When it comes to discipling children, there is no limit to the thoughts, patterns, and opinions you can find online. You can probably ask around your immediate community and get another few dozen different answers.

So how do we disciple today’s children in our churches, and how do we know if our discipleship practices are effective?

We need to understand them. Them being Generation Alpha, the 1-13 year olds participating in your children’s ministry in 2024.

Who are they? What motivates them? How do they prefer to learn? How do they perceive the world around them?

One might say that the gospel is timeless and nothing needs to change. They’d be right. The life and character of Jesus is resolute, standing the test of time and impacting every generation that followed Him.

But they’d also be wrong.

Even if the gospel itself isn’t changing, the world in which we live is changing constantly. The audience has changed. The context in which the gospel is perceived has changed. So our discipleship practices have to change with it. Why? Because it is our mission to develop fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ by reaching seekers, building believers, and equipping God’s people to impact their world.

Let’s back up a step and take a closer look at the grownups, the ones who bring these children to our churches. The majority of them are Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996). Millennials are:

 

  • Digital natives. They grew up when digital technology was rising. Considered the first true “digital natives,” the internet has influenced how they communicate, their work habits, and their consumer behavior.

 

  • Diverse and Inclusive. Millennials tend to be more diverse and inclusive in their views than previous generations. They have been active in advocating for social justice issues.

 

  • Education-Oriented. A significant portion of Millennials pursued higher education, and many hold college degrees. However, that leads us to our next point …

 

  • Financially Challenged. Millennials have faced economic challenges, including the burden of student debt, high housing costs, and the impacts of the 2008 financial crisis. Many have delayed major life milestones like homeownership and starting families due to financial constraints.

 

  • Mindful of Work-Life Balance. Millennials tend to prioritize work-life balance, job satisfaction, and social responsibility in their career choices. They are known for valuing flexibility and often seek job opportunities that allow for remote work and flexibility in hours.

 

  • Entrepreneurs. Many Millennials have embraced entrepreneurship and freelancing. The gig economy and the rise of startups have provided opportunities for them to pursue their passions and gain more control over their careers.

 

  • Tech-Savvy Consumers. Millennials are significant influencers in the tech and e-commerce industries. They are known for their consumer preferences, often preferring online shopping, subscription services, and digital entertainment platforms.

 

  • Creating a ‘Brand’. Social media is a major part of Millennials’ lives. This generation played a key role in the growth of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Personal branding and sharing personal experiences online are common among this generation.

 

  • Concerned for the Environment. Many Millennials are environmentally conscious and advocate for sustainable practices. They are more likely to support eco-friendly products and companies.

 

  • Delaying Traditional Milestones. Marriage and parenthood tend to happen later in life for many Millennials. This delay is often attributed to factors like financial concerns and a desire to achieve career and personal goals before starting a family.

 

Now, let’s talk about the kids who are growing up with caregivers who are Millennials. Generation Alpha are:

 

  • Digital Natives. Gen. Alpha is growing up in a world that is even more digitally connected than the one in which Millennials and Generation Z were raised. They are true digital natives, having never known a world without smartphones, tablets, and ubiquitous internet access.

 

  • Tech-Savvy. Early indications suggest that Generation Alpha will be highly tech-savvy and comfortable with a wide range of digital devices and technologies. Their upbringing will likely involve extensive use of educational technology and online learning tools.

 

  • Diverse and Inclusive. Like Generation Z and Millennials, Generation Alpha is likely to continue the trend of valuing diversity and inclusivity, as these principles are increasingly emphasized in education and society.

 

  • Well-Educated. Generation Alpha’s educational experiences will be shaped by innovative teaching methods, online resources, and potentially more personalized learning approaches. Their education may also involve a greater emphasis on digital literacy and critical thinking skills.

 

  • Climate Aware. Concerns about climate change and environmental sustainability will likely be central to Generation Alpha’s upbringing. They will grow up in a world where issues like climate change are at the forefront of public discourse.

 

  • Mindful of Health and Wellness. This generation’s upbringing will likely include a heightened focus on health and wellness, including healthier diets and a greater emphasis on physical fitness.

 

  • Witnessing Shifting Parental Roles. Generation Alpha’s parents often prioritize work-life balance and are more likely to share parenting responsibilities. This may impact the values and expectations of the generation.

 

  • Globally Minded. With a more connected world and greater access to information from a young age, Generation Alpha is likely to have a broader, more global perspective. They may be more aware of international issues and events, and as naturally curious individuals, you may find them asking lots of questions about how current issues in certain parts of the world are connected to the Biblical events that took place there.

 

  • Living in Economic Uncertainty. The economic conditions that Generation Alpha faces are uncertain, given the changing nature of work and the global economy. They may face challenges and opportunities in a world marked by automation and digital disruption.

 

So now that we understand our audience, we can look at the FIVE TENETS OF DISCIPLESHIP in the context of these generations.

Five Tenets of Discipleship for Kids are:

  1. Be Present
  2. Create a Safe Space
  3. Partner with Grownups
  4. Make it Personal
  5. Move Them Out

The first two are likely the ones your ministry is already doing well. By showing up on Sundays and devoting our time and energy to the kids in our ministry, we are being present and cultivating a safe space for them to know, love and follow Jesus.

Partnering with parents takes place on Sunday morning and all throughout the week. It has two main goals for discipleship – to give them language and give them tools. Consider this: many of the Millennials in our church are new to spirituality or grew up in churches but haven’t been attending anywhere regularly for many years. Becoming parents – and wanting their children to experience the safety and grace they remember from their own childhoods – may be the catalyst that brought them back in the door.

If that’s the case, the grownups might not have a strong grasp on their faith and what they believe. As a children’s ministry worker, you may be tempted to see the children as your ministry. But the family is your ministry. And you are in a unique position to support the faith of entire households. Be a vocal member of your church leadership team. Share your perspective and knowledge of the needs of the families in your community.

What questions are they asking? What do they struggle with the most in this phase? Your insights can shape messages coming from the main stage, or small group offerings. By helping those grownups embrace their faith, you empower them to share it with the kids in their home.

You can also partner with parents by giving them tools.

One thing I’ve learned about my fellow Millennials is that they don’t want you to make a decision for them. They want you to provide them the knowledge and resources to make the best decision for them on their own. Give them those tools by providing as many resources as possible – and make them digital when you can. As environmentally-conscious generations, both the kids and grownups served by your ministry will appreciate digital access to the resources you provide.

Here are some tools you can provide:

  • Online videos of your Sunday lessons.
  • Bible buying guide. List the pros, cons, price point and intended age for all the Bibles you personally endorse so they can order the one that suits their kids best.
  • Prayer guides. Millennials who grew up in church may be under the impression that prayer and worship only come in one form, which is dangerous thinking. It can give someone the idea that they’re a bad Christian or Jesus doesn’t love them because they’re not comfortable worshiping or praying a certain way. Teach them other methods like Centering Prayer, Immanuel Journaling, Stillness Exercises, etc.
  • Books and Guides. Provide a cultivated list of books to guide them through every phase of parenting. Anxiety, bullying, cancer, money, etc.

Once you’ve formed a plan for partnering with parents, it’s time to Make it Personal. Sunday gatherings can be inclusive and sensory-sensitive, but without a giant budget, it’s impossible to customize the experience for every child’s needs. The work we do outside of Sundays can meet each family where they are. Don’t brush aside opportunities to be present just because it doesn’t fit in your job description.

Go to 7-year-old Sally’s soccer game. Volunteer at the book fair at the elementary schools your students attend. Show up with snacks at your teen volunteer’s wrestling match. You don’t have to be talking about Jesus to disciple the kids you serve. Sometimes, just showing up and acting like Him is enough.

The last step is to Move Them Out. Prepare your students for the next step in ministry. This can be preparing them for middle school or high school groups, preparing them for baptism and communion, or simply sticking with them long after they’ve graduated from your ministry. Continue to support their parents. Continue to pray for their families.

If you want children in your ministry to know, love and follow Jesus with their whole hearts for their whole lives … disciple them well.

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Brooke Whitson

Children's Ministry Director at Seneca Creek Community Church
I am proof that God has a sense of humor. I have degrees in environmental science, experience in corporate brand reputation, government relations, and broadcast news, yet I’m drawn to ministry and serving families well. I have two fierce and funny daughters, seven pairs of running shoes and a sourdough recipe that’s worth its weight in gold.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeannette Cochran on March 6, 2024 at 7:04 am

    Thanks, Brooke! So informative. The generational characteristics are super helpful to consider.

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