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Ron Luce Talks with Dr. Brown on How to Keep Young People in the Faith

Line of Fire / Dr. Michael Brown
The Truth Network Radio
August 24, 2022 4:40 pm

Ron Luce Talks with Dr. Brown on How to Keep Young People in the Faith

Line of Fire / Dr. Michael Brown

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August 24, 2022 4:40 pm

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So, why are so many young people leaving the faith, and what can be done to make lasting disciples? I'm going to talk to an expert about it. It's time for The Line of Fire with your host, biblical scholar and cultural commentator, Dr. Michael Brown. Your voice for moral sanity and spiritual clarity.

Call 866-34-TRUTH to get on The Line of Fire. And now, here's your host, Dr. Michael Brown. Hey friends, I have really been looking forward to today's broadcast with my special guest, Ron Luce. Those of you who were young people, oh, a few years back, or have been involved in youth ministry with no teen mania, many, many thousands of young people deeply impacted, taking missions trips, serving around the world, Ron is now leading Generation Next. We had a talk a few months back about what's happening in the church, why so many young people are leaving the faith, and keys to making lasting disciples. So we're going to have a really eye-opening, constructive talk today, but if you have a question, maybe you're in youth ministry yourself, maybe you're a pastor, maybe you're a young person and have questions, if you have specific questions about this topic and want to talk to Ron, the number to call is 866-34-TRUTH, 866-348-7884, or you can post your question on YouTube or Facebook, AskDrBrown on YouTube or Facebook, but again, only relevant to the discussion that we're having today. Without further ado, Ron, it is great to have you on The Line of Fire today, thanks for joining us.

Thank you, Dr. Brown, it is an honor to be with you. Well, we've only spent a little time together face-to-face, and when we finally talked, it was great to compare notes at greater length, and studies that you've been involved in, ministry you've been involved in, it's all pointing to practical solutions. But first, let's go back in history a little bit. Tell us how Teen Mania was formed, and what you see in retrospect as the strengths of Teen Mania, perhaps the weaknesses as well.

Well, that's a loaded question, let's talk about it. So, by the grace of God, my wife Katie and I felt, back in 1986, that we were supposed to do everything we could to set a generation on fire and give them a heart to change the world. And so, it was just me and her in our little car, and we're driving around, and it was just amazing, you know, having, we were doing these crusades, we had 10, 15 kids at a time packing out living rooms across America, and I'd preach like there was like 10,000 there, even though there's 10. And I encouraged them to get totally committed, all for the call, give their life to Christ, and then go on mission trips. So immediately, that next summer, we took 30 young people on mission trips, the next year we were on the road again, and you know, I'm literally calling every little church in America that had no idea who we were, which was all of them, and going to the local libraries – do you remember microfiche? Yeah. Microfiche of yellow pages from different cities around the country, of churches, calling, doing cold calls.

Wow. Hey, you don't know me, but my name is Ron Luce, and I started doing the math, after you do about, after about every 40 phone calls, someone would say, yes, send me a brochure. So I just did the math, I made enough phone calls, I'd have enough events to go to, and like I said, we'd do two, three events a year, I mean a week, and then travel from place to place. By the grace of God, the next year, we had more events, after three or four years, they got too many. I mean, there's 300,000 churches in America, we're never going to reach them all. So we started doing conferences where a youth pastor could bring his youth group to an event in a region.

And so then we called those Acquire the Fire conferences, and we started those in 91, and literally for 25 years, 33 weekends a year we'd do an event in a city every year. So they just kept growing, and by the grace of God, you know, literally we saw more than three million young people come to the events, and you know, thousands and thousands come to Christ, and our whole thing was, we know you can whip young people into a frenzy of emotion, but we didn't want to do that. We would try to be very creative in how we communicate the Gospel, and of course we'd always present the Gospel, but every year's a different theme.

Maybe it's about living pure, maybe it's about how to develop real friendships, maybe it's how to deal with your parents, what the Bible has to say about all those topics. But then try to also be very creative with videos and comedy and interactivity and that kind of thing, and then always a call to go to the nations as well. So we started taking more and more kids on mission trips. Each year we'd take hundreds and then thousands. Over all the years we took some 80,000 young people on mission trips, and we had an internship in Garden Valley, Texas, and of course you got to come and speak to those interns at one point. We had hundreds of young people there giving a year of their life. And so I, in retrospect, so I'm doing everything I can to rescue these kids and reach them for Christ, and if we figured, if we took them on a mission trip and then an internship, we'd get them so deep in their faith they wouldn't backslide. However, now in retrospect I think, first of all, I don't think we had 3 million kids come because we were such great marketers. I think it's a symptom of what's happening to the church in America. That is, people are gasping for air, youth groups are dying, and they're looking for anywhere they can give them CPR, so they would come to our events trying to get their young people on fire again. And so I think we have a phenomenon like that in America now, where it's like the Wal-Mart effect. Something looks big, but it's actually because other things are dying. And you look at the percentage of Christians in America, the number of people going to church, the percentage of young people coming to Christ that call themselves Christians, it's getting less and less and less, no matter what we do, for the last four decades, five decades.

So I've been studying the last five years, how do we have real answers to change trends rather than keep doing the same thing and hoping for different results? Yeah, well said. And thank God for the good fruit that did come out of this. Our younger daughter went, I believe it was to Romania, with teen mania, was really impacted. And what I remember, she and her older sister, our other daughter, had some friends in the congregation, and one of the girls was kind of, she was probably in the faith, but she was not really deeply committed. And she was in Africa, I'm almost sure she was in Africa on her missions trip, and it was for about a month, and she had tickets to a U2 concert. And she called her mom and she said, I've got to see more souls saved, I've got to stay. So she stayed that extra month, but I remember just hearing that and thinking, wow. And that fire burned in her for many years. You know, you can't make something burn a whole lifetime, but when someone gets touched and years and years they're living by that, that's major. But yeah, I think that often we fail to look at the big picture wrong.

We see a hole in the dam and we stick one thumb in, now with another finger, but we've already used all the fingers and all the toes. So something else has to happen. So tell us what you have discovered as some of the main issues. We're going to talk solutions, friends, today, but what are some of the main problems that you are uncovering in your studies? Well, so my studies were in strategic force.

I did my doctorate at Reading University, finished a couple years ago, and that's the science of futuring. It's identifying trends and looking at how they might impact a variety of different industries. So I went in studying, what are the trends in the next 5, 10, 20 years that are going to most impact the Church, and what can we do about it?

And by the way, of course, those trends will most impact the younger generation, because they'll impact them and they'll live for the rest of their life with that trend. And so some of what we've seen that is not new, but when you start connecting the dots, it becomes a kind of inflection point that makes you pause. So for example, one of the big trends we identified that is frightening or daunting is the aging of the Church, or the growing of the Church, both in America and around the world, where you look at what is the average age of those who are Christians or call themselves Christians, and it's been getting older and older, and all around the world, we documented it, where almost every single place that has been Christianized is getting older and older, and it only means that youth ministry in America and around the world, we're just reaching less and less percentage, and so there's less in Church, and so you have in South Korea, they've closed 10,000 churches in the last 10 years, because everybody was old and died. And so one of the metrics that we haven't been paying attention to, because we look at, like, how many campuses do we have, or how big is the back door and the front door of the Church, do we grow two or three percent?

But one of the gauges we're not looking at on the dashboard is, what is the average age of our Church, and what does it look like six months ago or a year ago, what's the trend? Because it's sort of that gauge that's hidden, and as a result, churches are getting older and older and literally slowly dying, so you start reverse engineering going, now why would that be? We in youth ministry, if you are a youth pastor, you've been involved in, there's lots of parachurch ministries, we were one, you can't say people haven't been working hard, people have been working really hard, but some of the things that we discover that are sort of right in our face that we just don't see are paradigms that do not help us in the quest for the next generation, for example. So we've known for a long time, kids come back from college and they go, well, I'm not going to, that's not my church, that's my parents' church, that's my pastor, that's my parents' pastor, 70 or 80 percent, after they get done with college, don't come back to church, and we go, wow, isn't that sad, and then we just keep doing the same thing.

Well if we look at the paradigm underneath that is, so you hire a cool guy with a little tattoo, he plays the guitar, and he keeps the kid's attention for three years before he leaves. So for those years while he's there, the kid, or the youth pastor, as it were, he's speaking into their life. Many times they're not even in the Sunday morning service for the pastor to plant nuggets into their life. So they come back from college and they go, well my pastor's gone, the guy that was the cool guy with the tattoo, and so that guy on stage, that's not my pastor, he never, I didn't get anything planted in my life from him, and so they start wondering, that's my parent's pastor, and the pastor doesn't know what to do, so he just, because of the paradigm, just go hire the next guy with the cool guy that can keep your attention. And so they're literally paying people's salary to actually cause people to leave their church, and they don't even realize it, because they think they're doing the responsible thing, hiring a youth pastor, and youth pastors are great, except that the pastor needs to be the pastor of the whole church, and have some spiritual deposit so that young person feels an affinity to them, that person has changed my life. A lot of pastors, they feel like I'm not cool, I'm not relatable, I don't know what to say, that's why I hired a cool guy.

And instead of realizing you don't have to be young and cool, what you just need to be is honest and real, and just try, whatever sermon you have, to make, think of that fifteen year old sitting in your pew, and just make one illustration for your message each week that will apply to that girl or that guy, and so they know you're thinking about them. And so there's a lot of, a number of paradigms like that, that have caused this... The greying of the church. Yeah, all right, tell you what, stay right here, we've got a break, so much to unpack here, friends. Again, we're going to identify some of the problems, here they are, they're the elephants in the room, but there are solutions. Be forewarned, the solutions are as radical as the Jesus of the Bible. We'll be right back with Ron Luce, Dr. Ron Luce. It's the Line of Fire with your host, Dr. Michael Brown.

Get on the Line of Fire by calling 866-34-TRUTH. Here again is Dr. Michael Brown. Hey friends, a little less than one hour from now, so 4.15 Eastern Time, we'll be right back here on YouTube, so those watching on YouTube, those listening on radio, you can switch over, ASKDRBrown on YouTube at 4.15 for our weekly exclusive Q&A chat, so all subjects under the sun, you get to post questions, I answer as many as I can.

All right, getting back to my guest, Dr. Ron Luce. Ron, I've had the privilege of ministering in South Korea since 1990, I think I've been there 13 times, and I never met anyone that prays the way they pray. I remember one pastor with a network of about 70,000 that he was over, I was speaking for him, and he told me that for many, many years, decades, he's led the 6 a.m. prayer meeting at his church, and the early morning prayer at 4.30 a.m., and that was just his lifestyle. We're seeing that level of praying devotion, but as I went in more recent years, I thought, oh my, I mean, I see it with my eyes, oh my, the graying of the church, and where are the young people, and the numbers, I was reading about them and hearing about them, and you think, wow, it's so burdensome and so grievous because of the fervor and because of the commitment, but we often just do the same thing over and again, at least here in America, thinking that that's somehow going to solve the problem. What else have you identified in terms of, especially young people leaving?

You said a lot already, and I want to talk about some of the solutions, but what else did you learn in your doctoral studies? Well, let's just continue to talk about Korea for just a second. So what an amazing revival. Most of us have heard about it in the 70s and 80s, went from 2% Christians to 33% Christian in a Buddhist nation. Now, I don't know if that's ever happened before in the history of Christianity, that's amazing. And so when you're in the middle of that kind of miracle, it's probably hard to have your wits about you, right? They're doing their best, but their churches are growing, millions and millions and millions, all these different churches, Cho and everybody else. So before casting a stone or anything, I've not been in the middle of that, I can't really relate to that. Today, we know, the data says that of young people in Korea, it's only 1.7% that are Christian. It's actually less than before the revival. So it's about, and for pastors, I'm not advocating, you need to turn your whole church into a youth church, but I am saying, if you just tilt your sail a little bit, like what could you do?

Like you end up on a whole different part of the ocean if you just tilt your sail. Like they would have just aimed a little bit at young people, all of the praying, all of that, the stuff that they've done for all these decades now, may have been able to really impact. And now, of course, they've got the prosperity that's going on there, and people have let the church because of that, and they've got K-pop and all kinds of things. And so I would say that diving deep into why the grain of the church helps to bring solutions. And so in the middle of my studies, as I'm looking at things like technology and all the futuring of things that are happening so quickly, and we can barely keep our mind wrapped around, wow, TikTok, it's everywhere, and then all of a sudden there's something else, and then there's virtual reality and all of this, and how can you compete with that? It feels like we're being flooded with all the high-tech stuff that's shaping and influencing our kids, and really, even in Christian homes, stealing them from us because they spend way more time with the technology and the media and the social media than they do at church or even with their parents. And so I found, though, a glimpse of hope, and then I found another. Then I found another that was defined, that is, defined all the trends, the technology trends, the grain of the church trends, and all the other trends that are negative or pulling the young generation from Christ, and they're doing things. When I first saw it in Singapore, then I saw it in the Philippines, I saw it in Africa and Ghana, I saw it in Bogota, Colombia, in Russia, a few other places.

I was like, oh my gosh, I'm so ashamed and embarrassed. We worked with 100,000 churches around America, and I've never saw what I've seen in these churches. They are defying the odds of the church growing old, they're actually growing their church young by reaching the young generation. They're reaching them, and as a result, that's their strategy to grow their church, because they base their strategies on data. So for example, we all know, there's been studies for decades that say most people come to Christ before 20, so up to 90% come before 20. International Bible Society says 83% come to Christ between 4 and 14 years old. That's all around the world.

Now, that's not new data. We haven't used it, we the church, to inform our actions. We just kind of keep going, well that's good, because we have this conundrum. And the conundrum is, well Jesus loves everybody, so shouldn't I try to reach everybody? And then, like a shotgun, we try to reach everybody and we reach very few of anybody. But Jesus was focused, so think about when he was here alive in person. He loved everybody, but he still spent more time with the 70s in the crowd, spent more time with the 12s in the 70s, spent more time with the 3s in the 12s. That is, he focused and he prioritized people that were more receptive. And so he still loved everybody, and we can do this, we can choose them and walk at the same time. We can love everybody, but focus on those most likely to come to Christ. And that's what we found in Singapore, in so many churches, these exponential churches we found around the world, anybody's welcome. But they focus on the sweet spot between 13 and 19 years old. You can't really get to them when they're children unless you're at Side Wreck Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, but at 13, there's a little bit of a chance for them to make their own decisions.

I'm going to go to the movies with my friends, things like that. And so Pastor Howe in Singapore was the first one who told me, he says, Ron, we focused on every 13-year-old in our footprint. I said, footprint?

What are you talking about? You sound like a businessman, because that's marketing language, because I'm not talking about every 13-year-old in our church. Of course we're going to be so. I'm talking about, we identify every school represented in our church, we find out how many 13-year-olds are in those schools, and we go after those 13-year-olds.

That's our footprint. Because we're going to reach them, sometimes when they get 16, 17, 18, you know, they're cool, they're driving, maybe they're drinking, they've got girlfriends, they're distracted. They don't want to get caught. And a lot of energy is spent on trying to catch kids who don't want to get caught.

But 13-year-olds want to get caught. We're sort of in this moment of, well, what am I? I'm not a child, I'm not an adult, and if we're not careful, we'll let social media kind of give them their identity.

And they're the ones looking like, who will accept me? Is this a cool kid? Is this a druggie?

Is this a jock? And usually the church is running right by them. Well, these churches are focused on, they're going to, a couple times a year, they do a big event and a big push, everybody find a 13-year-old, pay for a 13-year-old, bring a niece or a nephew, go make friends with one, and get them to this event.

And it's a slap your momma, God's in the house, throw down the gospel, call to Christ. And that's one of the best practices that we've found. We've identified a handful of best practices that all these churches do. One is, they aim for them while they're in their sweet spot, while they're most likely to come to Christ. In most Western countries, it's about 13-years-old. In Japan, it's a little bit older, they really can't get to them before they're 18 because their culture and that kind of thing. Second, another best practice is they, once they come to Christ, this is really important, they take them on a deep dive, we call it deep dive discipleship.

You know, in America, we throw that word around, discipleship, you know, it's the four classes you take after you get saved. But they have a whole different way of thinking about it. They think, we're going to put them in a pipeline when they're 13, and we're going to put a pipeline together that goes all the way through 14, 15, 16, until they get to 20 or 21 years old.

In fact, what they do is they think deeply about, what do we want them to look like when they get to be 21, and then they reverse engineer it, and then they scope and sequence it, just like you would a school or university, or what do they need to be in the United States at 14, and then 15, and 16, and then they have trimesters, all of them, like, you think kids won't do this, but they will. We know young people love radical message. The problem is, only radical message a lot of times they hear is at camp or at acquire the fire or a conference, they don't hear it regularly. And so what they do is they put this whole discipleship pipeline together that's all radical infused with gospel, the truth, scripture renewing your mind, and shaping them into the young men and women. So some of these guys have been doing it for like 20 years, now they're in each other's weddings, they're godparents to each other's kids, and they solve that issue, what happens when they graduate? It's not one sermon that does it, it's a paradigm of radical growth.

Think about Red Bull for your faith, Red Bull, Red Bull, Red Bull for like six years. And the third best practice that they all do is some kind of a leadership training for young people. So once they're a disciple for a year, then they put them into leadership training, because the assume closes, everybody's going to lead a small group. Everybody's going to get to lead. Everybody's going to get to pray for people, and minister to people, because that's part of the fun, right?

Red Bull has invited us all, and commissioned us all, to get involved in the Great Commission, and minister to people, and so the assume closes. Everybody's going to get to have the fun, and lead, and help people, and guide them in their growth in Christ. And so it's really life-giving, but it's also very systemic.

They're training leaders all the time, they're having big events a couple times a year for young, for 13-year-olds, and then they have this deep dive discipleship that goes, Trimester is 12 weeks, and then another Trimester is 12 weeks, another Trimester is 12 weeks, and some of them have scoped and sequenced all the way those six or seven years until they get 21. And so it's a sticky web of goodness. You can get out, but you've got to really want to get out. You're stuck to this, and you don't want to get out.

You're wrong. I want to interact with some of this on the other side of the break. This is so rich. Friends, if you're in a church, and you think, wow, this is awesome to hear this, send this to your pastor, youth pastor, pastors, youth pastors listening, others involved in all types of youth ministry, evangelists, hear these words. This is so, so important. Ron, we've got a break in 15 seconds. Is there a website of yours that folks can go to to find out more about what you're doing today? Sure.

You can find out all about the tools I just mentioned, and we actually have a whole program called Project 13 for churches that are interested in doing a prayer church. All right, friends, write that down, We'll be right back with Ron Luce. It's The Line of Fire with your host, Dr. Michael Brown.

Get on The Line of Fire by calling 866-34-TRUTH. Here again is Dr. Michael Brown., boy, what a catchy website, revolutionary executive education for pastors and their team, Exponential 101. We'll talk about that with my guest, Dr. Ron Luce. You know, Ron, you trigger so many thoughts as you're talking.

I just want to say a few things and give it back to you, but I interact every so often with Andy Stanley, and we have a lot of areas of agreement, and then here and there we'll have some friendly sparring on areas of disagreement. Something he said that's really stuck with me as one of the most influential pastors in America, that his target when he's preaching is a 15 to 16-year-old, and that what excites him the most is when his teenagers are eager to get to church. They don't want to miss a church service. That to him is the biggest thing, and I think back to when I got saved in 1971 at the age of 16 as a heroin shooting LSD-using hippie rock drummer, it was a totally traditional church, a little Italian Pentecostal church, a pastor's wife played the piano, we sang the hymns, there was nothing youth-oriented about, there wasn't a youth group, anything like that, a bunch of us got saved around the same time, but, and there was very little formal discipleship, but if you wanted to dive in, there was Monday night prayer meeting, there was Tuesday night service, there was Friday night service, there was Sunday school, there was Sunday morning, then we added a Wednesday night service, then we added a Sunday night service, then we did a door-to-door outreach, different things, so I got involved with everything, and at a certain point, I remember I said to myself, because I got instantly set free from drugs by God's grace, I said, I could lead a clean but empty life where I could give myself to God the way I gave myself to drugs and rock music, and by the time I was saved a year, I used to spend at least six or seven hours alone with God in the Word and prayer, undistracted, uninterrupted, and those things laid foundations for the rest of my life, so even though there was not a conscious youth discipleship, there was at least a funnel where those who were hungry and thirsty could join together with other committed believers, older believers, and we went after Jesus together. What you're saying is doing things in a systematic, intentional way. We look at the young people and the radicality of what they're exposed to, and we come up with this idea to just try to entertain them in church, which is ridiculous, but what we need to show is following Jesus is a radical thing.

Are you willing to go? We'll run with you, and I get spoiled because I'm in so many places where young people are on fire, where churches are growing, where they're largely young, then I get to pour into the cream of the crop that go to ministry schools for more training, and I realize, okay, that's not what's happening all around. I can't base things on what I'm seeing because I'm seeing some of the exceptions.

You're looking at the larger figures, which are very, very daunting. More and more people are recognizing now. So before we get into any more of these best practices, Ron, in your experience now in America, are pastors and leaders able to take hold of this?

You mentioned Singapore, you mentioned Philippines, you mentioned countries in Africa. Are pastors in America able to take hold of this and actually do this here in the U.S.? Well, that is a great question, because a lot of times we're hearing people going on in another nation, well, that only happens in South America, and so I finally met a pastor that had actually gone on the same quest that I was on, learning from these churches, many of the same churches in Los Angeles, and he came back home, and he goes, okay, I've learned all this stuff, now what is it about America that makes it so that there's barriers to applying this? For example, we like to be anonymous in church. We're too busy for another meeting, like a small group or something.

We don't want authority in our life. In Los Angeles, one of the barriers is it's hard to get anybody anywhere because public transportation, you wouldn't let your young person go on that necessarily. And so he took all the barriers and said, okay, why do the barriers, can we take the principles that have been curated and apply them, and he's done it, and it's been amazing. His name's Jason Lozano. His church went from 1,700 to 3,000 in two years, and then COVID's gone to 4,900. And these are people that are not just coming to Christ, but they're all involved.

He's got 10 simultaneous trimesters going on at the same time of growth, growth, growth, growth. And so there is good news, and I think hope for pastors, because there are a lot of pastors who, they've tried a lot, they used to be youth pastors, and now they're pastors, and they're like, you know, we put a lot of money into this, we built a youth center, we did all this stuff, and we're still seeing all this negative data. Well, now there is hope, like there's a proven process. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You know, every industry in the world goes and finds out what the best practices are in their industry, bring it back. You can't cheat and just copy and paste.

You still have to personalize it. You say, well, how does this apply to my DNA of my church, to my community, to my culture, things like that. So you can't just be, you know, a no-brainer about it, but at the same time, you can take the best practices and the principles behind them and say, okay, now how will that work in my context? And so yeah, what we've tried to do is take something, as I kept learning, I went to every one of these churches, looked under the hood, asked a lot of questions about the pastor, the levels of leadership, and then thought, okay, now how do we take this, it's sophisticated and deep and it's working, and make it simple for a pastor or youth pastor who says, you know what, I'm ready for a fresh paradigm. And so, as I mentioned, we call this Project 13 because we're getting the churches and the youth pastors to focus on reaching. It doesn't mean the whole church is about 13-year-olds, but you're reaching them a couple times a year.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-06 05:25:40 / 2023-03-06 05:39:16 / 14

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