Earlier this year, about thirty of us from varying youth ministry organizations gathered in Orlando with one singular focus. Reaching the next generation. At the outset, a statistic was shared that became our rallying point. Recent research by the Barna Group provided sobering clarity.

7% of the next generation globally identify themselves as Christ-followers.

Are we, the church, losing the next generation? Are we really satisfied with the results we’re seeing? We can’t stick our heads in the sand, pretend everything is okay, and keep doing everything as we’ve always done it. That’s the definition of insanity. Something must change!

But where do we begin? We have to honestly assess where we are at, and how it is we got here. Why are we failing? As I’ve wrestled through this question over the last several years, I’ve identified SEVEN REASONS why I believe we’re failing as the church. Over the next seven weeks, I’ll attempt to tackle these reasons one at a time.


We haven’t clearly identified the target – what is a disciple?

What is our end product? What are we trying to produce? Jesus commanded us to make disciples, but do we actually know what it is we’re trying to make? If you go to the typical church, we’re content with producing “good Christians.” By that, our unspoken definition equates to someone who attends church regularly, consistently contributes financially, and volunteers to help when they are needed. They are a nice person. They treat others well. They are faithfully engaged in the activities of the church. Is this what Jesus had in mind though when He commanded us to make disciples?

“The disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is (fully) trained will be like his teacher.”

Luke 6:40 MEV

When Jesus described a disciple, He said that a disciple would “be like his teacher.” He didn’t merely say that a disciple would know what his teacher knows, or even do what his teacher does. He said “be like.” A disciple will adopt the character and priorities of their discipler.

Think about it this way. If you are going to be like the person who discipled you, then that will require that you disciple someone else. Built into the DNA of being a disciple is that you will make disciples. A non-reproducing disciple is an oxymoron.

When it comes to “being like” our teacher, ultimately the goal is to be like The Teacher, Jesus. In Sonlife’s 4 Chair Discipling Seminar,  we offer this definition of a disciple:

One who Knows God Personally and Pursues Jesus Passionately, modeling everything in their life after the Character and Priorities of Christ.

There are two primary components to this definition of a disciple.

  1. Salvation – a disciple is a person who Knows God Personally. They have come into a saving relationship with God by grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
  2. Devotion – a disciple is a person who Pursues Jesus Passionately. They are committed to following Jesus and being like Him. This is only possible through the sanctifying and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Following and being like Jesus will be reflected in the disciple’s character and priorities, who they are and how they live.

The Priorities of Christ are best summarized in two statements Jesus made. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We can boil the priorities in these two statements down to six simple words.




This is how a disciple lives. As they follow, this is where Jesus will lead.

Let’s think for a moment what happens when we don’t clearly identify the target. What’s at stake?

If we don’t clearly identify the target:

If we don’t clearly identify the target, we’ll define success by unbiblical standards. We’ll define success by the size of our buildings, the health of our budgets, and the number of bodies in our seats. We won’t define success by the disciples that are being made and multiplied.

If we don’t clearly identify the target, we’ll design our programs and our preaching to produce what we’ve defined as success: buildings, budgets and bodies in the seats. We get exactly what we aim for.

If we don’t clearly identify the target, we’ll miss out on the joy of genuine fruit in our ministry. We’ll miss out on the dynamic move of God that is possible only when disciples are equipped and unleashed.

If we don’t clearly identify the target, we won’t be producing a pipeline of leaders who help the ministry grow. We’ll wait around and hope we can inherit some great leaders who are transplanted from other ministries. Disciple-making ministries are healthier because they raise up leaders from within. These are leaders who know the ministry’s culture and have proven character.

If we don’t clearly identify the target, we won’t glorify God by fulfilling the mandate He’s given us. He’s called us to make disciples. He’s commanded us to make disciples. If we don’t, one day, standing before Jesus, we won’t hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” How could we ever expect to hear “well done” if we failed to keep His final command.

What next?

  1. Clearly define the target. What is a disciple?
  2. Communicate the target. Make sure your leadership is on board with the target. Then make sure everyone in your ministry knows the target.
  3. Evaluate with the target in mind. Every program, every group, everything you teach, every staff person you hire. Everything must be evaluated by how it is helping you reach the target.
  4. Be courageous. Changes are coming. Your target will demand them. Being true to your target will require faith, courage and strength.

If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got. That’s not good enough. The next generation needs more.