BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – “Who am I, and where do I belong?”
If you were to take a snapshot of today’s kids and students, this two-part question could serve as the cutline, said Chuck Peters, director of kids for Lifeway Christian Resources.
“The next generation is growing up with a foundationally secular worldview that tells them the meaning of life is found in discovering themselves,” Peters said. “The pressure to do this has resulted in unprecedented levels of anxiety, loneliness and a desperate need to belong.”
Peters and his colleagues at Lifeway Research have been studying statistics and trends related to today’s kids and youth and comparing the findings to research on past generations dating back to the 1920s. Pieced together, this data paints a concerning picture—one that Peters details in the book, “Flip the Script: Disrupting Tradition for the Sake of the Next Generation.”
Peters and co-authors Jana Magruder and Stephanie Salvatore note that in each succeeding generation, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian and attend church regularly has dropped at an accelerated pace. Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in younger generations, while Americans’ confidence in the church has fallen to a record low.
Despite these trends, Peters believes the church is poised to reach the next generation if it is willing to picture a new approach to kids and student ministry.
Drawing new dots
As the church continues to move to the periphery of public life, the starting point for Gospel conversations has shifted, Peters said. “Culture used to believe the meaning of life was to be good and that rights and ethics were defined by external sources,” he said. “Understanding the Gospel was a matter of connecting the dots of existing beliefs.”
By contrast, today’s prevailing worldview says the meaning of life is to define oneself and that rights and ethics are determined by how one feels, according to Peters. The authors of “Flip the Script” identify this worldview as expressive individualism.
“For the most part, expressive individualism rejects anything external—values or duties defined by society, religion or previous generations,” said Magruder, strategic initiatives director for Lifeway Kids. “It encourages defining one’s ‘self’ internally and expressing that self-created identity to the world. The goal of this worldview is not to adhere or listen to outside standards but to be authentic to the standards you’ve identified for yourself.
“Because these new beliefs contradict the Gospel, we need to draw new dots to get kids and youth to the gospel where they can find their identity in Christ and sense of belonging in the church,” she said. “We can no longer assume they have a church experience as a starting point. Instead, we should remove our inaccurate assumptions and meet them where they are.”
Moving from ‘hear’ to ‘here’
The authors of “Flip the Script” describe the traditional ministry model as a content-first strategy that consists of teaching the Bible (hearing), presenting the Gospel (believing), and encouraging evangelism (sharing). The authors insist that sound doctrine and Gospel clarity are essential to Christian ministry but offer warning that these efforts can be derailed if churches don’t begin by meeting kids and students where they are.
“A content-first strategy assumes prior knowledge and a readiness to learn, something that doesn’t apply to kids and youth who are unfamiliar with Christianity and leery of church and the Bible,” said Peters. “Flip the Script” presents a relationship-first starting point, moving from “hear” to “here.” The latter assumes only a kid’s or student’s presence and aims to first break down barriers to belonging. The five stages that follow include:
- Listening — Engage kids and students with fun experiences that foster a sense of belonging and open ears to hear spiritual truths
- Understanding — Present foundational truths about who God is and what He is like
- Believing — Offer the Gospel in context framed around content kids and students are studying
- Growing — Help kids and students nurture an identity based on God’s character
- Reaching — Give kids and students opportunities to go, serve and tell
This strategy creates a growth cycle. “When children experience an environment of belonging, they feel seen and known by others and become open to learning about who God is,” Peters said. “And when kids and students base their identities in who God is, they love God and want others to know Him.”
New curriculum for a new strategy
Inspired by the philosophy behind “Flip the Script,” Lifeway is creating Hyfi, a new ongoing curriculum line designed to help churches seeking to reach kids and students in an increasingly secularized society.
“Hyfi is a project born out of a burden,” Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell said. “In Denver, my wife and I had the joy of planting a church filled with people who had not been around the Bible or church before. We needed a curriculum to help provide them a gentle on-ramp to the faith.”
Hyfi is scheduled to release this summer. It will be the first new line of ongoing curriculum Lifeway has launched in more than a decade and the organization’s first 100 percent digital ongoing curriculum built on the Ministry Grid platform. Leaders will be able to customize content to fit their unique ministry contexts and audiences by toggling supplemental activities on or off, adjusting the timing and order of teaching components and creating and inserting custom content into lesson plans.
“Hyfi is designed for churches that find themselves in hard soil and want to try something different in reaching people,” Mandrell said. “I could not be more thankful for Lifeway’s kids and students teams that have labored tirelessly to make this fresh and innovative resource for local churches.”
Framing a new picture
Peters acknowledges the next generation is in a state of confusion with more questions than answers. But as he pictures the future, he envisions the church helping write a new cutline.
“Today’s church leaders face a challenging but amazing opportunity to reach the next generation,” he said. “In the midst of an anxious, lonely and perplexed culture, we can demonstrate the power of biblical relationships, present the gospel and offer the only satisfying solution to the hunger for true identity—Jesus Christ.”
More information about “Flip the Script” and Hyfi can be found at MyHyfi.com.