Churches have long asked: how can we reach the next generation for Christ? Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung answers this in his booklet: “The (Not-So-Secret) Secret to Reaching the Next Generation”. DeYoung's argument is simple yet deeply challenging (and rather convicting). His point is that there is no secret sauce, no magic pill, no special program that will ensure faith in the next generation. Instead, churches ought to seek to grab them with passion, win them with love, hold them with holiness, challenge them with truth, and amaze them with God.

This is an incredibly short booklet—I believe I read it in under thirty minutes—but the concepts are very important for us to consider. DeYoung calls out the faulty ways our churches have tried to reach young people for several decades now. His examples include changing our music, incorporating movie clips, or altering the way we speak—all in an effort to appeal to young people. As he rightly points out, this is ineffective for several reasons. First, fads change. Spend time with teenagers and college students, and you’ll notice that what is “in” today will likely change next month. Second, DeYoung makes the point that this assumes that every member of the next generation is passionate about the same thing. This is a flawed assumption. You simply cannot paint people with a broad brush.

DeYoung argues that we must appeal to them by holding out the glory and majesty of God, the beauty of Christ, and the power of the gospel.There is no sense in the church adopting worldly means to win lost people. You do not win lost people to Christ by appealing to their lostness. Of course, as he rightly points out, no one will come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus apart from the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit. Yet God has ordained for lost people to find salvation through the witness of his people. And so, this little booklet inevitably turns things back on us. Rather than expecting the church to become something it was never meant to be, we are forced to ask questions of ourselves:

Do we live with passion for the Lord? Passion for the Lord must be fed, or it will be faked. So we must feed our souls well. True passion for the Lord grows in us through the ordinary means of grace. It grows sermon by sermon, church gathering by church gathering, by feasting on his word regularly, by giving ourselves to prayer, by reading books and listening to music and podcasts that fill our hearts and minds with sound doctrine. Most often, people can sniff out when we’re going through the motions. It’s equally palpable when someone feels something deeply. If we want young people to grow up in churches filled with passion for the Lord, then we, both individually and congregationally, must nurture our own zeal for him. If you want a fire to burn brightly, you continually feed it. So it is with our passion for the Lord.

Do we love others well? Do I give others the gift of my time and presence? Do I listen well? Do I ask good and thoughtful questions? Do I open my home to others? Paul exhorts the Philippians to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) and the Romans to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). DeYoung reminds us that love alone will never convince someone to follow Christ. However, it can go a long way toward causing someone to stop and listen. It puts substance behind our appeal to them to give their lives in worship and service to Jesus. Churches filled with self-sacrificing love for others make a far more compelling argument for Christ than gadgets and gimmicks.

Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Nothing is more detrimental to our gospel witness than hypocrisy. While we will never live lives of perfect holiness in this present age, we cannot ignore the impact of our holy living on others. This testifies to the transforming power of the gospel. Beginning with our hearts and minds, God in Christ has made us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Personal holiness testifies to the power of the risen Christ to save sinners. Additionally, personal holiness testifies that I actually do believe that Christ is a treasure more valuable than anything this world or sin could ever offer me (Matthew 13:44-46). A church filled with saints striving, by the grace of God, to live holy lives is like a lighthouse standing high above a storm-tossed sea. It beckons those tossed to and fro to come find safe harbor with us in Christ.

Do we believe sound doctrine is compelling? There are those who will argue that emphasizing doctrine will push away the next generation. What then gets emphasized are morality lessons and self-help sermons. Do this and do that, and you will be more fulfilled! But this is no better than the messages to be found all over TikTok. It's the height of human arrogance to assume we know better than God what his people. Sound doctrine—deep, robust theology—transforms lives, and God’s people will find truth compelling. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Paul told Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). We do not have to worry about being relevant. The truth is always relevant.

Do we have a big view of God? Are you amazed that the One True God, who is holy, righteous, and just, would send his Son into the world to die for your sins? Do you marvel at the perfections of Christ? Are you awed by the mercy and forgiveness of God? Do you stop and consider and count the many graces that the Lord shows to you—how he provides for you, helps you, and delivers you from the allure of sin? Our God is amazing, and so we do well to stop and dwell on his greatness. When we do, we’re better prepared to hold him out to others as magnificent and worthy of their awe and delight as well.

DeYoung’s booklet is short on length but not thought-provoking content. It is well worth your time and money to take it, read it, and then evaluate your heart. We all want to see the children, teenagers, and college students in our church spend their whole lives worshiping and serving Jesus. DeYoung helps us think clearly about how we pursue that in a way that glorifies God and cares well for others.

Click here if you would like to purchase this booklet.