This article by Aaron Summers, pastor of First Baptist Church in Crowley, TX first first appeared at Lifeway Research.
As a new school year approaches, many church leaders seek church members who can serve in the church. In a Lifeway Research study of Protestant churchgoers, 66% said they did not volunteer for a charity (ministry, church, or non-ministry) in the last year. Could the gap between desire and action stem from our failure to trust younger generations to serve and lead? One Gen Z churchgoer grieved their experience of the church wanting Gen Z present but not recruiting students to serve.
Are you considering the whole church in your recruiting strategy? What is the unwritten required age to serve in your church? We all have one. We are missing opportunities when we don’t recruit students to serve. If students are old enough to choose Christ, they are old enough to serve. Ephesians 4 does not establish age limits. The Holy Spirit gives every believer a gift to use in service in the church. Here are four considerations for your church this season.
Adopt a youth-now mindset
Our church began recruiting students to serve two years ago. We’ve used the phrase “the youth are the future of the church” for far too long. They are the church of today. Believers are a part of the body of Christ now and need to be recognized as such. One student at our church says he feels more connected with worship since he has begun serving in the worship band. “Serving on the worship team pushes me to improve my faith and character,” he said. “I don’t want to be the guy who acts like a saint on Sunday but acts horribly the rest of the week.”
Gen Z is capable of serving now. Churches recruiting students are finding great passion and energy. One student said, “It’s important for the people to know students are willing and ready to help.” Another student reflected, “My greatest fear is upsetting an older person about my desire to step up and be a leader.” Could the lack of connection in service be a primary cause for the high dropout rate among high school graduates? One student commented, “Serving allows me to grow in a skill I could pursue in college and also professionally. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.”
Seek them out
Pastors call for salvations, rededications, and membership, but how often is there an invitation for those God calls into ministry? One student said it was important they sense support from church members. She has little musical background but a passion for worship and leading others to worship.
Gen Z is excited to serve and feels more spiritually satisfied when they are asked to serve. One student said, “I feel called to ministry and have the chance to serve and lead in children’s ministry and worship. Being able to lead children on the platform and classroom is my time to practice and prepare for ministry.”
In their book Calling Out the Called, Scott Pace and Shane Pruitt discuss the importance of recruiting students who are called to ministry. Staff members should be more aware of those they lead and their callings to service and ministry. Pace and Pruitt argue the reason is simple: “While there is a universal calling for all believers, there is also a unique calling for each individual disciple.”
Help every believer discover what they can do
“We are called to serve God with our gifts and talents,” one student shared. “Allowing me to incorporate my passions and strengths in service opens the minds of church members to a greater potential.” Since we started recruiting students, I now look at our students differently. I want them to serve for their spiritual benefit.
One student expressed a concern that church people assume kids and students are not capable or qualified for service yet. We discovered so many talents among our students. A fantastic by-product is the passion and energy they put into their work. There’s a second grader in our church who regularly stands with me after worship and greets people as they exit worship. Teenagers serve instrumentally and vocally in worship or on our sound and video team. And a couple children sing in our worship choir. One recent graduate said, “Serving has an impact on me because it allows me to use the God-given gifts to serve, which goes beyond the classroom.” Recruiting students to serve in the church is a joy and privilege.
Give on-ramps to service
When recruiting students, it is essential to provide on-ramps to service. A second grader may not be able to teach a class, but they can read Scripture. We regularly incorporate our children and youth in leading prayers and reading Scripture during worship. However, older students should be considered to serve on ministry teams. This is a priceless training ground. Once they become adults, service—rather than simply attendance—will be standard for them.
Churches need to provide clear paths for students. “Students like me want opportunities to serve but don’t understand the pathways,” one student commented. “They are waiting and ready.” Another shared they “feel more useful to the church when serving. I believe I am supposed to bring value to the church. Service is important to me.”
There are currently six generations attending church. Sadly, only two to three generations do the bulk of the work. Gen Z is ready and able to serve. Recruiting students for the work of the ministry should be a high priority on every church’s to-do list.
It’s important to see all generations serving together. When all generations serve together, the church will have more longevity because of the relationships built. In today’s world, 16-year-olds drive, 17-year-olds work, and 18-year-olds serve our country. What is stopping them from serving in the church?