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What Exactly Is NextGen?

Sure, it sounds like a subgenre of science fiction novels or a creative rebrand of a student ministry. But NextGen isn’t really about spaceships or youth ministry terminology. It’s far more strategic than that. Actually, NextGen is one of the fastest growing ministry movements in the local church today. NextGen is simply about the Next Generation, typically infants through high school or sometimes including college.

For the last several decades, the local church typically had a children’s ministry and a student ministry. In most cases, these two age groups were independently organized. Although both ministries usually had the same goal of reaching kids for Christ and helping them grow in faith, each ministry approached their goals and priorities on their own. In most churches, there is very little, if any, coordination between kids ministry and youth ministry. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the problems this might cause.

The family ministry movement of the last decade has done a lot to address this gap. More than ever, children’s pastors and youth pastors are doing more to collaborate. They’re seeing the value of linking their ministries together and this is a very good thing. However, ministry coordination is pretty challenging. It usually doesn’t work unless everyone wants it to work, and rarely is everyone invested unless it becomes something that is required of them. It’s easy to see why this is: churches have hired specialists who deeply care about the audience they’ve been called to reach. It’s not that youth pastors don’t want preschoolers to be successful, it’s that they’ve got their hands full with leading the student ministry.

But all of this is changing. It usually comes without warning and a church’s transition to a NextGen model is rapid. A transition to NextGen most frequently happens when there is a vacant kids’ or youth pastor position. Someone in leadership asks the question, “What if we had you lead both areas?” Often this transition is made purely from a motivation of organization and efficiency. Sometimes this transition happens by default. A position remains vacant for too long and a decision is made to combine leaders simply because they can’t afford to wait any longer to find the right person. However, sometimes we see a passionate and gifted leader who has a vision for coordinating all ministries that impact the family. This leader might seek the opportunity for reorganization within the ministry, which can be highly awkward and challenging. Regardless, the growth of the NextGen role is significant and the impact of this organizational change is significant.

  • What if busy calendars were synchronized so that families were better served by a holistic approach to events and programs?
  • What if limited staff and budget resources were shared so that both kids and student ministry could benefit?
  • What if every teenager was encouraged to serve in the children’s ministry because the student pastor believed it was significant to their spiritual growth, and every children’s pastor didn’t see teenagers as easy volunteers someone worth investing in as they serve?
  • What if both ministries realized that they had more in common than they previously knew?
  • What if both ministries began to identify efforts that were duplicated and looked for ways to share responsibilities to eliminate waste?
  • What if the kids ministry and student ministry began to align around the same outcomes for parents, volunteers and kids?

This is better, right? Although it might be messy getting to this paradigm, doesn’t this kind of ministry seem worth fighting for? This is NextGen and rarely is this level of unity achieved by two independent ministries coming together to collaborate. This level of unity and coordination happens only as a result of frequent meetings, constant vision casting and more conflict resolution than you can imagine. Not everyone is a fit for a NextGen team. Not everyone is willing to set aside their passion for something bigger. Forming this kind of ministry requires intentionality and strong leadership as team members will default to doing what’s best for their specific area—but this is NextGen. Managing this tension is part of the job, but when this is done well, something amazing happens. Kids and teenagers win! Parents win! Volunteers win! And your staff gets to be a part of something bigger than they imagined possible.

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