By Randy C. Davis
TBC Executive Director
Okay, be sure to pay attention here. This first part could be a little confusing.
“Z” is not “Y,” and both “Z” and “Y” are certainly not “X.” No, this isn’t algebra; it is the generational alphabet soup. As a member of the Boomer Generation, I’m just glad I wasn’t assigned to a letter. I think I’d be confused bobbing around with all the other letters.
I’m not the only confused Boomer, however. A lot of us are. We look at our tech-savvy kids and grandkids in Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z (Homelanders) and we don’t really see any difference. Both groups know more about how to set up my iPhone than I do. However, there are big differences and we need to strategically get a handle on how to reach each with the gospel, especially Gen Z.
You may think, “Wait a minute. You’re rushing off and forgetting about the Millennials.” I’m not. Yes! Minister to and evangelize Millennials. However, the truth is the church has reacted much too slowly to Millennials and that demographic’s youngest members are about to leave home for work and college.
Let’s not continue making the same mistake with Generation Z (and at the end of this column I’m going to offer an idea that has proven effective). We can’t afford to let anymore years pass as the oldest children in this group are now about 13 or 14 years old.
Did you know that the size of Generation Z, mostly born after 9/11, already exceeds the Millennial generation? Gen Z is currently 25.9 percent of the U.S. population, which is nearly two percent more than Millennials and 10 percent more than Gen Xers. Believe it or not, Gen Z is already bigger than Baby Boomers by more than 2.5 percent.
Here’s why we need to intensify our outreach to Gen Z. Statistically, fewer than one in 10 of these children will wind up churched. Let that sink in. Ninety percent of these precious children will be spiritually lost. Couple this with the inward turn of too many of our churches and we have a recipe for disaster. Our 2014 Annual Church Profile revealed a decrease in enrollment, decisions, and prospects. That is unacceptable. We are at a moment in history that we have living among us an entire generation that could be marked by spiritual indifference and spiritual lostness. Are we going to allow it to happen?
Here’s a suggestion and it isn’t the Silver Bullet you may have been expecting. It is Vacation Bible School and Backyard Kids Clubs. Too often we want to grab the latest and greatest fad coming down the ministry pike that guarantees growth. Don’t do it. We don’t want to add people; we want to make disciples and these two ministry approaches are staples in reaching children and their families for Christ.
We as Tennessee Baptists have affirmed the Five Objectives that outline Kingdom goals we’d like to see God reach through us over the next nine years. The first of those is to see 50,000 people a year be saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship. That’s a huge number that actually just keeps up with the projected population growth in our state.
Vacation Bible School has traditionally been held at a church and despite what some say, is still an extremely relevant ministry. Backyard Kids Clubs gets the church body beyond the walls and into communities. My recommendation: Do both! I recently had breakfast with a pastor whose church was hosting a VBS for more than 900 kids but they were also going off-site — to 22 locations — around the city to take VBS to people in communities who would never come to their church.
Here are five ideas to keep in mind to ensure that gospel seeds are planted in the lives of the children God entrusts to you.
(1) Prayer and know your purpose. Okay, that’s two, but they go together. Saturate everything in prayer including for the children who will come and their families. Then, be intentional. Churches say the purpose of their VBS is to win children to Christ but their plans often don’t reflect that.
(2) Planning, enlisting, and training your workers. Go beyond making sure your workers know how to do the craft. Prepare them to keep the purpose in view. The purpose should run through every aspect of planning, enlisting, and training workers.
(3) Publicity to church and community — especially community. Plan your publicity well in advance so it isn’t an add-on. There is so much competing for a child’s time during the summer these days. What are you doing to make sure you get this on people’s calendars, especially if you’re getting out to people who don’t have contact with your church.
(4) Register participants. Obvious, but often overlooked, especially when there are a number of “walk ups.” Every person matters, which is why you need to register them.
(5) Continue the connection. This is the root difference between an event and a ministry. If we don’t follow up and build relationships then you’re just generating activity and not effectively making disciples. We don’t want on-off decisions. We want to see people spiritually growing and thriving.
It is easy to get confused by all the generational-speak going around these days, but here is one thing that isn’t confusing. Everyone needs to hear the gospel, and a great place to begin is with the children that Jesus was so quick to have come sit on His knee.
It’s a joy to be on this journey with you.