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Millennials and Marriage

Part of the growing conversation in so many churches concerns the rising generation of Millennials and how to effectively minister to them. As both a Millennial and a member of several staffs of established churches, there are some unique challenges in this conversation. Perhaps the most pressing is the change of perspective that has occurred between ministry models in just two generations. This change in perspective has been pushed by the changing demographics of the Millennial generation around marriage and having children.

One of the leading questions that I often begin with in these conversations is simple: What is, in a quick guess, the average ages for first time marriage among Millennial men and women?

By surveying answers we often quickly get a snapshot of how close we are attached to the reality of social change that is going on in our society. Because things have changed, things have massively changed.

The average first time marriage for Millennials is, as of the 2010 Census, 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. At this point, in early 2014, I would project that it is 29 for men and 26 for women (often depending on two factors: education and location of urban/suburban/rural.) See this chart:

First Time Marriage

For Millennials there are a host of reasons that marriage is increasingly delayed, not the least of which is growing acceptance of cohabitation, but also continuing education, less access to jobs, increased debt burdens, among other factors. The more educated a Millennial is, the longer they, generally, put off marriage.

Of course, the skyrocketing rate of cohabitation also plays into this trend. In my experience among higher educated, suburban Millennials about 66%, or 2/3rds of these Millennials, are going to cohabitate before marriage. This trend is being reflected in the number of couples cohabitating before marriage. Even though I think this number is soft (I think it is much higher) we see that as of 2012, there are 8.5 million couples cohabitating prior to marriage. This delays marriage by at least 18 to 24 months, and, even in secular eyes is a growing reason couples simply never get married:

Cohabitation

Alongside this trend of increasingly delayed marriage is the trend of delaying first time child-births in women. Earlier today I read a terrific post by Ashley McGuire at the Family Studies Blog that discussed issues around child-births and women between 20 and 40. One of the graphics that was supplied in the post showed trends of age and education for first time child-births:

average first birth

Another reality behind these numbers concerns how 55% of child-births to mothers between the ages of 20-29 are to single moms. So, we can see that many Millennial families, even in their first time marriage, begin with a blended family situation of one or more children, likely, from another relationship.

So, in seeing this trend of increasingly delayed marriage among Millennials coupled with delayed child-bearing means that most Millennials are not settling into their “family life” (or a “nested life stage”) until their mid-30s. Whereas, 25 years ago, you could plan and program for a young adult ministry that reached married couples with children in their mid-20s, this is simply no longer the case. With the effects of delayed marriage and child-births impacting Millennials, we are seeing couples in their early 40s with children heading to kindergarten.

If your current ministry uses a life stage segmented approach to ministry, these statistics and realities should begin shaping how you approach breaking out those issues. Another challenge in multi-generational churches is that, in light of these realities, older generations will not have the same life experiences so many of the younger generations sitting next them are having.

All of this breaks to beginning a different conversation about how we, as churches, are going to approach ministry and marriage related issues with Millennials. For churches with older leadership teams, those above 55, the distance sociologically and culturally from the 20somethings in our pews and chairs is increasing. As a result we need to spend focused, strategic moments planning how to reach and minister rather different life stage segments.

Millennials are approaching life differently. How we begin with grace and extend mercy has as much an impact as the truthfulness of the Gospel we proclaim. 

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Three Essential Staff Hires

One of the key challenges with any organization is finding and staffing the best talent. Churches are not unique among organizations even though they have different staffing needs. There are some essential positions that need to be filled and, for many churches, finding the right staff member for these positions can make or break a ministry area.

As I’ve been talking with other ministers and staffing professionals, we’ve noticed that there are three specific positions that are needed in churches. Maybe if we were to title this a bit more provocatively, we’d say they are the Three Fastest Growing Staff Positions.

In short, these three positions (possibly in order of need):

  1. Worship leader
  2. Children’s Minister
  3. Executive/Administrative Pastor

 

Now, what do we mean here? Well we’re first anticipating that the senior pastor position is filled. A church without a lead pastor (or at least lead communicator) needs to secure that position before anything else. The other three are essential to staffing a growing church.

Worship Leader – more than any other position on staff, the worship leader is of central importance. They are to be the lead worshippers, not superstars or rockstars, not showmen or entertainers. They have the unique calling to lead others into worship and set the tone for a worship service. The skill set required to accomplish that previous sentence is immense, and the calling from God must be just as immense. Yet for a quality, and qualified, worship leader, they are in short supply and great demand. As many of us have seen, the right worship leader can lead us into the holy places of God. The wrong worship leader (even if they have musical talent coming out the ears) can lead us into spiritual wilderness and rob of a church of its greatness. Finding a worship leader who understands they aren’t a rock star and can shoulder the burden of authentic leadership is difficult, but worth every moment of prayer, exploration, and interest.

Children’s Minister – there is nothing more precious in Jesus’ ministry than the children who sat before him and took in his teaching. As he noted in Matthew 19:14, child like faith typifies the earnestness with which we pursue to the Kingdom of God. Having a great children’s minister will help grow the faith of an entire church as the entire family is properly ministered to and reached with the Gospel. For many leaders in new churches, having a great children’s minister is more important than a student/youth pastor. For the one who is called and equipped to minister gently, firmly, and authentically to children and their parents, the pathway for ministry is great. Great children’s ministers understand that their ministry isn’t just to the littlest among us, but also to their parents. They have a platform for instruction unparalleled by almost any in the church, when they minister properly. Just like with worship leaders, children’s minister must be so cautious about their own lives and the lives of the adult volunteers they work with. Jesus words in Matthew 18:6 stand out as one principal text. Yet in the the right hands, a ministry to children grows a church from its youngest to its oldest members with deep roots of firmly planted families.

Executive Pastor – this also includes the administrative pastor role. So many senior pastors of churches have a deep passion for their people but lack the time, or perhaps skill set, to properly look after the daily ministry of a church. Having a quality executive pastor who understand their role is the same as the person who sits in the second chair of the orchestra can help a church and its staff grow and see seasons of faithfulness. Being a senior pastor necessitates involvement in the lives of attenders, members, and staffers. This kind of activity takes time and time devoted here draws away time from administrative and oversight tasks. The executive pastor position provides someone who can, when properly empowered and fully trusted, direct the staff, manage the facilities, align the strategy, and execute the vision at a level that permits the senior pastor to be true under-shepherd to the congregation. It is a challenging position because of the need for a great leader who is willing subordinate themselves publicly to the authority of a senior pastor and upholding the shared vision of the leadership team. This role also requires a refined skill set. Too often the executive pastor can draw their own limelight, but ultimately they must be willing to redirect everything to glorify God.

In all three of these growing staff positions, there are needed skills and even more needed calling. When a young seminarian asks about potential leadership avenues in a church, these are generally the three categories of staff positions I mention if they are uninterested in being a senior, or lead, pastor.

Though just hiring a great staff member won’t grow a church beyond that congregation’s trust in the leadership of the Holy Spirit, it can be a signal of the movement of the Spirit in their midst.

For each of these three positions, there is a growing number of churches looking for individuals who will fulfill these roles. Having great staff members who can impact those in our communities and churches provides a continued basis for growing and thriving churches. These three positions are key staffing positions also reflect the changing nature of ministry in the new century.

So, what staff positions are you looking at hiring? What are key positions in your church that go unfilled but are vitally needed?

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Does VBS Still Work?

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How many of us, while growing up, attended a Vacation Bible School? Probably a great many of us.

The practice of doing VBS in the summers between school years has been going on for as long as any of us can remember. In fact, the earliest VBS in the modern era was likely started in 1894 by a public school teacher, D.T. Miles, who created a 4-week summer program in Hopedale, Illinois to train and engage with children in the summer. Though much of the arrangements and execution of a VBS look different today than back in 1894, the concept is essentially similar.

Some church leaders have asked good questions about the use of VBS in their specific cultures over the past several years. In these conversations there have been good questions asked about the role of VBS in churches of all models. One of my favorite questions to ask in these discussions is: how many of you attended VBS as a kid? Usually almost every hand goes up.

So, does VBS work in our churches?

Over the past week, the church where I serve hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. We had about 2500 involved in our VBS which last from Monday through Thursday. Our VBS runs in the morning, from 9:00-12:30. If we were to look at the programming side, the children involved have all the traditional bells and whistles of a VBS: crafts, music, Bible lessons, activities, and dramas that play out over the week. This is a model shared by many churches across the US.

I can honestly say that I think VBS is one of the best things churches can do to reach their communities and members and it leverages multiple cultural access points to allow a local church to do ministry beyond what it normally might provide during the rest of the year.

Does VBS work? Absolutely.

The next statement is: if it is validated and led appropriately. I’ve been involved in VBS weeks in small churches to mega-churches and many sizes in between. Each one has several shared keys to success that aid in producing an effective VBS.

A chief key to success is the appropriate validation and support for a VBS. This means high visibility in the church calendar, multiple mentions from the platform, the key church leader(s) encouraging people to attend, and appropriate budgeting support. For many churches, regardless of size, a great VBS begins with how well the leadership of the church plans for VBS and provides the means to accomplish a goal for producing a successful one. One of the great things that many churches do in bringing together a wonderful VBS experience is have an “all hands on deck” mentality for their staff. This provides an infrastructure of support from our key ministry leaders and helps distribute the burden of ministry across all levels.

Second, the leadership of VBS is crucial. Whether it is lay people or paid staff, the leaders of VBS are critical to raising up great volunteers, setting the mark for excellence, working behind the scenes to produce great environments, and leading the training of volunteers for the VBS. Everything rises and falls on leadership, says John Maxwell, and when it comes to VBS he is certainly on point. A great VBS can carry the energy and focus of changing lives in these young hearts like no one else.

Another key is outstanding environments. From the first moment a child walks in to the last day when they walk out, outstanding environments will have a lasting impact. As you can see from the photos above, the environment created in the worship center, sanctuary, or meeting room is key for getting kids involved and wanting to come back. Lazy efforts or high barriers to changing rooms and venues will have a resounding impact on your VBS experience. Children today are being brought up in a heavy media saturated time, and while we don’t play to that, we can leverage it to have fun.

Finally, VBS needs to be fun, fun, fun. This is the street front window for so many of our churches with those people on the fringes and margins of Christianity in our different towns and cities. One of the rules I’ve seen for the last 15 year in ministry is when you get the kids excited the parents will bring them back. Some of the best VBS experiences (from small church to big churches) have been when the kids are engaged with great teaching, fun worship, and terrific activities to bring everything together. We love getting kids on their feet, moving, and singing. Its amazing to watch a worship center full of kids singing, moving, and enjoying their time. In the drama you have a moment to speak to them in tremendous ways while also allowing them to hear the Gospel at an important age.

VBS works as well as we allow it to work. If it occupies a central part of your overall strategy there need to be intentional next steps in following up, providing other programmatic and connecting event strategies, and seeing that every new family is seen as a valued connection. Then, celebrate the win. Talk about it and praise the leaders. A properly praised VBS can be a great change agent for a church that desires to connect the Gospel with families and people in their community. It still works.

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