Quite frankly, it’s easy for a lead pastor to neglect the NextGen ministry. As long as volunteers are in place for the nursery and teachers are in the classrooms for children, we lead pastors tend not to dedicate much time to this area of the church. If the students are not causing ripples with the adults, everything must be going smoothly, right? The next generation of the church deserves more from you. Your NextGen staff deserves more from you. Your NextGen volunteers deserve more from you.
In a healthy congregation, those under 18 years of age will account for about 25% of the church. If your church reflects the broader demographics of the United States, then one in four people in your church will be a minor.
Lead pastors are called to shepherd the entire congregation, not just the adults. Neglecting NextGen ministry means you are neglecting about a third to half of your congregation (if you include parents and guardians). Whether you shepherd a smaller congregation in which volunteers lead NextGen ministry, or whether you shepherd a large church with multiple staff people in these areas, you can lead by showing your support.
Listen more, assume less. Most lead pastors have limited experience with student ministry and even less experience with children’s ministry. Don’t assume all is great simply because you haven’t noticed any drama for a few months. Don’t assume chaos simply because three parents approached you with complaints. Take the time to listen, especially to your staff who lead NextGen. Lead pastors tend to jump to conclusions more quickly with NextGen ministry than with any other area of the church. Listen more and assume less.
Offer praise from the platform. Worship pastors get a lot of props because they are on the stage every week. Mission endeavors are highlighted during worship services. Lead pastors control the power of the pulpit. However, the NextGen ministry is often forgotten in worship. The children’s pastor and student pastor do not usually have the opportunity to speak about their ministries to the entire congregation. Give them platform time in worship services. Be intentional about encouraging them in worship services.
Push for a better budget. Churches take pride in giving a lot to missions. They should. Worship pastors are particularly adept at negotiating increases to their budgets. I cannot blame them. However, children and students tend to lose during the budget process. Why? It’s simple. Children and students do not have a voice at budget meetings. When have you ever brought a child or a student into these meetings? Likely never. Sure, the student pastor and children’s pastor are there. But it’s not the same as hearing from those directly impacted by the ministry. Lead pastors can serve the NextGen ministry by being an advocate during the budget process.
Nurture a culture of safety, not secrecy. Your children’s pastor and student pastor cannot create this culture alone. They need your help. Take the lead and make it a policy to report all abuse allegations. Don’t wash your hands concerning issues of safety. And you should not encourage NextGen ministry areas to keep matters of abuse quiet. One of the primary responsibilities of a lead pastor is to nurture the culture of a church. Your church will never have a culture of safety without your direct involvement.
Encourage multi-generational opportunities. Lead pastors should work with the NextGen ministry to create opportunities for every generation to serve and fellowship together. If every mission trip is age-segmented and every fellowship is categorized by life stage, the church is creating a hole in the discipleship process.
Create systems and structures that break down silos. Clean handoffs between preschool, children, and students should exist. Families should not feel like their fourth-grader and ninth-grader are in different ministry paradigms. Rarely do student pastors and children’s pastors naturally work together to break down ministry silos apart from the involvement of the lead pastor. More typically, they cut deals with volunteers and budgets. Like a pick-up game of basketball, the children’s pastor and student pastor will go back and forth, selecting the most capable servants. Usually, the lead pastor has to build systems and structures that open discipleship pathways. Without a comprehensive system for the entire church, the student and children’s ministry will likely remain in silos.
Lead pastor involvement in NextGen ministry is more important than ever. One hundred years ago, the life expectancy of an infant was about 50 years. Only two generations existed in congregations, with a handful of grandparents. Today, people live longer, and many churches have five generations to bridge. Every lead pastor should find ways to support NextGen ministry. Nobody wants to be micromanaged, but I imagine most NextGen servants would welcome the encouragement.
This article was written by Sam Rainer and originally published at churchanswers.com on June 8. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer