Four Strategic Priorities to Change the Landscape of Reaching Young People Today 

June 10, 2024

The mission of the TENx10 collaboration is to help faith matter more to 10 million teenagers over the next 10 years and to help them experience the abundant life described by Jesus Christ in John 10:10. 

At TENx10, we are responding to the rapid decline of young people affiliating with the Christian faith. A study conducted by the Pinetops Foundation estimates that more than a million young people are disaffiliating from the faith every year. Pew projects that by 2070, for the first time in U.S. history, that less than 50 percent of the U.S. population will identify as Christian. We care because, as the numbers decline, this means that less and less people are experiencing the full and abundant life that Jesus offers.

At TENx10, we believe there are four key priorities that we need to see realized in order to alter the trajectory we are on. 

Raise Youth and Youth Discipleship to a Top Priority

Young people know when they are a priority. They also know when discipleship is a priority. I recently heard from a long-time youth worker, Vivianne, that the senior pastor of her church had never once attended a youth event. While she and others thoughtfully worked to provide opportunities for their youth to encounter Jesus, rarely did she get the sense that her work mattered to the leaders at her church. 

While young people are very much the present, they are the future as well. Without young people, there is no future church. This, along with the call of God to pour into and raise up the next generations, is why we want to see youth and youth discipleship become a top priority in the church.

It’s easy for young people and those who invest in them to feel like they’re not a priority when they lack support, resources, engagement, and encouragement. Like Vivianne, it’s hard to think that the work you do and the people you serve matter unless the proper attention, support, and resources are provided to you. The best gift you can give to young people and those who work with them are your time and attention. Through time and attention, you learn what is needed to walk alongside their generations.

Studies show young people want to be relationally discipled. Roughly one in three Gen Z describe themselves as “open” (36%), “curious” (33%), and “exploring” (29%) when describing their spirituality.1 As John 4:35 says, “the fields are ripe for harvest.” We hope that by reconnecting senior leaders with the importance of youth discipleship, youth leaders will be empowered to reap a plentiful harvest of young people living abundantly in Christ.

Center Leaders and Young People of Color

The majority of young people under the age of 19 are racialized minorities. It is projected that by 2045, the entirety of the U.S. will be a minority majority. This means that Gen Z is the last generation with a white majority.2 Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to remain highly segregated. Churches still remain more segregated than the schools that are in their neighborhoods – which are still deeply segregated.3

Driven by a commitment to a Revelation 7:9 vision of God’s Kingdom and a Micah 6:8 ethic, we believe that it is important for us to take these realities into consideration as we engage in ministry to and with younger generations.

The reason we are committed to centering leaders of color is because outside of ethnic or racial enclaves, relatively little is designed with and for their context (there are phenomenal organizations doing good work, like E625 and NG3 for the Latine population, the Asian American Christian Collaborative – AACC for the Asian American population, and Jude 3 and UMI and UOF for the Black population, but there are often more needs than these organizations have the resources to address). We regularly hear how exhausting it is to have to culturally translate resources that weren’t designed for entire populations into their own context. 

Steven, a Korean American pastor, joined AACC in part because he had spent years culturally translating the content he was purchasing to fit his Asian American church context and wanted to see a different way forward. 

One way we center leaders and young people of color is by ensuring the voices speaking into TENx10 are from racialized minority communities, especially with an eye towards those who are from or lead in contexts where they are under-resourced and often serve in a volunteer or bi-vocational capacity. This ensures that what we do serves this demographic, because the people closest to the problem are included in designing the solution with us.

Curate, Create and Disseminate Core Resources and Training

Gabriela, a former youth worker, told me the story of how she had students to serve, lead, and guide, but had $0 in her resource budget. Feeling ill-equipped, she searched everywhere for free or low cost, but high-quality resources that fit her cultural context. She found that there was a lot of content, but most of what was freely available was not accessible, high-quality, or culturally-relevant in a way that was easy to find and use. In hearing stories like Gabriela’s over and over again, we committed ourselves to creating and curating a suite of resources that draws from the best of our partners in a highly-accessible manner for those who work with young people.

What we realized was that the internet is often saturated with bad search results. There are a lot of words on the internet. It’s hard to sort through. In addition to highly-accessible, high-quality content, we were constantly asked for one place where vetted resources could be found. 

Knowing at TENx10, that we had many of the leading organizations around ministry to youth that produce some of the best resources and training that exists, we wanted to be a type of clearing house to take out the guesswork for people. As people continue to ask for biblically-sound, research-based, practical resources that are highly contextualized, we have begun to create, curate, and disseminate a suite of resources that can make a difference for those engaged in ministry to youth. Over time, you will be able to find the best resources to address whatever question or need you face in your church community as it pertains to reaching and resonating with the next generation. 

Connect and Mobilize Partner Organizations.

What no one can do alone, we believe, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do together. We are collaborating with more than 100 organizations to catalyze a movement around youth discipleship. Along with our partners, we are hoping to see the church rally together to let the next generation know that we see them, care about them, and are incomplete without them. We are working with a diverse collaboration of partners – theologically and racially – to address this drift from the Christian faith together. Who is invited? Any organization or church that loves Jesus and young people with a desire to reverse the trends we are seeing together. 

TENx10 is working with and through partners to spark and sustain a change that will help young people know that we love them and that God loves them.

We are seeing the power of collaborating and hope that our collaborative efforts spark collaboration among individuals, churches, and other organizations. We see how in collaboration, how 1+1 doesn’t amount to 2, but to 3, 4, or 5, and we hope that others engage in similar efforts in their own contexts.

If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out TENx10.org. We are thrilled that Exponential is on mission with TENx10 as Exponential is doing some really important work. We invite you to take a look at what they and many others are doing to address the drift. At the same time, you can enact these priorities within your own ministries and organizations – especially if you want to effectively reach and resonate with younger generations, which most people say is one of the most encouraging things they see about TENx10. 

Here are a few practical dispositions you can hold as you embark on your journey of applying these priorities into your context:

  1. Listen and listen deeply. Take the posture of curiosity and non-judgmentalism, and spend time listening to those you ultimately seek to serve. Whether with the youth themselves, people you want to produce material for, audiences you have yet to reach, or organizations you want to partner with, take the time to listen to them by offering them the gift of curated questions.
  2. Don’t get defensive if they critique you. While criticism is never easy, taking a non-defensive posture allows for the best of ideas to be presented to you.
  3. Be willing to make shifts and changes you might not want to make. Different voices offer different perspectives, which often means your understanding of things might get challenged. Many voices also means you will likely work through tension and potential conflict in order to discern and decide the best path forward. But, studies show that while diversity may be slower, you often yield a better result.
  4. Keep trying even when you stumble or fail. As you move forward, you will inevitably make blunders. Repair where you need to repair, and then keep moving forward. There are times you may need to pause, but don’t let that be permanent.

We hope young people see how much we love and value them and that the work we do in the spaces we occupy and the spaces we find ourselves in together makes a difference in the Kingdom for the sake of the next generation!

NOTES:

  1. https://assets-global.website-files.com/65246cb0890561cb072e8c3d/6543d798a6e3e494c3fe83d1_Gen%20Z%20%26%20Your%20Church.pdf
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/08/gen-z-americans-white-majority-study
  3. https://www.npr.org/2022/07/14/1111060299/school-segregation-report
Raymond Chang

Raymond Chang

Pastor Raymond Chang is the Executive Director of the TENx10 collaboration (out of Fuller Seminary), which is a collaborative movement that is geared towards reaching 10 million young people over 10 years with the gospel). He is also the president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative, a pastor, and writer. Prior to his role at Fuller, Raymond served for 7+ years as the Associate Chaplain for Discipleship at Wheaton College. He also worked in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and served in the Peace Corps in Panama. He has contributed chapters to several books including Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel (Lexham), Confronting Racial Injustice: Theory and Praxis for the Church (Cascade), Preaching Romans from Here (Wipf and Stock), with other books forthcoming. He is currently pursuing his PhD on the intersection of Spirituality and Campus/Organizational Racial Climates. He is married to Jessica Chang.
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