Reaching Gen Z Through Building Discipleship-Focused Relationships

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Is it just me, or does the world teenagers are growing up in seem to be getting more and more challenging with each passing season? I know – what a depressing way to start an article. But here’s the thing: If you’re taking time to read this, you’ve also got a heart for pointing the next generation to Jesus.

So how can we help teenagers know Jesus better? Relationships.

According to recent studies, teenagers today – despite having virtual access to people and places around the world at any time – are the loneliest generation on record. This same study revealed that at the beginning of the pandemic, 60% said they felt very isolated and alone (The State of Religion & Young People: Relational Authority | Springtide Research Institute | 2020).

With this loneliness, we’re seeing that the way teenagers trust authority has also changed. Again, according to the study by the Springtide Institute, teenagers now need “relational” authority in their lives. Relational authority is defined as young people needing to feel cared for before they can be receptive to the influence of others in their lives. Believing this is true, this means that one of the most important ways we will reach this next generation is through intentional discipleship-focused relationships.

Adults, this means it’s time we step up. Just having a couple of adults that are willing to lead our youth ministry may not be enough. We’re going to need authentic Christ followers that are willing to get to know this next generation and help mentor them and disciple them in what it means to follow Jesus. And when we have those adults step up, how can we start to build discipleship-focused relationships?

Here are a few ideas on how we can make this happen:

Pray for them by name and specific needs.

A great place for your church to start would be to develop an intentional prayer strategy to pray for the next generation in your church. It would be great if you could do this by praying for your children and teenagers by name when appropriate and maybe even sharing appropriate prayer requests for those students. Imagine a moment where a teenager in your church meets someone who has been praying for them by name.

Volunteer in children and youth.

As I write this article for Alabama, my in-laws come to mind (shout-out to Grandy & Pappy) who live in Alabama and attend a Southern Baptist church. I believe there is a generation of older church members who can still step up and pour into the lives of teenagers. I get it – sometimes it’s easy to believe that we’re too old to be cool to teenagers. Trust me when I tell you that some of the most impactful youth leaders I know are, um, let’s just say, seasoned.

Get to know them.

Have conversations with them about things they’re going through. Meet needs when the opportunity arises. Share personal struggles (in an appropriate way, of course) and life with them. Attend one of their extracurricular activities or sporting events.

Spend time with your group outside of your normal meeting time.

If you’re reading this and you’re already leading a group of teenagers in a small group or Sunday School type setting, this is HUGE. Spending time together with your group outside of your normal meeting time can really go a long way in developing relational authority-type relationships.

Remember it’s ok not to know everything.

Ask a teenager! One of the best tips I can give you is to believe it’s ok not to know or understand everything about the world of teenagers. It’s okay. Teenagers will respect you a whole lot more for being authentic than trying to fake it. This will go a long way towards developing great relationships.

Don’t give up.

Commit with me today to not give up on this next generation. Again, this generation is growing up in some of the most morally challenging days we’ve ever faced. If we’re to believe Scripture, this may not get better until Jesus’ return. Let us continue to cheer this generation on and step up for them by getting to know them. And most importantly, pray for them and opportunities you can have to point them to Jesus.

Chris Trent serves as the NextGen catalyst at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, having recently wrapped up almost 17 years as the middle school and student pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist in Marietta, Georgia.

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