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📈 Youth Ministry Growth and Attendance
🔢 Do number really matter?
😤 It’s an agonizing pursuit that all of us as youth pastors and leaders are constantly feel the tension.
Whether we buy into the debate or not, pressure is real.
Maybe pressure from your senior pastor
Maybe pressure from other parents
Maybe even pressure from yourself
And furthermore, according to Pew Research, one in five church goeers in 2022 participated in virtual church once a month.
However, 57% did not attend in person or watch online per month.
Not just anyone in general.. But Americans who TYPICALLY attend services.
How do we reach Generation Z or Generation Alpha students?
Especially in light of this new reality?
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//SHOWNOTES & TRANSCRIPTS
//PEW RESEARCH ARTICLES ON CHURCH ATTENDANCE
//DATA ON GEN ALPHA
//DR. ELMORE'S BOOK
//4 CHAIR DISCIPLING
//GOOD TIME MANAGEMENT FOR A HYBRID STRATEGY
00:00-02:05 Do numbers matter?
02:05-05:30 Who are Generation Z and Generation Alpha?
05:30-07:13 Attendance Finding 1: Teens share religion with parents
07:13-10:48 Attendance Finding 2: Teens go to service, but don't engage in religious practices
10:48-16:22 Attendance Finding 3: Teens attend church with one or both of their parents
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Nick Clason (00:00):
Youth ministry growth in attendance in the age old Questions do numbers really matter? Here's what I know. I was one time called by a church that said, Hey, just a couple weeks ago in our church of multiple thousands, we've had only eight students show up. So whether you buy into the debate or not, the pressure is always there. Maybe pressure from your senior pastor, maybe pressure from youth parents, maybe even internal pressure that you just put on yourself. And what's even crazier is according to Pew Research, one in five, churchgoers back in 2022, participated in a virtual church service at least one time, which is a good thing. I mean, heck, we're in the hybrid ministry podcast, you know what I'm saying? However, 57% did not attend church in person or watch online during the course of at least one month, which means greater than 50%, not just of anyone in general of churchgoers are not typically attending church services.
Nick Clason (01:05):
So how in the world with that as the framework for church attendance and the way that youth ministry attendance is going, how in the world do we even reach Gen Z and Gen Alpha students, especially in light of this brand new reality? We're going to be sharing in this episode three key findings about teens and their attendance trends. And furthermore, I'm going to share with you one way that I as a youth pastor am shifting my thinking and maybe you can also shift your thinking about reaching this next generation. And finally, I have a bonus tip that I think is going to actually be the number one game changer in this entire conversation. Welcome to the Hybrid Ministry Show. You're in youth ministry, or if you're just a church leader and you're at least overseeing at some level some capacity, generation Z generation alpha, it's important because we're talking about youth group attendance and it's important to understand who we're actually talking about.
Nick Clason (02:01):
So Generation Z and Generation Alpha are kind of the two generations in play in this conversation. In fact, I have a video linked at the top of the screen. Go ahead and check it out where we did a deep dive into Generation Alpha and started to explore them. And quite frankly, it's one of the only videos I know that's out there about Generation Alpha. The data is still really new and still really young because the fact of the matter is that according to exploding topics.com link in the description, if you're watching on YouTube, you might be able to see some of these things online. If you're not watching on YouTube, you should definitely check that out. But Gen Alpha is made up of people born between 2010 and 2025. Wait, what? 2025? Yeah, you heard that, right? They're not even born yet. Okay. And so the fact of the matter is that that data actually is in opposition to some other experts such as Tim Elmore, who by the way, I have a chart right here on screen.
Nick Clason (02:53):
Again, if you're not watching on YouTube, go grab it or link in the show notes. It's from his book, generation Z Unfiltered, the Nine Hidden Challenges of Facing the Most Anxious Population of All Time. This chart is absolute goal, but you'll notice that he draws the line for the end of generation Z at 2018. So we have exploding topics at 2010. We have Tim Elmore at 2018, all of that to be said, Elmore's book is a little bit dated, and so I think that more research and just time we've honed in a little bit and gotten a little bit closer. And so while this chart is gold, you should definitely look at it and inspect it and learn a little bit more. Elmore doesn't talk about Gen Alpha. They're not on his radar yet when he wrote the book. And so according to this chart, pew research draws the line for Gen Alpha at 2012.
Nick Clason (03:40):
But again, the reason why any of this matters, not to bog you down with dates and things like that is that if you're a youth pastor or if you're in church leadership, what you need to understand is that the conversation we're having is like, do we take Elmore's date or do we take Pew Research's Day or do we take exploding topics day? Whatever it is, the reason this matters is because this is a difference between is that kid in kid's ministry or is that kid in youth ministry? And if we're talking about youth group numbers and youth group attendance, we need to understand Gen Alpha, but we also need to understand Gen Z. The kicker on this is that Gen Z, really the youngest Gen Z that we have is going to be freshmen, sophomores in high school, and now after that they're waving on up, they're in college already and they are entering the workforce.
Nick Clason (04:23):
So if you are not a youth pastor, but just like a regular pastor listening, no longer is Gen Z, something that the youth pastor needs to try and understand and uncover this matters for you. This is important for you as a pastor. And so if you've gotten value so far out of this video, I would love to encourage you to like and subscribe and hit the notification bell because we're actually in the middle of a series right now, the 2024 Youth Ministry Masterclass, this is section number two in that class. The rest of them are going to be dropped in the playlist that's linked down below in the description. So if you have not seen every single video, go back and check out video number one. We talked about time management, but without any further ado here, let's dive into the three key findings about Generation Z, generation alpha and church attendance in youth ministry moving forward in 2024 and frankly beyond.
Nick Clason (05:12):
All right, so the three key findings that are really important to understand about Generation Z and Gen Alpha is a lot of this data pulled from Pew research articles pulled and included in the description, whether you're in a podcast catcher or on YouTube, if you are not watching on YouTube, you will notice that some charts and graphs and stuff like that are going to show up on screen here on YouTube. If you're not watching, you're just listening, you can go grab the link in the show notes at http://www.hybridministry.xyz, and this is episode 78, so slash 0 7 8. But the first key finding that I want to share with you is this is that most teens share the same religious affiliation as their parents, meaning this, your attendance as a youth pastor, youth ministry leader is highly derived from the adult attendance in your church.
Nick Clason (06:00):
You've probably heard this before, but that's why it's important that we don't have silos. It's just as important for you as a youth pastor to lean in to what is going on in the rest of your church. You can't neglect it, you can't forsake it, and you can't take on a posture of arrogance that what you're doing is better than the rest of the church. Even if you low key think that the fact of the matter is that your youth ministry attendance is highly, highly tied to your adult attendance. So if your church is growing, odds are your youth ministry is growing, and if your church is struggling, odds are your youth ministry might be struggling. The biggest dropoff that you'll notice in this graph here and in this research from Pew is that the biggest dropoff from parents who attend church to teenagers who attend church happens in mainline denominations where the highest proportion is in evangelical churches.
Nick Clason (06:53):
Key finding. Number two, teens are just as likely as their parents to say that they go to services, but when it comes to more personal forms of religious expression, teens actually appear to be less devout and less religious. I have a stat I want to share with you from my own context, my own anecdotal experience in our church, cross Creek Church located in Colleyville, Texas, we have four parts to a four-part discipleship pathway. So we have explore, which is people who are far from God looking for God or maybe seeking God connect. And so once they've made a decision, cross the line, faith, connect with Jesus, connect with this church, connect with community, grow, grow in your faith, get closer to God, learn to walk with God, learn to invest in a few, learn to multiply. And then finally, the fourth one is a multiplier.
Nick Clason (07:38):
Someone who is not only making disciples, but making disciples who makes disciples. So we're very christocentric, disciple making, Bible-based church, all that to be said, we explained all of that one day on a Sunday morning to our students and we asked them to self-identify where they would put themselves in the pathway, explore, connect, grow, multiply. We used kind of pulled from one of my favorite books, link in the show notes, Dan Bader's book four chair discipling. So we used four different chairs to illustrate the sections of the pathway. The explorer phase was illustrated by a camping chair because it's really mobile portable. You can get close to church, then you can pull it back away if that's a decision that you want to make. We talked about how the connect chair is actually like a recliner. People tend to get across that line of faith and then get very fat and happy.
Nick Clason (08:23):
The grow chair is one that's marked by suffering and sacrifice, and so we got the hard metal chair, the one that hurts your butt when you sit in it for a little bit too long. And then finally the multiply phase was illustrated by a couch because the goal of it is to bring people back onto that couch with you, go back down through the pipeline, go back down through the process. So we illustrated that and we asked students to self-identify. We had 40.76 of our students say that they were in the connect phase, the recliner phase, but the overwhelming majority said that they were in 45.2% said that they were in the grow phase. So nearly half of our students self-identified as being in the grow phase where only like 4% said they're in the explore phase, and 9.5 said they were actually all the way in the multiply phase.
Nick Clason (09:07):
Now we have identifiers in our church metrics that we say if you've done these three or four things, then you are in this phase and you've moved on to the next phase. So we can pull that data on our students as well, but this is just them classifying themselves. I now lead a group of four other guys on a Sunday morning in our grow phase, we have a book that we go through a curriculum, and we just got done with the first book. There's three totals. So we just got done with the first book. It's seven weeks. It's daily reading. I mean it's a high bar. Every single one of them. At the beginning of this time, they said, I read the Bible, I pray I do all this stuff. Now that we've actually been in it, now that the rubber has met the road.
Nick Clason (09:49):
At the end of this, all of their summarization of it was like, man, this was a lot more than I'm used to. And one of the kids said back to this, teens are just as, they may go to service, but they may not practice religious expression. Part of the problem is they've gone to church so much, and so they know what the right answers are and they know what they should be doing. And so even when you ask them, how do you grow in your faith? What are you doing to grow in your faith? They would answer with the right answers. Well, I pray, read the Bible, but they all admitted at the end of it, you always said that, but we weren't really actually doing it, at least not at this level. So that just bears it out in that key finding. Key finding.
Nick Clason (10:29):
Number three, most teens report attending religious services with either both at 40% or one 25% of their parents. Again, meaning your attendance is again highly derived from your adult attendance. Again, in my own context, our own experience or Wednesday night, we would mostly say that that's classified under the explore classification. So let's bring outsiders and we probably, we average somewhere south of 45 to 40% of our Sunday morning attendance, which is our second step in our pathway, our connect phase. So I would not say that we have more students in connect than in the explore phase. What I would actually say is that Sunday morning is more convenient and that's when parents, and that's when students are also naturally making Sunday morning or just any church attendance a priority. And so that's the reason why I believe that our attendance is a little bit out of balance between Wednesday night and Sunday morning, and that's not a problem to be solved.
Nick Clason (11:29):
It's more attention to lean into and be managed, but it really just underscores this point that most teens attend church with either a parent or a single parent, meaning once again, like I said, your students are attending church either with both parents at 40% or one parent at 25%. Again, as much as we think that our programming is so relevant, captivating, so much better than the rest of the church, the reality is our success as youth pastors is often tied to the overall success of the church. However, I do think that there is something that matters and that there is something that we need to focus our mindset to shift a little bit on. So let's dive into that into the next section. All right, so the shift that I believe all of us should consider if 57% of born again claim Christians, self-proclaimed Christians are not attending church online or in person at least one time per month, I think that you and I should consider finding a way to go hybrid.
Nick Clason (12:26):
And I know you said, Hey, hey, hey, that last stat that said they weren't going online or in person. When I say hybrid, I don't just mean streaming your services. That can be an element of it, but I really believe that's a small portion of a good digital strategy. And again, I hear you. You're like, dude, I don't have time for it, and I get it. It is a lot of work and it's going to require a little bit of time management, thankfully, linked down below, I have this playlist where the last video I talked about good time management, but a good digital hybrid integrated strategy is more than just putting a camera in the back of the room and letting someone watch what's going on in the room. You're not interested in that, frankly, and neither am I. We want something that's made for the internet, something like this, something that's more relational, something that's more direct to camera, maybe something that's a little bit more interactive, but find a way to make it more hybrid.
Nick Clason (13:18):
Find a way to make it more integrated. I also hear you on the other side, but churches of family church should be about one-on-one relationships, and I agree with that. Full fledge, a hundred percent church about relationships. The best, most dynamic experiences I ever have is when I'm rubbing shoulders or sitting knee to knee with somebody. However, I'll also make the argument that churches are in the content creation and content production business. Think about it. What do you spend the majority of your time on? Programming, message prep, planning, worship services, small group, all things that are content based, and especially pastors, senior pastors, no offense to you, but Sunday morning services are some of the least relational moments in the entire week in the lifecycle of a church. Here's my deal. I'm a youth pastor, so I get in early, I get set up. Sometimes I'm a little bit late because of my setup into church.
Nick Clason (14:12):
I walk in, I sit down, I sing some songs, I sit down, I stare at the back of someone's head, I listen to a sermon for 30 something minutes. I get up early because I have stuff to do as a youth pastor, to get ready for the student ministry that meets during the last two services of our three service Sunday morning set. I'm not talking to a single human being in that entire service, but what I could do is I could consume all of that digitally. I could listen to it, my headphones on a run. I could listen to that honestly, while I'm across the way in the student building, getting things ready, having the Facebook live stream on in my ears while I'm getting things set up. I'm not saying that I should do that. I'm not saying that that's a recommended strategy, but I am saying the content consumption side, so much of what we're producing content-wise, can be done digitally.
Nick Clason (14:57):
So as youth pastors, as we're trying to reach Gen Z, as we're trying to reach Gen Alpha, a completely different generation, I wonder if it's worth considering a shift from focusing only on to finding a way to be a little bit more hybrid, which is why I've created this 100% completely free ebook right here on the screen, linked down below in the description. Also, you're going to see that as I bring about this bonus question. This is really the crux of this entire kind of argument. The question is this, are we as youth pastors, are we as youth ministry leaders? Are we in the event business or are we in the disciple making business? And you know what the fact of the matter is, we're actually going to dive even deeper into that question on the screen linked right here. So go ahead and take a look at that. If you're interested in exploring more about my hybrid strategy, that ebook, as well as that episode is linked right here on the screen as well. Hey, check you on the other side. Continue to enjoy this free masterclass, and as always, stay hybrid.