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Friday, August 19, 2016

"For a New Generation" (Lee Kricher)

TITLE: For a New Generation: A Practical Guide for Revitalizing Your Church
AUTHOR: Lee Kricher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (176 pages).

If you are reading this book, there is a good chance that you come from or know of churches trying to address the aging problem. Churches all over the world are constantly being challenged toward leadership renewal, engaging the young, and replacing the old. People don’t live forever and there will be a time in which the baton needs to be handed to the next generation. Provided there is a next generation. Are you doing enough to reach the next generation? Are we doing both church planting as well as church revitalization? Can we put in place a strategy to enable a church toward ‘perpetual church revitalization?’

For senior pastor of Amplify Church, it means developing a new generation church that has “attendees whose average age is at least as young as the average age of the community in which the church exists.” For Amplify Church that was founded in the late 1970s, by 2003 they had such a sharp decline that the less than 200 people in the church could hardly afford its monthly mortgage payment. They even needed to make arrangement with a bank to service only its interest! Most alarming was the rising average age of the congregation. By refocusing their efforts on becoming a new generation church, the numbers not only reversed but the church grew to an average weekly attendance of 1400 people. More encouraging is the average age of the congregation hovers under 35. This book is about the journey of Amplify Church, and how it takes a declining situation and turns it around to be a vibrant new generation church. It comprises five strategies:
  1. Adopt a New Mindset
  2. Identify the Essentials
  3. Reduce the Distractions
  4. Elevate Your Standards
  5. Build a Mentoring Culture
Meant more as ‘provocative’ rather than ‘prescriptive,’ these strategies are what Amplify Church has adopted in their church revitalization program. Undergirding all of these is the place of prayer and the conviction that we must care not only for our own generation but for the newer generations that are to come. So how does Kricher provoke?

Kricher believes that doing nothing is the worst possible strategy. He asserts that keeping to the status quo is the biggest threat to any church. That is why the first strategy is of utmost importance. Until people’s minds are ready to change, the best strategies will not be effective. You need a guiding coalition for change, filled by people of power, influence, credibility, expertise, and the presence of change leaders like pastors and influential leaders. You need an effective preaching platform to instil change. You need a high involvement leadership. Bold changes require bold leadership. It requires strong support from church members. It needs the entire church to ask: “What does it take to reach the next generation for Christ?” It is not just about evangelization. It is about revitalization. We cannot simply wait for things to come around to our own comfort levels. We must go forth and reach out.

Next is the focus on the essentials. We need to maintain focus on the reason for our church existence. We need to recover the vision and our sense of identity. Before we change, we must have a firm grasp of our real identity. Otherwise, when we lose our identity, we are prey for changing into all kinds of weird ideas and do not achieve the purpose of our existence. This means learning to do things that uniquely reflect who we are. For Kricher, it means having a powerful and effective vision statement. It needs to be clear, concise, inspiring, and useful. It is worth spending time on working out this vision because all of the programs, activities, and plans will dovetail on this vision. With vision, we will be able to identify what is really necessary. 

He challenges us to slay sacred cows that are no longer relevant or are distracting. In what he calls "reduce the distractions," he urges us to rethink, relook, and readjust our sails of ministry. He shares with us the different things he had initiated to enable the Church to be more child-friendly and youth-minded. From the reassignment of staff roles, the recruitment of a children’s director and a youth worker; the design of regular church rooms; he repeatedly tells us that the culture has shifted from a ‘Captain Kangaroo world’ to a ‘Disney and Nickelodeon’ world.’  Not only that, the Church also starts to look out toward supporting children’s ministries outside of the four walls of the Church. They participated in Missions through partnership with Compassion International. It began with the Church youth group. It’s a powerful testimony to see youths reach fellow youths both inside and outside the Church. It’s equally powerful to see young children caring for other young children. 

Elevate our standards. Like most organizations with finite resources, something’s gotta give when we redirect funds or human resources to new initiatives. Old programs may need to be jettisoned to free up funds. We are reminded that while the mission of the Church cannot be changed, the programs can. After removing distractions from our mission, we can begin to focus on the standards we hold ourselves to. In fact, by elevating our standards, we not only push ourselves toward excellence, we avoid becoming complacent in our past. One important observation is how it is so difficult to elevate standards when an organization is unfocused. In fact, a lack of focus means trying to do all things in the power of mediocrity. Worse, it may lock oneself into the comfort of the familiar that one no longer wants to change but see the preservation as a sacred cow that cannot be slaughtered. Of interest is the use of ‘creative teams’ where Amplify Church used to market their programs for members to invite friends. The conversion of one room into a posh cafe becomes an attraction for members to bring their friends to church early. Upbeat music gives people a more relaxed mood for conversations. Even the service hours were modified downward to be sensitive to people’s needs for their football games! One option was to reduce the announcement time so that other programs can have more time. I love the way Kricher argues against those who believe in spontaneous planning and reacting, that the key indication of how the Holy Spirit works is less about spontaneous acts but through changed lives. The music gets changed to more contemporary styles. Messages are elevated through extended sermon preparations, and making the weekend messages the highest priority. 

Finally, mentor the young. Like Stephen Covey's reminder to us to begin with the end in mind, this book challenges us to begin with the next generation in mind. While it is true that every generation has to meet their own set of challenges, it is also our responsibility to equip the next generation to tackle their own challenges. Do whatever it takes to encourage and empower the young ones to step forward. 

In this book, I get the feel that it is not about becoming a Church where unchurched people loved to come. It is about becoming the Church that young people would love to come, both churched and unchurched. The Church at large needs a lot of hope and aspirations. Just like the way adults celebrate with joy and glee is the presence of young ones maturing into young adults. We must learn to exercise less control and to encourage more bold initiatives. Ultimately, it is about the young encouraging one another to step forward in this very challenging ministry. Perhaps, this book is a powerful way to encourage that. It is indeed less about worrying whether the young will accept or reject the faith, but more about how we are creating the environment to encourage them toward acceptance of Christ and his beloved Church. Even though the title of the book is aimed toward ministry for a new generation, the book is meant for all generations.

I highly recommend this book not only for the next generation to come, but for the present. Ignore this book and the message within at your own peril. 

Lee Kricher is founding pastor of Amplify Church.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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