Reaching the next generation: the why and the how

QUITMAN — As a counselor for Penfield Christian Homes for 25 years, Dallas Bennett saw the legacy of "playing church." "I talked to a lot of guys who said they grew up in church. They went to Sunday School and all that stuff. They had stories about people in leadership doing something bad and hurting their trust."
Churches like Pauline Baptist near Quitman are signing on to ministering to students through materials available at
Left to right are Shannon Thompson, Ragan Bailey, youth leader Adam Greene, Harlee Lassiter(kneeling), Ansley Griffin, Mackenzie Lassiter, Lacie Benefield, Chasity Griffin, and Mary Beth Lassiter. ADAM GREENE/Special
Those conversations stayed with Bennett through him entering his first-time pastorate, Pauline Baptist Church, a year-and-a-half ago. They registered the importance of having healthy children's and student ministries that go beyond "playing church" and building up the future through discipleship, evangelism, missions, and relationships. Last November at the Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting, the presentation of Reaching Next Gen piqued Bennett's interest. In the past at Penfield, he'd witnessed what can happen without a growing relationship with Christ. At present, he sees children and students at PBC learning about God, but the church needing to expand its outreach. Now, he wants to be proactive in shaping the future. "I thought was great and would be really cool for our church to buy in," he says. "I presented it to our student ministry leaders and they were fired up about it."

Where to start?

Church leaders feeling the same way as Bennett can begin their journey at for resources and videos, says Steve Parr. "The full strategy – including background, how to involve your congregation, and how you can be more effective at reaching kids, teens, and post-high school young adults – can be seen there," Parr, Georgia Baptist Mission Board state missionary, points out. "This initiative came from the heart of Executive Director J. Robert White," he adds. In his role, Parr will lead staff in developing and implementing the strategy through its culmination in 2020. Videos on the home page of introduce the basics of the emphasis. Churches are also encouraged to register, though its not required to implement the strategy. Under an "Overview" tab, six videos viewed in succession further explain the the emphasis. Four steps, in particular, are brought to the forefront:
  1. Select your future course: This helps churches tailor the plan to their own ministry dynamics.
  2. Self-evaluation: Churches give an honest assessment of where their needs lie.
  3. Seven Sundays of Focus: Churches are encouraged to devvote seven consecutive Sundays of prayer for reaching the next generation.
  4. Strategic action plans: Be proactive. Get it written down. Put things in motion.

Finding focus

A former student pastor himself, Parr co-wrote Why They Stay with fellow Georgia Baptist state missionary Tom Crites. The book, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, LifeWay, and other stores, explores why students stay involved in church after high school. Reaching Next Gen, he says, is created to fit a church's target area. Children, teenagers, and those just out of high school whether in college or not – referred to as "C-Bridge" – all need to be reached. However, congregations can feel a desire to focus their efforts on one in particular. "The full strategy," Parr testifies, "includes background, how to involved your congregation, and how you can be more effective at reaching. "Hundreds of churches are already engaged. And, the strategy can be implemented by an size church at any point." From the tabs at the top of the website, churches can view how the strategy is laid out in 60-day "shifts" that correspond to that time of year. Because of that, churches can join in at any time and be on track. In addition, videos and downloadable pdfs help for each shift help further explain the steps and goals. Teens Praying for Teens from Georgia Baptist Mission Board on Vimeo.

An urgency to get involved

"Our church is over 100 years old and still chugging along," says Bennett. "But, the future is in our youth and children." Adam and Lauri Greene serve the church as volunteer, part-time student leaders. In that role for several years, they've led the group to average 10-20 active students participating in camps and community projects. In a few weeks they'll host a Valentine's Day dinner to raise money for missions. "We're in a rural area and look for creative things to do," adds Bennett. "I've been reading the Reaching Next Gen literature and some of the ideas are really interesting, especially the ones about getting involved in local schools. . "Statistics say the overwhelming majority of people get saved by the time they're 17 or 18 years old. To achieve the Great Commission, we have to reach children and youth. We need to get people saved, and into the Kingdom."
children, discipleship, evangelism, outreach, Penfield, ReachingNextGen, students, witness