ReachingNextGen at EBC

My heart continues to be greatly burdened by the need we have to reach the next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  While God can save anyone, anytime, and anywhere, statistically most people come to Christ before age 19.

In a previous post I shared some thoughts on the new ReachingNextGen emphasis about to be fully unveiled by our state convention staff.  Church family, I want to share a few things about how Emmanuel has been and will continue to be impacted by this initiative.

Going back to the interim period before Brother Scotty Hayes became our student minister (late 2011), I became passionately convinced that Emmanuel needed to do better at retaining students after high school.  Previous leaders in the youth ministry had done commendable jobs but we were still seeing the typical drop-out rate when it came to our students.

Something had to change.

I knew that as a pastor, I had to become much more involved "hands on" with the student ministry.  It's not that the leaders needed my help as much as the students needed my presence.  I began to instinctively sense a truth that was later confirmed in a great book by Dr. Steve Parr and Dr. Tom Crites.  "Why They Stayed"  Namely, students who stay in church after graduation state that they had a good relationship with their pastor when they were growing up.

From that time until now I have been much more intentionally involved in the life of our student ministry. I know most of our 130-140 students on a first-name basis.  I lead the worship for them most Wednesday nights and I am the primary Bible teacher at our summer student camp.

I make a special effort to try to greet every child and every teenager each Sunday in the main services.  There's no apology: if I have a choice to greet a young person or greet an adult, the child will win every time.

We have now seen our retention rates approach 90% in the initial years after high school.

I also knew that our philosophy of ministry had to change.  During the interim months in 2011-2012 we developed a five-fold description that would characterize our student ministry.  We are committed to being

  • Biblically-based
  • Church-integrated
  • Family-focused
  • Missions-minded
  • Culturally-distinct

Each of these traits could warrant a series of posts on its own.  But I want to emphasize "church-integrated."  We have done everything possible to make sure that our ministry to children and students is free from pragmatism and closely connected to the ministry of the church while continuing to maintain age-graded ministries.

Our older students serve in various aspects of the church.  Born-again young people should be expected to serve in their own church and avoid a consumer-based mentality.  A very high percentage of our weekly outreach ministry is made of our students.  This summer they will be serving their younger peers in various positions in children's camp, VBS, and more.  Certain positions are limited by church policy but our students need to be taught to serve Jesus by serving others!

The speakers at our student events are the same speakers we use in our Sunday services.  I want to keep our children and students exposed to Bible-centered, expository preaching.  Our students have a corporate hunger for the Word and an appetite for strong Bible doctrine.

We sing the same songs on Sundays and Wednesdays.  Our music is on the contemporary side of blended.  I love watching our children and students sing great contemporary worship songs on Sundays with their church family.  And if you've never heard your student group sing All Creatures of our God and King or Man of Sorrows, What a Name then you are missing an incredible blessing.  Not to mention modern hymns like Behold, our God and O, Great God.  Our students don't know any differently than to sing old songs and new songs, void of lyrical fluff and filled with rich theology.

In short, we don't want our children and students to feel like guests in their own church.  Church leaders across the country would call this intergenerational worship and it's one of the most beautiful aspects of our church family.

Combined choir sings "Glorious Day" and
"I Got Saved" in a recent service
We hold up role models within the church for students to respect.  That's why when we talked about dating and marriage at summer camp we brought in 6 couples from our church who'd been married 40 years or more.  We want our students to know, admire, and honor the older people in their own church.

Across the state, the average Baptist church baptizes 3 children and 1 youth every year.  That's 4 baptisms for grades 1-12 in the average church.  At Emmanuel, that number has been approximately 25 per year.  That's far better than average.  But even in a town of 4,000 people we must never be apathetic or sinfully content.  We must do even more to reach this generation for Christ.

That's why in the proposed 2018 annual church budget we will not only see the largest budget in church history but the largest commitment to reaching the next generation in our 64-year history.  It will include:

  • Support for youth and college students to travel to places like Peru and Ecuador
  • Money for a Spring Break mission trip with our student choir
  • Funds for an incredible week of children's day camp and Vacation Bible School
  • Budget support for ESM Summer Camp 2018

I am convinced that the greatest days for Emmanuel are still in front of us.  And much of my passion as your pastor is going to be poured into reaching children and students for Jesus.

Emmanuel, I think you're going to be excited about the things we are about to unveil in the next few weeks.  Join me in praying as we redouble our efforts to reach the next generation.

The hour is too late, the need is too great, and the consequences are too severe to do any less.