May 24, 2018

Why Gen Z is Nervous

Gen Z is nervous.  They are experiencing more anxiety, depression and pressure than ever before.

Studies show that today's kids are 6 times more likely to have anxiety and depression than their grandparents did at their age. 

Anxiety is the leading mental health issue among American children and continues to rise.

The latest study from the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics shows that, in recent years, there has been a 20% increase in anxiety diagnoses for children ages 6 to 17.

In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA asked incoming freshman if they "felt overwhelmed" by all they had to do.  18% replied yes.  In 2000, 28% said yes.  By 2016, 41% said yes.

What is causing the rise of anxiety among kids?  Why is Gen Z nervous?

There are many factors involved.  Here are a few of them.

Social media.  Gen Z's self image is closely tied to social media.  Who is "liking" them?  Who is following them?  How many followers do they have?  What comments are they receiving?  Who is clicking on their posts?  This can create pressure for Gen Z.

And make that "constant pressure" because they constantly check their social media, in many cases non-stop throughout the day.  It's the first thing they look at in the morning and the last thing they see before they go to sleep that night.

Social media has also made bullying much more common.  Kids can already be cruel with their words in person.  But they are much more cruel online.

Living in a culture of volatility.  Lockdowns.  School shootings.  Church shootings.  Terrorism.

Places that previous generations considered safe, are now considered places of vulnerability.

Whereas previous generations walked into school anticipating learning, Gen Z walks in to school anticipating violence.

Whereas previous generations were free to roam the hallways of their church and rushed out after service (on their own) to play, Gen Z has to wait for their parents to present a security tag.  And in many cases, they walk past a police officer guarding the hallway of the children's area.

Whereas previous generations went to a movie thinking only about the movie, Gen Z is thinking about the movie and the fact that there could be a shooting take place in the theater.

Whereas previous generations went to the store looking around for toys, Gen Z is looking around for suspicious people who could be a potential terrorist.

The pressure to succeed.  Everything is measured today and kids feel an elevated pressure to succeed academically, athletically and socially. 

There's nothing wrong with competitiveness, unless it gets to the point that anxiety takes over enjoyment.  And that's what is happening for many kids.

Pressured to get a scholarship.  Pressured to be the best on the team.  Pressured to get the best grades.  Pressured to be the most popular.

All of this contributes to the rise in anxiety.  Something must change.  38% of Gen Z girls ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime and 26% of boys will do the same.

Gen Z is walking into your ministry nervous.  Stressed out.  Full of anxiety.

The good news?  You have a great opportunity to minister to them and bring hope, encouragement and God's promises.  And you can equip their parents to speak the same to them.  

Teach Gen Z that they are valuable to God and He cares about them.   Help them untie their self-worth from social media and the opinions of others and link it to how God feels about them. Show them how much God cares for them by using verses like this.
"Look at the birds of the air," He says; "they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:26)
Here's a great teaching series you can use for this.  Check it out at this link.

Teach Gen Z that God controls the future.  Anxiety says,"will I be able to secure a good job when I finish college one day?"  Anxiety says,"will I even be able to go to college?"  Anxiety says, "will I even survive high school without being shot?  Anxiety says, "do I have any kind of future?"

To the these stressful questions, you can show Gen Z that God holds the future, their future, in His hands.   There's no need to stress out.  God's got the future. 
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Luke 12:25)
Show Gen Z what they can accomplish through God's power rather than their own.  Much of the anxiety that Gen Z is facing is coming from the voices inside their own head.  Doubt.  Insecurity.  Fear.  These things can dominate their thoughts.

Unless you come against them with promises of God.  The promises of God can help calm Gen Z's anxiety.  The promises of God can help remove the pressure of "performing" and replace it with simple dependence on God's promises.

If they know those promises.  So, teach them the promises of God.  Teach their parents the promises of God.  Model for them how to lean on the promises of God.

Promises like...

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."  2 Timothy 1:7

"For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."  Philippians 4:13. 

Here's a great teaching series for this.  You can check it out at this link. 
Just as Jesus calmed the stormy waters so many years ago, He can calm the worries, fears and anxiety of Gen Z if we turn their gaze upon Him. 

May 23, 2018

Using This One Word Will Make You a Better Children's Bible Teacher

Do you want to improve your skills as a Bible teacher?  As a small group leader?  As a parent?

There's one word you can use that has been proven to make a big difference in communicating with children, helping them grasp what you're teaching and seeing them think about the subject on a deeper level. 

Before I share what the word is, let's look at some of the research behind it.

A team of psychologists in California have been trying to find ways to help children learn more effectively.  Their research has helped them uncover a simple, but powerful way to do just that.

The psychologists gave children a set of blocks with different features.  Some of the blocks played music when put in place.  The children were then asked why they thought some of the blocks caused music to play, while other blocks didn't.

Here's what they found.  By simply following up the activity with the word "WHY,"  the kids were able to learn more effectively.  This one word caused the kids to think on a deeper level because they were asking them to elaborate on something they have observed or been told.

The word "why" also causes kids to focus on abstract information, like cause and effect.  The result - kids learn more effectively.

If you want to improve as a teacher, small group leader or parent, start incorporating the word "why" into your lessons and conversations.

We know many kids are walking out of churches with a shallow faith that can't stand the test of humanism and a secular world view.  Perhaps a big reason is because we haven't been using the word "why" enough.

Teachers.  Look at the lesson you're going to be teaching this weekend.  Are there any "why's" in it?

Small group leaders.  Look at your discussion outline.  Are there any "why's" in it?

Parents.  I know you hear the word "why" a lot.  Especially if your children are younger.  As you're reading them a devotion, you'll hear "Why this?" and "Why that?"  Don't look at those "why's" as a bother, but rather as an opportunity to help your child build a strong faith foundation.  In fact, don't wait for them to ask why.  Take the initiative and ask them first.

The truth is, if we'll start lecturing less and start guiding kids through the "why's," we can see a lot more kids develop a faith that will last.  I was very intentional about writing in a lot of "why's" into the curriculum we developed.  You can see samples and get it at this link.   

Think about this.  Jesus asked a lot of questions when He taught, communicated and interacted with people.  And often when asked a question, He would respond with a question.  The Master Teacher knew the power of "why" long before the psychologists in California did.  Here are just a few examples of the Master Teacher using the word "why."
  • Why are you anxious about clothes?  (Matthew 6:28)
  • Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye yet fail to perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2)
  • Why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31)
  • Why do you make trouble for the woman? (Matthew 26:10)
  • Why do you not judge for yourself what is right? (Luke 12:57)
  • Why do you not understand what I am saying? (John 8:43)
Our goal must move beyond just having kids parrot back Bible facts to us, but to also have them think about the "why's" behind those facts.  We should not be afraid of asking "why?"  Asking the "why's" will lead kids to a deeper faith.

Asking "why?" opens the door to great conversation.

Asking "why?" causes kids to delve into apologetics.

Asking "why?" can help you transition from being an ineffective lecturer to being an effective facilitator.

Asking "why?" can be the tool that helps kids move beyond a surface faith.

Asking "why?" can turn an activity into a learning, thought provoking experience.

Asking "why? can make a review game more meaningful. 

Let's think about a practical example.  You're sharing the story of Noah.  What are some why questions you could ask?  Here are a few...

Why do you think God chose Noah to build the ark?

Why do you think Noah didn't quit building when people laughed at him?

Why do you think God decided to send a flood and start over with Noah and his family?

Do you think it was hard for Noah to trust God?  Why?

Do you think Noah's family was afraid?  Why?

The people laughed at Noah when he was building the ark.  Why?

Do you think you would have been able to trust God if He had asked you to build a giant boat?  Why?

How many "why's" will you ask this weekend?  Hopefully a lot.  If you do,  I promise you it will make you a better teacher, small group leader, parents and all around kid's ministry Ninja extraordinaire. 

Your turn.  Do you use the word "why" in your lessons, discussions, etc.?  What are some tips or insight you have for this?  Share with everyone in the comment section below.

May 22, 2018

Pre-Teen's Critical Transition into Student Ministry

One of the most important transitions for kids (and their parents) is the transition from elementary ministry to student ministry. 

We talk about how many teens walk away from the church when they graduate high school.  And that's true.  We must find ways to help graduating seniors stay connected.

But we also need to look at the transition from elementary into student ministry.  

Do this to see the need more clearly.  Work with the student ministry at your church to track how many kids who graduated from your elementary ministry are now plugged into student ministry.  I can pretty much guarantee you that there will be a percentage missing because they slipped through the cracks during or right after the transition.

Let's talk about how we can improve this critical time of transition, so kids make the jump into student ministry successfully.

Start the transition early.  The transition should be a carefully planned process.  Sit down and map it out.  Here's an example of a planned transition.
  • 3 months out - have people from student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then introduce themselves to the group and make the announcements during the service / class.
  • 2 months out - have people from student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then share the lesson that day. 
  • 4 weeks out - have people from the student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then share the lesson that day. 
  • 3 weeks out - have people from the student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then share the lesson that day. 
  • 2 weeks out - have the pre-teens go and observe the student ministry during a service or event.
  • 1 week out - host an elementary graduation celebration for pre-teens and their parents.  See more about this below.
  • Transition week - host an open house for pre-teens and their parents in the student ministry area. 
  • 1-2 weeks after the transition - student ministry host an event for pre-teens who have just entered student ministry.
Start building the relational connection early.  Pre-teens are already insecure.  Add to that transitioning into a new area and you've got the recipe for a royal freak out.  Pre-teens are wondering if they will fit in.  Will anyone know them?  Will they make friends?  Will they be accepted?

Pre-teens need to transition into an environment that may be new, but is full of familiar faces.  Student ministry leaders are the key to this.  They can do this by spending significant time with pre-teens before the transition takes place. 

Ask your children's ministry volunteers to be involved in the transition.  Your children's ministry volunteers have a relational connection with the pre-teens.  Cast vision to them for helping pre-teens they have invested in make the transition into middle school successfully.

Some volunteers should even consider moving up with the pre-teens into student ministry.  An example would be a small group leader who moves up with the kids in his group and becomes their small group leader in middle school. 

Get student ministry teenage leaders involved.  This is a great opportunity to see teenagers serve and reach back to influence the pre-teens who are following them.  An upcoming 6th grade girl looks up to and admires an upcoming senior in high school.  That's who she wants to be.

Challenge teens to leverage their influence and use it to help pre-teens transition well into student ministry.   Cast vision with them to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of those coming behind them.

Get many of your key students involved in the process we outlined in the first point.  It will make a big, big difference.

Get parents involved.  Pre-teens aren't the only ones nervous about the middle school transition.  Their parents are as well.   Especially if this is their first child who is making the jump into middle school.

This transition is one of the key times when parents are wide-open to your insight, encouragement and help.  One of the best things you can do to help pre-teens make the transition into middle school is to help their parents make the transition as well.

You can do this by hosting a class / celebration for them to attend with their child.  At this event, you can cover important subjects like...
  • How to successfully parent a teenager. 
  • What to expect in student ministry. 
  •  How to lead your child spiritually during the teenager years. 
You can make an event like this really, really effective by asking student ministry to host it with you.  Student ministry leaders can be involved in helping teaching the class, greeting parents as they arrive, answering questions, giving an overview of the vision of student ministry, etc.

I have created a special class / event for this called "Elementary Graduation Celebration."  I have personally seen hundreds of pre-teens go through this with their parents and successfully make the transition into middle school.

It is truly a life-changing event for pre-teens and their parents.  And now it's available for your ministry.  You can read more about it and get it now at this link.

Equip kids and parents for their middle school years.  As mentioned above, pre-teens and parents are entering new territory in their relationship.  Many parents try to parent their teenager just like they parented them when they were 9-years-old.  They simply just don't know.

That's why it's critical for you to equip pre-teens and their parents for the middle school years.  The elementary graduation celebration class is full of great teaching about....
  • Pre-teens - how to not just survive the middle school years, but thrive.
  • Parents - clear parenting strategies for the middle school years.
Celebrate the transition and make it memorable.  As part of the elementary graduation celebration, parents have the opportunity to write out and speak a blessing over their child.  It's a memorable moment and lots of tears of joy and love are shed.

You can also make the transition celebration memorable for families by taking pictures and having a small gift for each pre-teen who is graduating.  One of my favorites to give is a necklace that has a dog tag.  The dog tag has the children's ministry logo on one side and the student ministry logo on the other side.  It's a symbol of the two blending to become one.

Please...please...please remember this.  The front lines of the battle for the next generation is no longer in high school, but in the transition from elementary to middle school.  Let's be there for pre-teens and help them to continue following Jesus for the rest of their life.

May 21, 2018

Your Ministry Impact is Much More Than You Can See Right Now

Recently, I was in Canada sharing a talk based on the parable of the sower.

Out of the 4 seeds that were planted, only 1 produced long-term fruit.

At first glance, that could be discouraging.  It appears that the majority of the sower's time, energy, labor and effort was fruitless.

Do you ever feel that way?  That your impact is far less than you had prayed and hoped for?  That the kids aren't really grasping and putting into practice what you're teaching them?  That the take home paper you spent so much time creating for parents, just ends up in the trash can, having never been used?  That all the time and effort you put into pulling off that big event, didn't really produce any lasting fruit?

You're not alone.  We've all felt that way at times.  Or maybe even all the time.

Back to the talk in Canada.  After the talk, a precious lady, who had been serving in children's ministry for many years, shared something with me about the sower that was profound.  It has to do with the impact he ended up having.

If you continue reading the parable, you will see the end result of the sower's efforts yielded a fruit of at least 30.  Compare that to the 3 seeds that he planted that did not bear fruit.  He couldn't see it at the time, but his impact ended up being at least 10 times more than the 3 seeds that didn't bear fruit.  That was the minimum result.  In some cases, it produced 20 times and even 30 times more fruit than the seed that wasn't fruitful.

Here's the deal.

Your impact is much more than you can see right now.  That I can promise you.

Be encouraged.  Your lesson will bring at least 10 times more fruit than you can see right now.

Don't quit.  Your role as a small group leader will bring at least 10 times more fruit in the lives of the kids in your group.

Smile.  The time you're spending loving, holding and ministering to babies in the nursery is going to yield at least 10 times more fruit than you are expecting.

Stay faithful.  The time you're spending helping preschoolers memorize a Bible verse is going to produce 10 times more fruit in the years to come.

When we focus on the seeds that aren't bearing fruit, we get discouraged.  When we focus on the seeds that wilt under the heat of the sun, we lose sight of the ones that are healthy.  When we focus on the seeds that the birds snatch away, we overlook the ones that are flourishing.  When we focus on the seeds that are getting choked out by the thorns, we begin to think the effort is not worth it.

Someone is reading this right now who is about to quit.  Your focus on the seeds that aren't bearing fruit, has crushed your spirit.

Be encouraged today.  God is at work.  Your impact is going to far outweigh your effort when all is said and done.

I have a friend who lives in China.  He equips and trains over 83,000 children's ministry leaders in the underground churches across China.  They in turn, minister to and share the Gospel with millions of children there.

I asked my friend how he came to faith in Christ.  I was curious how he become a follower of Jesus having grown up in an atheistic, communist culture.  He shared with me that decades ago, a missionary from Houston, Texas,  came to China and shared the Gospel with his great, great grandfather.  From that one seed, my friend is now the 4th generation of believers in his family.

Think about it.  Over 83,000 children's ministry volunteers being trained and millions of kids hearing the Gospel...and it all started with one Gospel seed that was planted years ago.

I'm sure that missionary shared the Gospel with many people over the course of his ministry.  And he probably heard more "no's" than he did "yes's" during those years.  I'm sure there were times when he wondered if he had made any impact at all.

But his impact would end up being much more than he could see at the time.  And so will yours.  In fact, you won't realize the magnitude of your impact, until you are standing on the other side of eternity.  

I leave you with this promise.

So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.  Galatians 6:9