  Begin to take your steps as a baby would learning to walk. Don't allow yourself to slip into shame and guilt of the performance lifestyle that our culture demands. You don't have to measure up to God.  He is our standard but Jesus has taken your place and He will help you live the life He has for you.  

One of my favorite poems gives us another wonderful picture of this life in Christ: 

A Tandem Ride With God
I used to think of God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn't really know Him.

But later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Jesus was in the back helping me pedal. I didn't know just when it was He suggested we change, but life has not been the same since I took the back-seat to Jesus, my Lord. 

He makes life exciting. When I had control, I thought I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at break-through speeds; it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it often looked like madness, He said, "Pedal!" 

I was worried and anxious and asked, "Where are you taking me?" He laughed and didn't answer and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. And when I'd say, "I'm scared", He'd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord's and mine. And we were off again. He said, "Give the gifts away; they're extra baggage, too much weight." So I did, to the people we met, and I found in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He'd wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus.

And when I'm sure I just can't do any more, He just smiles and says... "Pedal."
(Author unknown)

I love the poem because it gives such a wonderful picture of grace. Jesus is in control of the direction, yet I'm pedaling!  He doesn't want me just being an observer. But Jesus is pedaling also, providing the power.  

As you dive into the deep "grace life" of Jesus Christ, as you allow Him to pedal, you'll discover many riches.  These are some that I have found or experienced, that I believe are available to all who choose to follow Christ, some we may experience right away, while others may take longer.  I pray you are experiencing these and more.  
  • You will discover a new purpose for living, so much greater than living for self.
  • You will be able to rest comfortably knowing that you don't have to have control of people and all things in your life.
  • You will begin to make choices that benefit others more than yourself, loving people, not using them for your benefit. 
  • You will swim against the stream, bucking the trend of popularity, power, and the materialistic life our culture promotes.
  • You will be able to face your fears and not be afraid to fail. 
  • You will begin to choose to risk pain and suffering over security and comfort.
  • When you put your head on your pillow at night, you will rest in peace, not anxious and worried about what may happen the next day, month or year.  
  • You will be excited about what each new day brings and look forward to the adventure that Christ has prepared for you.
  • You will begin to love God and live out the principles and truths that you preach or teach.
  • You will understand grace more and more and yet you'll discover that the ocean of God's love and grace is deeper and wider than you ever imagined.  
What other tangible riches of His abundant life have you experienced?

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