Commentary: Generation next is generation now


I remember hearing the late Michael Catt, long-time pastor of Sherwood Baptist in Albany, Ga., say many times, “Whoever wants the next generation the most will get them.” That quote has resonated with me for years and especially now.

Who comes to mind when you hear or think, “next generation?” Maybe it’s one of the named generations — Gen X, Y, Z, Alpha, and so on. Maybe you think about the kids and students in your own church and community. Maybe you think about your own children and grandchildren.

With those faces and stories in mind, consider Catt’s quote again — whoever wants to reach those young people the most is who will get them. It’s a startling statement that should impact our lives and our leadership.

Every year, surveys and statistics tell us all sorts of things about what people believe and what they prioritize and how they engage or don’t engage with churches. One statistic that has been consistent for many years now has been our declining effectiveness in reaching the next generation. But it doesn’t mean the next generation is not being reached.

Travel and school sports are reaching them. Social media is certainly reaching them. All types of entertainment are reaching them. Iconic celebrities and stars are reaching them. The list goes on.

Whoever will prioritize and intentionally pursue reaching them will get them. The world is doing it. Are we?

In our Acts 2:17 listening sessions and surveys, we heard an overwhelming and consistent passion to reach the next generation. 

We heard families and churches are struggling to navigate the ever-increasing challenges their students and kids are facing. We heard a burden to reach the most vulnerable and at-risk children and youth through adoption, foster care and compassion ministry. We heard the challenge of a broken and dried up ministerial pipeline. We simply are not seeing the same numbers of young people answering a call to prepare for ministry as we have in the past.

I’m so glad Tennessee Baptists sounded the alarm and so powerfully declared our desire to reach, disciple and equip the next generation. Several of our Acts 2:17 workgroups are giving concerted, focused effort to dream and develop fresh ways to equip our churches to meet the needs that we heard so clearly from you.

We want there to be no doubt that Tennessee Baptists want to reach the next generation the most! Not only am I encouraged by how you shared with such clarity and passion, I am also encouraged by what I am hearing and seeing in our churches and campus ministries across the state. Churches and campus ministries that are prioritizing the next generation are making an impact and seeing success. At Forest Hills, we are seeing incredible growth from preschool through young adults, especially in college ministry. Here’s what we are seeing:

The next generation is hungry for truth. They want to be equipped with truth that is more stable than the passing fads and trends culture continues to present to them. Churches that are reaching the next generation are clearly preaching and teaching the Bible and helping the next generation learn, answer questions, and apply biblical truth to their everyday lives.

The next generation is hungry for community. They are weary of fickle relationships that change on a dime. They are hungry for family because so many have grown up in broken homes or maybe are far away from home. I’m blown away by how many college students are going through our membership process to join our church! Churches that are reaching the next generation are valuing relationships with them, mentoring them, and walking with them as family.

The next generation is hungry for purpose. At times it seems like this might not be true, but what we are seeing and what I am seeing and hearing across the state is that when we show the next generation how they can make a difference in the mission of God, they are “all in.” Churches that are reaching the next generation are giving them places to serve in the church, opportunities to serve on mission trips, and opportunities to serve in Fintern-type roles as they explore potential vocational calling.

I believe God is moving in the next generation and He is moving in our churches and campus ministries. We have before us a huge opportunity to reach, disciple, train and send the next generation, and we are seeing examples of it happening. 

Let’s keep pursuing the next generation because whoever wants them the most will get them! 


Jay Hardwick is pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville, and president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in the Baptist and Reflector.