There is a very traditional thought about high schoolers. The thought is that high schoolers are always a part of some type of clique. In the movies, high school cliques are notoriously known by where they sit in the cafeteria at lunch. I’m thinking of the type of scene you can find in the movie “Mean Girls” where they explain lunch table placement based upon every stereotype known to man. As if teenagers can be summed into one single thing.

The thing about this is that people are much more complicated than stereotypes. The idea that people would fit into a box or category such as “jock” or “band geek” or “smart kids” or “goth” is a huge disservice to the complexity and craftsmanship that God is owed when he created man.

Personally, in high school I was the anti-stereotype. I went to a very diverse school and there might have been some truth to the cafeteria breakdown, but the one element that is never represented is that most students can fit into any category because the world has changed.

Students today have access to many types of things, many world views, more ideas, more information, more training. The internet, technology, and transportation bring us to a whole new place. Personally, one day I would sit with the “Christians”. The next day I would sit with my “friends”. The following day I would go and sit at the “beat box” table and I would embarrassingly try to flow.

many things

I could do this because I’m not just one thing. I’m many things. I’m super smart, but I’m also creative and funny and dramatic and friendly. My influence didn’t come from my people group, it came from who I was, from who God created me to be, a leader.

Not every person might have had this same experience in high school, but my experience is not unique. I actually think I was probably on the cusp of a more common experience for the youth that is still up and coming.

People now more than ever will have friends of different races. They will have friends that are geniuses and some that aren’t. Kids will have friends with morals and some who have none. Students will be friends with musicians and jocks, and sometimes they will be one in the same. I am not unique in this.

the largest influence

The culture of society will be one of the largest influences on the next generation’s worldview regardless of the church. If a student is in private Christian education or homeschooled for their entire life this influence might be delayed in the tiniest bit, but it’s still present.

Music, TV, commercials, YouTube, cereal boxes, Happy Meal trinkets, video games, toys, play dates, and cafeteria downtime will always prevail. In Generation Y you can see the trend beginning, but in Generation Z and the Alpha Generation they will truly embrace diversity in ways that no previous generation has.

embracing diversity

For the church to keep moving forward we have to get rid of our prejudice ways or the church will cease to be relevant. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a Cowboy Church. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a super “trendy” young person focused church. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an African American church.

However, what it does mean is that when somebody from outside your demographic shows up, that you better be so welcoming, friendly, and embracing of who they are or at some point in the next 100 years your church will cease to exist.

You also have to realize even if you bring up your kids in that environment, as society, as a whole, becomes focused on the embracement of diversity there’s a good chance they will likely no longer desire to attend such a fragmented culture, and it’s likely at some point they will leave anyway. They won’t leave because they don’t appreciate your micro-culture. They will leave because the world has changed.

changing culture

Yes, some micro-cultures will continue on, but so many of the staples that guided our culture even 50 years ago are dying. Sports in America is dying. In a few generations the landscape of athletics in America will look completely different than they do now.

In an interview with Mark Cuban it was stated that, “kids are moving away from all three of America’s big-time sports, football, basketball and baseball (even though baseball is regarded by pediatricians as one of the safer sports for children).” Youth participation is dropping and among the big three, football’s decline was 5.4 percent, baseball and basketball saw their participation rates drop by 7.2 and 8.3 percent, respectively in only four year’s time.

athletic decline

It’s not just kids dropping out of sports, people viewing sports is on the decline as well. In another article it was said, “Not only do viewers in their teens and 20’s tend to watch games online and on mobile devices; many of them rarely sit and watch an entire game.

Raised in the Internet era of multitasking, they will often stop watching a game and catch up later by watching highlights or video clips of unusual plays on YouTube, Twitter, Vine or other applications.” It’s also noted that people in the 18-24 demographic are watching 32% less television compared to years past.

This is a prime example of how culture changes. If you’re a part of a movement on the upswing, you won’t believe there could ever be a decline, but if you get to see the slow fade, then you know that everything in life changes. So, what’s the point? What’s the point of all this talk about embracing diversity and changing culture?

the point

The point is that the church in America is shrinking. David Kinnaman at the Barna Group, a nonpartisan research company, has found that almost 60% of young people ages 15-29 have left active involvement. Type the words “church attendance in decline” into Google and you can see more stats just like this.

There are a lot of reasons for decline in church participation. There are a lot of reasons millennials and younger generations are walking away from the church and faith. I personally think globalization, access to information, and scientific proof are all contributors.

However, today we’re talking about how the world isn’t made up of jocks and nerds anymore. This post is about how to stay relevant to the next generation and how to grow your Student Ministry. One of the main reasons that churches are in decline is directly related to that statistic from the Barna Group. Student ministry specifically is the link between thriving kid ministries and thriving adult engagement.

People are not staying plugged into churches after they leave Children’s Ministries. More than that because the 60% that have left active engagement are just now becoming parents themselves, we don’t know what this means for the future landscape of the church.

2 things you need if you want your student ministry to grow

#1 your student ministry needs to match the diversity of schools

One of the main reasons that student ministries are in decline is that the diversity of student ministries do not match the diversity of schools.

This is especially true if your student ministry is small (20 or less) or if your ministry doesn’t have a large budget. At school there IS a place for band geeks, geniuses, basketball players, and chess players. There is a place for drama queens and  mathematicians; for golf enthusiasts, gamers, singers, artists, chefs, techies, philosophers, linguists, beauticians, and lacrosse players.

If you only have a few kids or a few leaders present in your student ministry it’s really hard for someone to invite a friend that is different and have them feel accepted. Thriving student ministries are based on thriving relationships with adults, if you don’t have a vast amount of student ministry leaders that are awesome and diverse, this quickly shows you why that age demographic is in decline.

#2 your student ministry needs to have diversity in its environment

Diversity in environment, not just “acceptance” of those who are different, is also crucial.
In churches we love to say everyone is welcome, now whether we actually mean that is a different article entirely. However, for the sake of this article, let’s say we do mean that everyone is welcome, building an environment for specific groups of people will draw in those specific groups of people, regardless of who is “welcome” to attend.

So, let’s be more specific. If you plan two events, a ski trip and an all-nighter where you play video games all night; you are creating environments for people who like sports and competition. Now this is actually good, because the world isn’t made up of just jocks and nerds anymore, and you’ve at least created events trying to appeal to both. We know every jock in today’s world is also a nerd because most likely they would rather play on their smart phone than go to football practice.

So, you’ve created events for a “jock” and a “nerd” or more likely someone who is both of those things, but what about at your weekly event? What about someone who is into a different type of music than you play? What about a girl who doesn’t like to ski or play video games? What have you created for her?

Now, it is true that women are more likely to attend church than men. The typical U.S. congregation consists of an adult crowd that’s 61% female and 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. So, maybe you’re counting on appealing to boys and hoping girls just show up. The question still remains, Have you thought of them? How are you making your environment diverse?

If churches want to grow, if student ministries want to grow, if children’s ministries want to grow, then we ALL have to be recognizing that there are influencers in every group. The influencers are not just jocks. I don’t know if this was ever truly correct, though it was certainly a stigma in society. Band geek, smart girl, party girl, basketball star, and musician, all have their own influence and more than ever before these groups cross over.

We have to create environments where students are more than just “welcome” but where they are celebrated. We need to create environments where they are celebrated with a host of adult leaders that love them. We need to create environments that represent all the different types of students present in our ministries. We need to create environments that allow students to feel celebrated by a God that created them and died for them. More than that, we have to love them with the same passion that He did and still does.

If you want to take this conversation to the next level then check out this week’s podcast below and if you need help reformatting your student ministry, we’d love to help you. Call 252-679-2030 to chat with someone right now.

the podcast

The next generation is not made up of jocks and nerds anymore. This episode challenges the stereotypes that have lingered in society for the last 100 years. TK and Stacia recognize the cultural shift that is occurring in the next generation and want to help every ministry leader that is interacting with kids and students to recognize it too.

The world is truly no longer made up of jocks and nerds. The future is made up of kids that are digital natives who also love to play football and go to gourmet restaurants. Recognizing this cultural shift is key to creating an environment that they can’t wait to get to and don’t want to leave.

Warning: we do not pull any punches and you could get super offended by this but here’s our job; we’re consultants, we’ve spent a long time in ministry, but we’re consultants, and we’re here to train your staff and help solve your problems.

We’re here to help you build, better, bigger, stronger, healthier churches. Churches that stand the test of time, and stand the test of surviving multiple generations going forward, not at the minimum, but in a way that thrives.

If you want to know a secret to doing that, we’re going to share that with you today. If you want to stay the status quo, stop reading this right now because this podcast is not for you.

If you want things to look like they did 10 years ago, this is not for you, but if you have an open mind and you’re willing to embrace change; good positive, biblical change that can radically transform the way your church reaches your community and the next generation, then listen up because we have plenty to say.

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Thanks so much for listening, and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode!

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Stacia Stall

Stacia Stall

Chief Creative Officer

Stacia has over a decade of ministry experience, with the majority of that time leading next generation change. She has experience leading almost one hundred volunteers, and developing curriculum for kids and students. Stacia has a B.S. in Church Ministries and Biblical Studies, as well as experience educating in an elementary public school environment. She is also immensely creative and accomplished in teaching children about the wonder of God.