My oldest son showed signs early on that he is a gifted teacher. When he was a teenager, he had opportunities to serve in our church’s youth group. But as his pastor, I missed a strategic opportunity to help him grow.
I should have paired him with that church’s master Sunday school teacher, Miss Norma, in a mentorship that would have let him benefit from her knowledge and experience. My heart hurts when I think about that missed opportunity, and other chances we didn’t take to help adults in our church develop mentoring relationships with younger believers.
As a church leader, you know these kinds of relationships take time to develop, and it can be a lot of work on the front end to even get them started. But research shows us the generation known as Gen Z often defines themselves in terms of accomplishments and future goals. They’re looking for ways to live out their gifting—who better to walk alongside them than leaders in your church who are gifted in the same areas? As mentors, we can remind them that their true identity is in Christ, but we can also help them put their God-given strengths to work in the church.
A recent LifeWay Research study asked parents about their grown children’s spiritual health. According to the research, only 33% of kids regularly serve in church, but those that do so are stronger spiritually as adults. An earlier study, which compared young adults who stayed in church with those who dropped out, found 16% more of those who stayed had regular responsibilities in the church.
Some churches are already doing this in areas like worship and missions. It’s more common to see adult Christians coaching younger believers in worship rehearsal or on a mission trip. But along with those, consider other areas of church life, like teaching or leadership. How can you identify future deacons or elders, and start training them now? Who can you partner with them so they can see what it really means to wisely steward a church’s resources?
Start by identifying adult leaders in your church who can invest some time each week or month in developing a mentorship. If it’s a teacher like Miss Norma, suggest the teacher-in-training spend some time observing in her classroom. If the mentor is an elder or deacon, encourage the younger church member to watch him in an action at a church business meeting, or to accompany a small group of experienced leaders as they visit newcomers.
Training students for future ministry likely will result in them doing ministry in a church other than yours. Be prepared to make a kingdom investment. Equip students for meaningful, Christ-centered ministry wherever they go, and pray that other churches are doing the same for the young people who will eventually come to your church.
Two LifeWay Research studies on young people and the church may be particularly helpful as your church considers the value of mentorship. Check out “Within Reach: The Power of Small Changes in Keeping Students Connected” and “Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith,” both available at LifeWay.com.
Jack Lucas is a leadership development director with IBSA. This column is excerpted from the Spring issue of Resource magazine, a training and equipping publication produced especially for Illinois Baptist churches. It is arriving now in church offices and is available online at Resource.IBSA.org.