More Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church

In a recent post I shared three secrets I’ve discovered working with young adults that are making a big difference in our church:

    1. Give up trying to do so much ministry
    2. Get rid of your best quality people
    3. Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus

The response to this was huge, so I’ve decided to share three more that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.


In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.

It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve decided to share three more secrets that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.”

Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.

All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.

#4 Make it known how average you are

Millennials are sick of slick. Consumer culture surrounds us and it gets worse every year. We’re not just being sold products—increasingly we are the product.

So don’t try too hard to win our loyalty or we’ll see through it. If you want our trust, what we first need to see is authenticity.

“Pastors need to let their dirt be seen.”

Young adults don’t want polish, and this is especially true when it comes to faith. We want a spirituality for the trenches. We want to see others who follow Jesus with dirt on their face.

That means pastors need to let their dirt be seen—their inabilities, their sins, their bleeding wounds. Basically, their desperate need for Jesus.

“We want a spirituality for the trenches.”

A revolution would start if young people no longer thought of us pastors as “professional Christians” (whatever that means). If they see that we’re normal, just like them, then they’ll realise they can be just like us—equally legitimate followers of Jesus, and leaders in their own right.

This couldn’t be more true in Australia, the most egalitarian culture on earth. Here down under, if leaders want to call people up higher, first we have to get down lower. We need vulnerability written all over us.

#5 Stop telling people to invite their friends

Young people in our church often invite friends, even friends who don’t follow Jesus. But not because I tell them to. Instead, it’s because some Sundays they find themselves thinking, I wish I’d invited my friend to this, they would have loved it.

If we’re serious about reaching the world, we need to stop telling people to invite their friends—and instead shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.

“People who don’t follow Jesus have huge roadblocks to faith.”

Our Sundays are far from perfect. But as we’ve reimagined them with outsiders in view, here are some things we now do differently.

We’ve stopped talking about “non-Christians” or “unbelievers” like they’re some strange group out there. We’ve stopped trying to just sound spiritual when we pick up the microphone, and to instead speak about real things Jesus is doing in our lives.

I’ve started to define terms like redemption and Old Testament and even God. Even if I need to pause mid-sermon to do it. Even if all the Christians in the room already get it. (By the way, this helps them communicate their faith better too).

“We need to shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.”

We’ve started answering questions that embarrass us. Like those ones about sexuality. Or world religions. Or the supernatural. Or like the series we’re about to start on big objections—Bible errors, hypocrisy in the church, religious violence, evil and suffering. The list goes on.

For people who don’t follow Jesus, these are huge roadblocks to faith, maybe the reason they don’t believe. So care enough to go there. When you do, you’ll discover what we have: people will invite their friends without being asked.

#6 Promote other churches over yours

I speak to lots of young people at my church who are part of another church too. There they serve on band or in kids ministry. Often it’s the church they grew up in. Even if it’s small and turning grey, they have a heart to see it thrive.

I’m so encouraged when people tell me these stories, and I cheer them on. I don’t want their undivided loyalty to my church. I want to bless and equip them so surrounding churches benefit too.

Jesus said the world will know us by our love for each other.

Here’s why: that was my story. At eighteen, I was struggling to lead a youth group in my home town. I was so thankful to find a church on Sunday nights that strengthened me to go back and fight another week. So thankful that I’ve now become one of its pastors, so I can do the same.

Hey churches, this isn’t a competition. Too often we’ve seen ourselves as footy clubs fighting for top place on the ladder. Wrong analogy: we’re actually players on the same team.

I was recently interviewed at a nearby Christian school. With hundreds of teenagers listening, I was asked where to visit if they want to explore faith. So I told them about three other great churches in the area before mentioning mine.

“This isn’t a competition. We’re on the same team.”

Revival is coming. But not before churches bury the hatchet. Jesus said the world will know us, not by our infighting or our one-upmanship, but by our love for each other.

That’s what young adults want to see in a church. That’s the Jesus they’re drawn to. So let’s stop building our own little kingdoms and get on with building his.

If you found this helpful, please go back and hit share or leave a comment. If you’d like to receive my blogs by email, scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe.

For more ideas, check out my original post, Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.

Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church

In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.

It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I talk to other leaders who feel discouraged in young adults ministry. Youth still in high school flock to events that are run well. But after they graduate and get their license, keeping them in a faith community is like herding cats.

“All of these secrets are totally counter-intuitive.”

It’s a huge challenge for me too. Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.

All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.

#1 Give up trying to do so much ministry

Like most pastors, I nearly burnt out in my first year. Then I discovered boundaries and learnt the word “no”. I also lifted my eyes and saw a church full of talented young people.

As I began asking their help to get things done, I realised something deeper. Young adults come alive when you look them in the eye, name their giftings, and throw them off the deep end with the words “I believe in you”.

“I lifted my eyes and saw a church full of talented young people.”

Some weeks now I don’t touch a microphone. Other people preach, lead worship, run life groups, and oversee complex ministries. Out of this fertile soil more grassroots ministries spring up—some that are thriving before I even hear about them.

I’m still deeply involved in the life of the community. And I preach often, because that’s my main gifting. But my role has shifted significantly to discipling leaders, and helping them do the same.

“As I’ve had the humility to step down, I’ve seen others step up.”

This is a win for everyone, because if I’m honest, I’m actually not that good at most other things. That’s what all the other people in the body of Christ are for.

Too often, pastors are put on a pedestal. It boosts our ego, but the pressure is deadly. As I’ve had the humility to step down, I’ve seen others step up. And I’ve realised that’s precisely how disciples are made.

#2 Get rid of your best quality people

Right now—and most of the time—some of our best young people are off completing discipleship schools with YWAM or serving on the mission fields of South-East Asia.

When they come back, more will go. Every month we farewell people who join our church plant, or decide to serve at a different church, or who go overseas with a ministry we’re not connected to.

“Long ago, I decided that my goal isn’t to retain young people.”

If this sounds stressful, it’s because you’re not thinking like a millennial. After thirteen years of routine, young people want freedom. We want adventure without a guaranteed outcome—even without the guarantee that we’ll return. And just watch: out of gratitude for that freedom, most will return anyway.

Even if they don’t come back, it’s not a loss. Long ago I decided that my goal isn’t to retain as many young people in church as possible. That will only leave me frustrated. It’s like herding cats, remember?

“Millennials are drawn to this kind of permission-giving community.”

Instead, for the six months or the two years or the decade they are with me, I will pour my heart into discipling them as well as I know how. Then, wherever they go, they’ll be a blessing to others, and a benefit to God’s kingdom. And I won’t feel deflated.

Millennials are drawn to this kind of permission-giving community. That’s why you can keep sending out your best with the confidence that more will come and replace them.

#3 Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus

Social media is a mirage telling us the perfect life is always just up ahead. The modern world tries to turn this dream into reality and sell us lives that are easy and pain-free.

The church has tapped into this project, and for decades now we’ve tried a seeker-sensitive approach. We hope that if we lower the bar of discipleship enough, anyone will step over it.

“We want purpose. Give us something worth dying for.”

But if you actually talk to young people today, they don’t want a low bar. We want a challenge. We’ve grown up with easy, and it’s boring.

We’ve also grown up with enough pain and mess to realise that the perfect life is a lie. We don’t want perfect; we want purpose. Give us something worth dying for—then we might have something to live for.

“We’ve grown up with easy, and it’s boring.”

Jesus is the answer to this cry. He calls us to die to ourselves daily. To put others first. To take up our cross of suffering and follow him. To live for a cause bigger than ourselves, greater than our comfort, more transcendent than the politics of our age.

Preach that, and young adults will come from miles away.

If you found this helpful, please go back and hit share or leave a comment. If you’d like to receive my blogs by email, scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe.

For more ideas, check out More Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.

Is God Still Speaking?

Part 2: The Purpose of Prophecy

There’s a unity between Christians today that gets me excited. Labels like Baptist and Pentecostal and Lutheran are falling away, thank God. We’re beginning to see that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

But let’s be honest, there are still a few things that divide us. None more so perhaps than this question: is God still speaking today? So let’s go there and see if we can find some common ground.

Many say that if the Bible is complete—if God has said all he wants to—we don’t need prophetic gifts anymore. If we try speak for him today it will just lead to distraction, even danger.

“Why does God still have so much to say?”

I used to think like that, but I’ve recently changed my view. In a previous post, I explained that prophetic gifts have limits, and if we understand these, we don’t need to see prophecy as a threat to Scripture.

But what is God’s intent behind prophecy? If he’s given us the Bible already, why does he still have so much to say? Consider four purposes of prophecy. God has given it to:

Refresh us in the truths of Scripture

That’s right. One of the main reasons God speaks to us today is to remind us of what’s he’s already said. We can be forgetful people.

Don’t be that person who closes their eyes, raises their hands, and says “Lord speak to me!” while their Bible sits there collecting dust.

I’m nervous about anyone who gets more excited about prophecy than they are about God’s Word. Prophecy will pass away, but the Word of God will stand forever.

“God speaks to remind us of what he’s already said.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if God gave our brains an index of all 31,102 verses in the Bible so we’d have the nugget of truth we need, precisely when we need it?

Actually, he’s done something better, and far less exhausting. God has given the church prophetic gifts so that we can recall just the right Scripture at just the right time—for ourselves and for each other.

Reprove us for moral failure

The lowest point in King David’s life was when he got a married woman pregnant and then covered his tracks by having her husband killed. In the fallout, God sent the prophet Nathan to tell the disgraced king a story.

A rich and a poor man each had a lamb. One day, the rich man hosted a meal, but instead of killing his own lamb, he stole and cooked the poor man’s lamb instead. The poor man was heartbroken; he’d loved that lamb like his own child.

When David heard what the rich man did, he was outraged. So Nathan turned to him with fire in his eyes and said, “You are that man!” It’s a story that sends shivers down my spine.

“Prophecy today will always have a redemptive edge.”

Prophecy is lots of things, but it’s also a call to godly living. Prophets are watchmen for moral compromise. We can hide our sins from others, but never from God.

Keep in mind though that prophecy today will always have a redemptive edge. There is no condemnation in Christ. Prophetic gifts are given to strengthen, encourage and comfort us (1 Corinthians 14:4) even as God sets us back on the narrow path.

Recruit us to an alternate future

Prophecy isn’t a crystal ball telling us exactly how the future will unfold. Yes, prophecy can predict the future. But when it does, its purpose is to altar the present.

Think of Jonah. God gave him a very simple word for the city of Nineveh: Forty days from now and Nineveh will be destroyed. The people humbled themselves, held a fast, and repented in sackcloth and ashes.

“Prophecy altars the present.”

Have you ever stopped to think that Jonah’s prophecy never came to pass? It was from God, yes—and it was exactly what the people of Nineveh needed to hear. But it was never fulfilled. Its purpose was to reorient their lives.

I have been given remarkable prophecies that have clearly come to pass in my life. There are others I’m still baffled by.

“There are things about God we’ll never understand.”

God’s thoughts are higher than ours. And he is outside of time, while we’re stuck in it. So there are things about him we’ll never understand.

But here’s something we can all understand: when God speaks to us, he is calling us to stop and reconsider our lives. And he’s in the process of recruiting us to a future that’s different—and far greater—than the one we’d dreamed for ourselves.

Remind us we’re known and loved 

Recently a friend of mine was overseas, and he found himself in a prayer meeting full of strangers.

A picture entered his mind as he prayed. It was unusual but vivid. Trusting it was from God, he described the scene to everyone present: a barn house with hay and high rafters, and a particular type of car parked outside.

“Nothing pierces the heart like a word directly from God.”

Suddenly a girl burst into tears. That barn was the place she was abused as a young girl. My friend got to tell her that God felt her pain, and that he’d never abandoned her, even in those dark moments.

God has given us prophecy for lots of reasons, but one of the most important is to remind us that he knows us and that he loves us.

Sermons, books, prayer, wisdom from others—all of this helps us build strong foundations for our faith. But nothing pierces the heart like a word directly from God.

“God knows us and he loves us.”

More and more, I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of words, and they have transformed my relationship with God.

God is no longer someone I just read about in a book. I know him now as the one who cares, and who walks with me on the mountains and in the dark valleys.

Because God has used the prophetic gifts of others to bless me so much, I am motivated to bless other people in the same way. It’s something I’m still growing in, but it’s worth the journey.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I’ll share what I’m learning with you.

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