This post was originally written for KidzMatter Magazine and published in the January-March 2017 edition.
I was a youth pastor for 20 years before our church adopted a NextGen model and I became the NextGen Pastor. The transition has been challenging but totally worth it! Along the way, Reggie Joiner’s “Six Roles of a NextGen Leader” has been extremely helpful to me. You can read about them and more about it means to be a NextGen Pastor in my blog post titled “What is a NextGen Pastor?” Here, I’d like to dive in a little deeper and get more specific about some do’s and don’ts that I’ve learned in my own journey into NextGen Ministry.
Get everyone on the same page
Work with your team to develop a common set of values. One mistake NextGen Leaders can make is to not put in enough groundwork here. Common values lead to common culture, common strategies, and common results. We’ve adopted the six values outlined in “Playing for Keeps” by Reggie Joiner, Elizabeth Hansen, and Kristen Ivy. These values influence every aspect of our NextGen ministry from preschool to young adults.
Work with your team to adopt common strategies. We’ve adopted several strategies that span the age groups. Here are just a few of them.
- Small groups. Every kid, student, and young adult is in a small group. Every ministry environment includes small groups.
- Every primary leader commits to serving weekly. And they do! While some “helpers” are on a rotation, most of our primary leaders commit to their ministry weekly.
- Encouraging an adoptive form of discipleship, we ask every leader in all age groups to follow their small group upward for as many years as possible. And they do! Some of our leaders have been with their kids for 10 years or more.
- All age groups follow a curriculum. We use Orange’s First Look, 252 Basics, and XP3 for both Middle School and High School. This helps with our planning and improves communication with our leaders.
- Retention is our “wildly important goal” for all ages this year.
The hardest part is to get all your volunteer leaders on the same page. This is especially true across the age groups. If you’re not intentional about aligning your team, you’ll end up with everyone going in different directions. Some might want to use a stations model. Some might want to use a classroom model. Some might use a small group model. Others might want a large group model and see themselves as just helpers. This is not only an alignment nightmare; it’s also confusing for your kids and families.
Misalignment comes naturally. Your job is to get everyone on the same page.
Try to get ahead and stay ahead of your team
This means you need to really get control of your own calendar and schedule. You have to schedule in your own balcony time to work “on it” not “in it.” Read books about leadership, staff and team development, children, youth, and young adult ministry, etc.
This means you have to organize your meetings with purpose. I have weekly, sometimes daily, check-ins and biweekly tactical meetings with my directors. Quarterly, we have 3-hour strategic meetings with our alignment team, which includes a couple of lay people. We have a quarterly off-site review, which includes our Marriage and Family Pastor. Annually, we have a NextGen and Family staff retreat for 2-3 days to map out our big rocks and plans for the year.
I’m learning to plan these meetings in advance. You can’t just show up and see where the meeting goes, or expect to be able to recall in the moment what you need to talk about. You have to be ready with a plan. To stay ahead of your team, you have to stay ahead of your calendar.
Don’t empower without accountability or delegate without authority
Delegating responsibility and empowering others is an essential part of leading a NextGen ministry. However, it’s a mistake to completely release something without maintaining some rhythm of engagement and accountability for the person to whom you’ve empowered to lead. I know too many leaders who have taken the easy way out and have completely released areas of ministry that are not of personal interest to them. The problem is that empowerment without accountability leads to misalignment. On the other hand, I don’t know anyone who enjoys being responsible for something without having authority over it. Your staff and key leaders will want to know that they have a say in how things look in their ministry. They need to have some ownership of it.
Admittedly, I’m still trying to find the balance between empowerment and accountability; delegation and authority. I’m just really thankful for a competent and gracious team and their patience with me as their leader.
Cultivate the culture
Here’s a big one. The NextGen Leader has to learn how to cultivate culture. For example, recruitment will be exhausting for your staff if you don’t cultivate a church wide culture of service, investment in the next generation, and long-term commitments to weekly ministry. They’re going to be stuck in the gerbil wheel filling slots every year if you don’t cultivate that culture.
Parent Cues, Home Front Weeklies, and Family Fridges won’t work if families don’t have rhythms built into their family culture that allow for these resources to be used. It’s a mistake to think that your take home resources will ever get used if you don’t first cultivate these rhythms in your families’ cultures.
Small groups will never catch on in your ministry if you don’t cultivate a culture of adoptive discipleship among your leaders.
The list could go on. The point? You can never assume that your people will just catch on. You have to cultivate the culture.
Support all age groups equally
Some NextGen Leaders make the mistake of focusing on their favorite age group while their staff focuses on the other age groups. NextGen Leaders must champion all age groups equally. A mistake I could find myself easily making is to never spend any time in our kid ministry. In fact, it’d be easy for our entire team to conclude that our kidmin director focuses on kid ministry, our student director focuses on student ministry, and I focus on young adult ministry. Seems natural! But that wouldn’t be NextGen Ministry and I wouldn’t be a NextGen Leader. While I may be the primary leader for our young adult ministry, I must remain balanced in supporting all age groups and their teams, developing them and advocating for them equally.
I’ll end with one more “Do”. Actually, it’s more of a plea.
Think Young Adults
In my humble opinion, NextGen Ministry should include ministry to college students and young adults. The reality is that today’s young adults think and live more like high school students than older adults. All the research I’ve read shows that adolescence has become fully extended into the mid-twenties. I think the church’s drop out rate among young adults has less to do with what we’re doing wrong in youth ministry and more to do with what we’re not doing in young adult ministry. Young adult ministry is hard and there’s no money it. But they need us to reach out to them.