Podcast: How the Church Can Prepare for Changing Cultural Trends

“The new norm after the Pandemic is accelerated change,” says Dr. Ron Luce, whose new book, Faith At the Speed of Light, takes a deep dive into the future of our culture and how it will affect the Church. There are numerous opportunities for the Church to adapt and reach the next generation.

In this episode of The Church InTension podcast, TKU President Dr. Jon Chasteen talks with Luce about these future trends and how the Church can prepare for a changing world.

Dr. Jon Chasteen: So, Dr. Ron Luce is the president of Generation Next and the co-founder of Teen Mania Ministries. He has spoken to millions of people. He’s authored 30 books, including his newest book, Faith at the Speed of Light: Experiencing Exponential Growth While Surfing the Wave of Change. You recently completed your doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University, congratulations.

Dr. Ron Luce: Yeah, thanks.

Jon: Before we jump into this, I have to just tell you. I have a little bit of starstruck sitting here, having you on my podcast. Because I remember being a little boy, going to age myself here, 10, 12 years old and watching you do What’s Hot on Fire by Nite . . . Acquire the Fire man. I was, I was all over that. It’s just cool to have you man. I want to get into your book and talk about some amazing stuff happening in your life now, but I just want to say, thanks for the work you did and the call that God had on your life. It impacted me. I know it impacted millions and millions of people. So it’s pretty awesome.

Ron: Well, it was a huge season of grace.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: For 25 years, every single weekend, we were out somewhere doing Acquire the Fire, 33 weekends a year.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: A lot of great people along those years, traveling in buses and semis to every city and unpacking and packing and going, and just a lot of grace and favor. Over 100,000 churches brought their youth groups to Acquire the Fire over all those years. Was our attempt to really partner with churches and help these young people have an emotional driven weekend, but something that would really get them in touch, seclude them from the world for a minute, and take off the layers of onion to get to their heart. But I will say that I don’t think it was because we were so good at marketing that so many people came. I really feel like it was actually a glimpse of the condition of the church. When so much of the youth are gasping for air all across the country.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: They hear something full of life is coming. They all want to bring their youth. So we would have every kind of denomination come bring their youth for the weekend. So it was more of a glimpse of the condition of the church that so many people would come every weekend rather than “We were so great.”

Jon: I want to get into some of your current work that you’re doing, but I think it’s important for people to hear how people’s journey started. Because everybody, all of our listeners have a seed of a hope or a dream in their heart and they’re looking at, “How’s God going to bring this to fruition?” How did that look like for you? When did you start having this vision for Teen Mania Ministries and Acquire the Fire? What stirred in your heart? What’d that look like?

Ron: Well, Teen Mania started, we started in 1986 and Acquire the Fire started in ’91. Five years after. It was simply a… I knew the Lord reached me when I was 16 year old heathen reprobate. I thought if he could get through to me, he could get through to any kid, because I wasn’t much… Many kids harder than me to get through to. So I started doing youth outreach while I was in college at Oral Roberts University while I was a student.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: Felt like the Lord had spoke to us about building an army of young people who would go and change the world. I really wanted to go and be in a village somewhere and reach people that had never been reached. I felt like the Lord had said, “No, clearly stay here.” And I said, “Lord, if you make me stay here, I am going to make the devil so miserable, send so many people on mission trips around the world and get them on fire for you and then on fire to go change the world.” So of course we had Acquire the Fire events that as we started traveling, Katie and I in our little car before we had any kids doing little youth rallies, we had like 10, 20 kids at a time. We were packing out living rooms across America.

Jon: Packed out, literally.


That preached there’s 10,000 there, and give an altar call and all that and invite them to go on mission trips. Even back before we started Acquire the Fire. As the rallies would get bigger we thought, “What if we could do something for a bunch of churches, we can’t get to all the churches. What if we came to a region and invited a lot of churches to bring?” So we started Acquire the Fire in ’91 and we would go to churches and then we ran out of size and we started going to auditoriums and arenas and then stadiums.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: Over the years they kept getting larger and larger. By God’s grace and… Our heart was always, we don’t want ego on stage.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: We want really teach the word and we were the guys that were like radical Christians, we’d challenge young people, “read through your whole Bible in a year.” Like, “What?” People say, “You can’t expect a kid to do that.” But they would do it, or, date God for a year. Instead of going to the dating game, focus on the Lord, all your emotions, all your heart for a whole year. Things like this had 100,000 young people stand up and say, “I’ll do that for a year.” Anyways, yeah. Lot of grace over the years. At the very beginning, when you talk about how we started, I mean, I’m literally myself. This is before cell phones, I’m calling churches.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: “You’ve never heard of me? My name is Ron Luce. I’m with-

Jon: Little cold call action.

Ron: Total. And how do I even get the numbers for these guys? Well back…

Jon: Phone book.

Ron: Before the internet. Yeah. I’d get phone books that were on these little things. You probably don’t even remember this, called microfiche in the public library, little tiny, small photocopies of phone books from across America. I go to the Tulsa Library and pull up the churches in cities that we thought we might be traveling to. I’m at phone booth because when we finally got on the road, I had to stop at phone booth and make calls, call people back.

Jon: Popping in quarters.

Ron: That’s it. Finally, started doing the math. “If I make this many calls and I give this many nos and couple maybes, I’ll send them a brochure and I call those guys back.” Anyways, that’s how it started and then by the grace of God, we started an internship. We ended up having 7,000 interns over all the years.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: Took 80,000 young people on mission trips around the world. Many of them are still on the mission field somewhere because they came back, finished their high school and then went back. But the biggest frustration was this, is we would have, “Slap your mama, God’s in the house” kind of events.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: I mean, we’re like, “No nonsense. We want to invite the presence of the Lord.”

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: We were doing worship before it was cool. There were no cool worship bands out there, no Kari Jobes out there, and I’m up there with my guitar, beating it up and having a few interns playing in the band behind me. I’m not a good musician, but I love to worship. Back then you have to micro coach people into worship because they’re from all these different churches and…

Jon: Different denominations.

Ron: Baptists are so cool when they get into the presence of the Lord, “Whoa, they just got raptured.”

Jon: That’s awesome.

Ron: “Tell us this.” You could do this every day. But the biggest challenge is when pastors would say, “How can we do this in our church all the time? In our city all the time? An ongoing youth revival.” And I would say, “I don’t know. I know how to gather lots of churches and get young people focused on the things of God for a weekend.”

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: I have never seen it, and the only thing we would see in America that was a sign of something that might be good. One youth pastor might have a 300 or 500, maybe 1,000. “Whoa. That’s amazing.”

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: But that would only last a year or two and then they would be gone to go start their own church.

Jon: That’s right.

Ron: And then the pastor would start all over again.

Jon: Yep.

Ron: We kept seeing data from Barna and others where it’s atrophying in terms of the percentage of young people that are growing up that are staying in the church. It’s getting less, it did with Gen X.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: Did it with Millennials now it’s with Gen Z. So we’ve had this model of youth ministry that continues to atrophy in terms of the percentage of impact, of real impact, sustained impact for when these guys get out of university. How long have we heard for decades? They go away to university and they come back.

Jon: Never come back. Yeah.

Ron: And they don’t want to go back. And they say, “That’s not my church. That’s my parents’ church. My pastor, the youth pastor, left.” In the business world, when you have a problem like that, you figure it out or you know you’re going out of business.

Jon: Yep.

Ron: But in the church world, we’ve put up with it and we’ve let it go on for decade after decade because we have this, “The Bible says nothing will ever defeat the church of Jesus Christ.” We mix all that in there and we go, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because the church-

Jon: “Jesus will build the church. I don’t have to, Ron.”

Ron: “The church will still go on.” The problem with that is, that’s true.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: However, there have been seasons in church history when the church has been impotent or underground or powerless because they didn’t reach the next generation and the dark ages came and darkness ruled on the earth and then it reemerged. Do we really want that to be the legacy of what we leave? So when pastors would ask me that, “How can we do this in our city?” I would say, “Here’s some curriculum. I don’t know what to do.” However, the good news now is, as I went and did the research for my doctorate and so forth and put my dissertation in this book, I found models around the world that actually are doing it. It’s just amazing. It’s like watching an eagle in flight. I wish I would’ve seen them 30 years ago. Some of them started some 20 years ago or so and I found a couple in America as well.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: So the good news is what we did with Acquire the Fire was like putting a bandaid on a wound that needed a much bigger solve than that. You can’t put a bandaid on cancer, right? This is a solution really getting to the core of, “Why have we not been reaching the younger generation. Reaching and keeping them.” Because these, I call them exponential churches around the world are actually doing it. They’re reaching them and they’re discipling them. So when they come out in their 20s, they’re strong, they’re deep, they’re on fire, they’re passionate and they’re mature in their faith.

Jon: That’s so good. And I love… even your story and how it’s combining to your current journey. I want to get into your current journey and this vision that you begin to cast there. What I heard you talking about was, we like to say that ministries start or be successful because of God’s grace, because of God’s vision, because of all these things, which is very true, but it also takes hard work. You were microficheing and popping quarters in payphones to start the ministry and to launch it. It takes a lot of hard work. What I feel like I hear you saying is, the church needs to wake up.

Ron: Yeah.

Jon: Leaders need to wake up and say, “I can’t just say, ‘This is God’s problem.’ He’s got to fix it.” There’s got to be things we’re involved in as pastors and leaders. You went into it briefly, you started by saying it started 30 years ago when pastor started saying to me, “how do I do this every single week in my church?” And then you started your dissertation process and kind of walk me through that, what light bulb went off and when did it go off and then you can just kind of morph into sharing your heart and the vision of all that.

Ron: Well, let me make a comment about the hard work comment you just made.

Jon: Please.

Ron: We all work hard in ministry. I remember I prayed, what I’m about to tell you, thousands of times.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: I said, “Lord, for the amount of work we’re putting into this, not just me, but my whole team. There ought to be more people here than this or there ought to be more lives changed than this.” Because I know this is really good content and I know this is a really good environment.

Jon: That’s crazy that you would say that Ron, because I think pastors around the world, would’ve looked at you and said, “That’s what I’m trying to get to.”

Ron: Yeah.

Jon: And you’re sitting there going, “There should be more.” I think there’s a lesson even there for pastors, right?

Ron: There is. It’s no matter what you’re doing, you’re always thinking about what you could be doing.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: When you got a 20,000 seat arena and only 10,000 people there, you’re thinking, “But Lord, there could be 10,000 more here.”

Jon: That’s good.

Ron: When you got a 100,000 seat stadium and 70,000 are in there. You’re like, “But Lord, there’re empty seats. I don’t want to be preaching to any empty seats.” But I feel like I found the answer from the Lord for all those prayers. ‘Cause I prayed it for so long and because every once in a while something would just shock us. We ended up reaching way more than what we thought. And it was like the Lord, our hard work gives us a chance to show that we want it as much as he wants it. It being revival, life change and all that. We don’t get rewarded according to how hard we work.

Jon: That’s so good.

Ron: It’s his grace.

Jon: Yep.

Ron: So, he would come in the back door and all of a sudden, the stadium is filled. Were like, “Whoa, that wasn’t even in our marketing plan.”

Jon: Wow.

Ron: And the Lord is smiling, “Yeah, I want to reach people, but I want to get the credit for it too.”

Jon: Let’s work together.

Ron: Yeah, exactly.

Jon: Let’s work together but he gets all the glory.

Ron: Exactly.

Jon: That’s so good.

Ron: That happens so many times.

Jon: You started the dissertation process. When did that light bulb go off or did you go into it already having an idea of where you were wanting to go?

Ron: My focus was on strategic foresight and that’s the science of futuring and it’s seriously like fortune 100, 500 companies hire strategic foresight consultants to help them understand, “What are the next five, 10 years of trends, maybe 20 years, and how are they going to impact our industry?” There’s a whole science of, it’s not mumbo jumbo, it’s not trying to fortune tell. There are ways to see trends and then look at how they might impact different industries. I went into strategic foresight going, “I wonder which trends might most impact the church and how can we prepare for those?” That’s why you want to know what trends are out there. Not to be full of fear, but to be prepared. For example, when the pandemic came, people start going, “Oh no, we need to get a video camera in our church. What if we could have been prepared for that kind of a thing?”

I began the study by looking at all these trends around the world and which ones are affecting the church right now. And then, serendipitously, with the Holy Spirit, began to discover churches that were defining the trends and surfing the waves rather than being buried because what’s happening is so much is changing so quickly right now and we see that with, a great example the pandemic, where so much changed so quick in culture, the pandemic of fear that began to change what people would do, what they wouldn’t do, the masks, going to crowds, all of this. Who would’ve ever thought that could all happen so quickly? But the two biggest trends, I’ll spell them out, that are affecting the church right now is, one is what they call the Knowledge Revolution.

I’m saying what’s obvious, but maybe the listener, maybe you haven’t thought of it this way. They measure how quickly knowledge doubles. Used to take 500 years then 100 years. Now, knowledge, that is everything we know about everything, doubles every one year. So imagine driving by that Library of Congress next year and it’s double in size and next year it’s double again, it’s exponential growth in knowledge, except for medicine it’s doubling every 80 days. Everything we know about medicine doubles. That’s just part of it though. Then it’s digitized. It’s sucked into big data, Xs and Os, then it’s analyzed algorithms, AI, and now a whole new economy and social norm is birthed as a result.

For example, you’ve got these companies that start, in one year they’re a billion dollar company. Never happened before. It used to take 30 years. You’ve got things like Airbnb and Amazon. That are literally… Airbnb owns not one thing. They own their phone.

Jon: Uber, all those sort of things. Yeah.

Ron: They’re exponential companies that are growing, not two or 3%, like two or 300% a year kind of thing. Today, if you go to start a company and you’re trying to get investors, if you don’t have an exponential kind of component to that, you won’t even get investors.

Jon: They’re not interested.

Ron: Most of the companies that are fortune 500, 100 companies, won’t even be in business in 10 or 20 years. They won’t be able to keep up with the change.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: There’s so many implications for the church in this, in terms of one, how can we leverage technology and all of this change? It has to do with jobs, the people in our church. All this kind of thing. One of the big technologies that I’ll just tease all the pastors with right now. Cell phones were 15 years ago?

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: That’s where AI is right now. AI is going to be the next big… Every single industry will be laced with AI because it makes it so much more customer friendly and customer service oriented. Whether that’s, “they’re answering your questions and you can’t even tell they’re a computer.” Kind of a thing. There are pros and cons of this. A lot of people are afraid of this. You don’t have to be, but you can learn. Let’s not be like these guys that are down in Argentina, operate car washes, totally a non-techy world. We don’t need to pay attention to that.

They started realizing they have half the customers. Why would this be? So they start asking their customers and their customers tell them, “Well, the weather prediction technology is so much more accurate that we find out it’s going to rain, we won’t come to get our car washed.”

Jon: Won’t get our car washed.

Ron: So even though they’re not a high-tech industry, their customers…

Jon: That’s a great example.

Ron: Are directly connected to it. We really have to understand what’s going on here and it’s kind of this, the new norm, is people keep wondering after pandemic, what will the new… it’s accelerated change is the new norm. It’s not going to go back to any norm. It’s going to keep changing and changing and faster and faster and faster because what happens when you have an exponential growth and knowledge and everything I just described, it means there’s a constant wave of change.

If we want to be like the sons of Issachar, understanding the signs of the times, we got to understand the waves that are coming and how to surf them rather than go, “Oh my gosh, how do my kids get addicted to that new… What was that Insta, Facebook thing? Whatever. I don’t even know what it is.”

Jon: “Textagram, whatever it was.”

Ron: We ought to be on the front wave of that understanding how to leverage it. At the same time there are social implications. For example, all this data, the more time people spend online, the higher probability they’re depressed. Those are people in our church. Those are people in our community. It’s everywhere. So, “Okay. How do we lean into that need?” Also, instead of competing with it, we go, “Okay, maybe we’re not the guys that need to compete. We’re the guys that teach people how to have this. Real face to face, heart to heart around a table, holding hands, doing life together.”

We’re teaching how to have real friends, not fake friends. Not because you just block, if you don’t agree with them. So we’re like the BF, Good Rich, Goodyear guy. We’re the other guys, teach you how to do real life based on how Jesus taught us to do life. Anyways, there’s a lot of ways to think about that first trend. The second trend, macro trend that’s affecting the church right now, that leads into where these churches that I found around the world is that the church is getting older and older. I call it the grain of the church. All around the world, in America and all over the world. I could give you study after study, after study. Pew research and everything else.

What that means, literally, is, for all that’s been done for the sake of youth ministry for the last two, three, four decades, we have not been reaching effectively the next generation. Reaching and sustaining, bringing them in. So you’ve got, America, where the average age in a megachurch is 40 years old, average age in a small church is 53 years old. In England, the average age at the Church of England is 61 year old attendee. All over Europe they’re closing up churches, turning them into mosques, all kinds of things and probably the poster child at South Korea. When most people think of South Korea, you’re probably thinking of the Great Revival and Dr. Cho, and all of that. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, Cho ended up having a million people in his church.

But not today. They went from 2% Christian in the country, Buddhist country, to 33% Christian, which is amazing. That’s a revival, who’s ever heard of that? But today it’s 1.7% of the young generation.

Jon: Are you serious?

Ron: It’s actually less than before the revival.

Jon: Wow.

Ron: So you think for all that happened there, all the big churches, it wasn’t just Dr. Cho it was all the others. Who can point a finger? It’s hard to maintain… How do you manage a revival or a movement like that? But for all the good that was done, they didn’t focus on the next generation. 1.7%. It’s what happened in America and in Europe, only happened a lot quicker there, like post-Christian kind of thing. What I found is I’m looking at these trends going, “Okay, we need to reckon with these trends instead of pretend they’re not there.” Some people think faith is pretending bad things aren’t there. But when they went into the Promised Land, they knew there were giants there. They knew there were wild beasts.

They just had faith that was greater than the problems. We don’t have to pretend that we’re not getting older and the technology, let’s just face it and have faith that’s greater than that. So then I begin to discover these churches that were defining these trends, and actually not only were they growing, but they were measuring things that were showing that they were growing in size, but they were growing in age, younger and younger each year. They’re watching their average age go down because they’re focusing on reaching and discipling those most likely to come to Christ. What I found when these churches, is so different than what I had ever seen in the American church. I say it’s just as different as a PC is from a Mac. They look the same. Although they got screens, they got keyboards, but it’s a whole different operating system.

Jon: Yeah. That’s good.

Ron: If you’ve ever done one and tried the other and you go, “oh, I’m going back.” I did that. You know what I’m talking about. With an exponential church that I found, I mean, they have preachers and they have screens and they have crowds and they have great worship, but you dig down deeper and it’s a whole different operating system. What I did is I went in, I found them in Bogota, Columbia, at Japan, in Singapore, Russia. I went to these places and I dug down deep to go, “What are their best practices? What are they all doing that’s similar? Most of them don’t even know each other. And what are the principles behind those best practices?” Then I put them all in my dissertation because I thought my big question is, “Is it learnable? Is it repeatable?”

Jon: And you duplicate it.

Ron: I was encouraged that I saw him in all kinds of different cultures, in Africa as well. I was encouraged by that. I was encouraged also, but I felt I met out in California, who had gotten frustrated. He started a church. Jason Lazzano was his name. He had started a church and after 10 years it grew to 1700, and most people think that’s really successful, but he says he’s having this conversation with the Lord. He goes, “Lord, I am wearing myself out. I’m almost burn out, burn out my staff. We come from event to event, to event. I’ve got a vision for tens of thousands but I’m almost burn out right now.” He said the Lord told him, “Why don’t you focus instead of on 10,000 in your church trying to get to that, what would it take to build 10,000 leaders?” So then that sent him on a quest and he ended visiting many of the same churches I did before we knew each other.

Jon: Really?

Ron: He brought these back to the States and goes, “Okay, these best practices, how does it work in America?” We have to be careful that we’re not lazy. What I mean is, sometimes we see something that works and we just want to copy and paste rather than, “Let’s take a principle and let’s wrestle with it.” So he says, “Okay, what do we have going against us in America? Well, we’re individualistic, we like to be anonymous Christians, we don’t like small groups or authority in our life telling us what to do. We’re always too busy to do anything else.”

Jon: Too busy, that’s what I was about to say.

Ron: So, he’s accommodating for all that. And he implements this methodology that… I’ll tell you some of the best practice in a moment if you want.

Jon: Yeah, please.

Ron: So anyways, after two years of implementation, they went from 1700 to 3000, all of them in small groups. Since COVID started, they couldn’t even meet in public. They’ve gone from 3,000 to 6,900. That is people born again and in what he calls Bible School. People have jobs. People are actually in high school and university still, but they’re in a, I would say a very intentional, rapid growth in your faith program, that I hesitate to call it discipleship. ‘Cause when we say discipleship in America, we go, “Oh, it’s that four classes you take after you get saved.” This is like a deep…

Jon: This deep dive.

Ron: This is like Red Bull for your faith for the first two years. In fact, Jason says, “Ron, when someone gets saved in our church, the first two years is like going to youth camp full-time for two years.” That’s how deep it is. It’s a deep, deep dive. What I found is, in this exponential church model, there’s a lot of paradigms that are dramatically different. We hear the words, but it’s a different paradigm. So instead of, for example, waiting for someone to be a Christian for 40 years to get their mind renewed, these guys go, “Let’s take them on a deep dive, as soon as they get saved and let’s see if we can get most of their life living on the other side of renewed, restored, refreshed, and impacting lives.” Anyways, I was so encouraged.

Jon: That’s so good.

Ron: It was like a breath of fresh air seeing these churches in so many different contexts, flying beautifully. Not just because a lot of people are coming, but they’re coming, they’re reaching unchurched, they’re getting them saved, and then they’re getting them in a deep dive program and getting them involved in ministry within a year after they’re saved, they’re already leading another group. So they’re in a small group, they’re leading another group.

Jon: It passes down it’s…

Ron: Well, that’s what makes it exponential.

Jon: Exactly. It’s multiplication.

Ron: That’s it.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: Their measurements. They don’t just measure, is somebody in a salvation class or a follow-up class? They walk all the way through to, have they become a multiplier?

Jon: That’s so good.

Ron: Because that’s a real disciple and a disciple maker. Let me give you a couple of the best practices if you don’t mind, because I want the pastors and leaders that are listening here to have some hope. I know a lot of pastors, they really and truly know they’re not reaching the young generation and they don’t know what to do about it. They’ve done everything they know how to do. They hire the cool guy with the tattoo.

Jon: Hire the cool guy, yeah.

Ron: Yeah. Play the guitar, man, what else am I going to do? They don’t know what else to do. So first of all, this whole, the pastor owns the focus for reaching and discipling those most likely to come to Christ. Now just think about that phrase. We’ve known for decades. All the studies show, most of the people that come to Christ do so before 20 years old.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: Up to 90%.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: Some say between four and 14, 83% come to Christ. This is not new news. We know this, but it jacks with the other things that we know, like premises that we hold, for example, “Jesus love everybody.” So we should try to reach everybody and then we reach hardly anybody. But then we say, “If it was for the sake of one soul.”

Jon: Leave the 99.

Ron: Yeah. Right. We don’t know what else to do.

Jon: Right.

Ron: What these churches have done say, “We’re going to focus on those most likely, first of all, to come to Christ.” They look at the window between 13 and 19 years old. 13, because that’s the first time where you first get a chance to have a little more say so over your life. I’d go out with my friends, do this or that, whatever. And a 13 year old, it’s like, “Okay, what am I? I’m not a child, but I’m not an adult. What am I?”

Jon: Right in between.

Ron: And if we’re not careful, we’ll let them find the answer to that question on Instagram, versus, okay, you’re 13. The thing about 13 years old is they’re looking for someone to accept them. Will it be the cool guys? Will it be the jocks? Will it be guys that like this kind of music? They’re waiting for someone to bring him into their group because they want so badly to be accepted. If we’re not careful, well MTV will go get them. The drug dealers will get them, the sex traffickers will get them, and all the time we’re going, “But they can’t tithe yet. Let’s go after the adults.”

Jon: That’s so good. They can’t serve yet. They can’t tithe yet. They can’t whatever we tell ourselves.

Ron: All of that. They really look at that, between the 13 and 19, I call it the exchange zone, like in a relay race when you’re passing the baton. This baton is the Baton of the Gospel and they’re like, “Where’s the sweet spot?” In Japan, they have to go after university students because they can’t get to them because of the parent cultural structure.

Jon: Gotcha.

Ron: But in Singapore they go after 13-year-olds because they can get to them. In most places, the younger you can, because the world’s going after them younger and younger, the better. Okay? Pastor Howe in Singapore was the first guy that ever told me this. He goes, “Ron, we go after every 13 year old in our footprint.” I go, “What are you talking about footprint?” He goes, “I’m not talking about the 13 year olds in our church. Of course we’re going to reach those guys. We’re talking about every 13 year old that’s in the footprint of our church.” I said, “How do you define that?” He says, “We look at every school represented at our church, anybody that goes to any of those schools, and we figure out how many 13 year olds are in all those schools, and that’s our footprint. We’re going after those guys.” So think about it like this, Paul, he goes into a village. He goes to the synagogue. Those are the most likely to want to hear about the Lord God. Right? A single God. Right?

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: They’re monotheistic, right? When you go to be a missionary somewhere, you’re going to go to those most likely to endear to your message. We’ve lost the sense of missional. Part of the whole paradigm shift is this. Instead of thinking about youth ministry, is let’s take care of the kids whose parents go to our church, throw that away. That’s youth group. Throw the youth group mentality away. All these exponential churches, they don’t call it a youth group. They don’t even have a youth pastor.

Jon: Really?

Ron: No. Watch this, because the church, is not that the church becomes a youth church, it’s that they focus. They know most of the people that ever come to Christ in their city are going to do so between 13 and 19. They’re going after the sweet spot. They might do a big event once or twice a year for just 13-, 14-year-olds.

Jon: For just 13-, 14-year-olds.

Ron: Like an Acquire the Fire so they would remember that. For just 13 year olds, and get them packed in the room, do whatever you have to do, give something crazy away. Just get them in the room, you have to be present to win this thing and then you throw down the Gospel, give them a great chance to really commit to the Lord while they’re there. This is the deal. If coke’s going after him and coke dealers are going after them why wouldn’t we go after them? Right?

Jon: Right. Whatever it takes.

Ron: They really focus on that timeframe in their life. And it also happens to be like the bar mitzvah age as well. In the Jewish where you’re…

Jon: That’s right. Coming into-

Ron: You’re owning your faith for yourself. Yeah.

Jon: Yeah, coming into adulthood, so to speak.

Ron: They really focus and then number two, in terms of best practice, is once they come, I alluded to it before, they have a full court press follow-up. That is, it’s not optional. It’s the norm. They create a new norm. This is what we do. We’re followers of Christ and this is what we do. There’s of course a four week, welcome to the family, but then there’s, they think about their growth in Christ. Like you would, say you’re a president of university, you’re thinking about at the end of each year, what should a freshman know, sophomore know? Scope and sequence. Right?

Jon: Right. Right.

Ron: Every school system has a scope of sequence.

Jon: Measureables.

Ron: Exactly.

Jon: Yeah.

Ron: Well, that’s what they do with their faith. So all the way, 13 years old, say through 25 years old, they scope and sequence it. What should they learn by the end of 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old? And they reverse engineer, “what do we want them to look at 25? What do you want them to look like? And let’s reverse engineer, how can we put that into their plane of their fore view? What are they going to be learning?” All of them have some form of small group, but they also have a hyper growth plan and most of them use some kind of a system called a Trimester system. So after the first four weeks, you sign up for Trimester One and then Trimester Two and Trimester Three, each are 12 weeks long.

So what they do is, it’s kind of this positive, sticky web of goodness. You get to the first four weeks, and by the third week, you’re like, “Have you signed up for Trimester One? Oh, you got to sign up for Trimester One.” At the end of Trimester One, at the end of each Trimester, there’s an encounter day, a retreat, where you have a full day, all like a little conclave where you’re you ministering to them, Walter calls, all that kind of stuff. The content is not passed down by the small group leader, but it’s like, whatever thing that they’re reading together, praying about in their quiet times together, the small group leader that they meet with each week, will then say, “Hey, what did the Lord speak to you? What did the Lord speak to you? What did you write in your journal this week?” and in terms of the content that they went over, because it’s been very carefully thought through by the senior pastor, what we wanted them to learn the first year.

Jon: Does that continue year after year or…?

Ron: Exactly.

Jon: Okay.

Ron: Because watch this. After the say, Third Trimester, when they get ready to sign up for the Third Trimester, they say, “Hey, why don’t you think about Trimester One of leadership?” So now they’re double dogging them. They’re in Trimester Three of growth, Trimester One of leadership and that’s 12 weeks long. Then they get them involved either in leadership or being an assistant leader to a small group. What happens then is they’re on a growth trajectory, but now their leadership’s also on a growth and they’re helping others.

Jon: Right. They’re helping others.

Ron: They’re 14 or 15, they’re leading a small group. They’re in another group. Those guys are leading that group or a group all the way through high school, through university. By the time they get out of university, you know how it is. In order to teach something, you have to really know it. Their roots are so deep, they’re not backsliding. They’ve been multiplying for six, seven years themselves and so it is fundamentally a different construct.

Jon: It’s the long game.

Ron: That’s what it is.

Jon: The long game.

Ron: It absolutely is, and I will say to leaders who say, “Well, 13-, 14-year-olds, they don’t tithe, then they don’t give…” First of all, this church I mentioned, pastor Howe in Singapore? He’s been going 25 years now. They’ve raised over the years, like 30 million US dollars. Never had a millionaire give money. All these kids, they taught them how to be entrepreneurs, how to make faith goals, how to sell stuff on the internet. You kind of get what you train them for, taught them. Pastor Robert teaches the blessed life you should start giving. You just wait till you get a full time job.

Jon: Right, teaches a career.

Ron: You get a career from the very beginning. Right. So it is really, and truly, I couldn’t have said it better, the long game. A guy who owns a Major League Baseball team. If he has a bad year, he doesn’t go out and take a bullhorn on the street, “Hey, anybody know how to pitch? I know how to hit. I need a pitcher, please somebody.” He’s thinking, “I got a triple a team. I got guys in the pipeline, and plus I’ve got scouts in university and in high school, sometimes in junior high. I’ve got thousands of little league teams all over the land. These kids that wish one day they could be on that field.” He’s got a system. He’s thinking, “I might have a bad year, but in three years I’m going to have a great team.” They’re playing the long game. What a shame that they would be more shrewd about their long game than the church’s-

Jon: Than the church would be.

Ron: Would be about our long game.

Jon: Well, I think it’s because we’ve become so obsessed in the culture of the church with… we’ve talked about this on the show. A lot of, “you’re not a successful pastor until…

Ron: Yeah.

Jon: Until your church is this size and you have this many campuses or whatever.” We’ve shifted the motivator of pastors because of our culture. We’re always looking for the big name to speak at our church or all the things that we believe are going to cause exponential growth. We think there’s a magic bullet, I guess is my point. Maybe it’s a real… it’s a big shift for pastors to think, “Okay. I need to stop worrying about being the fastest growing church in America and maybe I’m just the healthiest growing church in America. I’m playing the long game. and instead of having a church a mile wide, an inch deep, I’m going to focus on bringing my people to a depth of understanding and growth and then let that multiply into a long game of exponential growth.”

Ron: Right. One of the things, you alluded to it here, is we found that big difference between these churches in America and these exponential churches is, difference between being event oriented versus process oriented. These churches are all process oriented and I’m afraid that we’ve sort of accidentally defaulted to event oriented. “Come Sunday. Guess what’s going to happen.” It’s been happening to youth ministry for a long time. “Watch the guy juggle, please come back, please come back.” Versus, “We got you in a process.” And they all have a little bit different, but it’s a sticky web of goodness of process. Once somebody gets saved, it is so life giving, you can get out, but you got to really want to get out because people are going to keep pulling you back in.

Jon: It’s the perfect age to get them. If you tried to get a 45 or 50 year old, who’s in the middle of trying to raise a family and kids and jobs and I love the idea of going after them when they’re young.

Ron: Right. One of the things that we… maybe a pastor’s thinking this, the conundrum is, “Okay, that’s great but this is what I have right now. whatever I have to do.”

Jon: What do I do? How do I begin that journey?

Ron: I’d like to use this metaphor, think of your church as a train, and on a train track there’s two rails. One rail of your church is everything that’s working. You keep doing it. You keep having your services going. Don’t put all these expectations on the adults. They are what we’ve trained them to be.

Jon: That’s so true.

Ron: But let’s start another rail. It’s an exponential rail and after 2, 3, 4, 5 years, it will probably overtake the other one. But the first rail may not even realize what’s going on at first. It’s not that it’s in secret, but they’re living their life, working, doing their thing. That’s actually why I took my book and turned it into a master class online for pastors that really want to learn this. There’s exponential 1 0 1 where they learn the paradigm really deeply with them. It’s really designed for a pastor and his leadership team to go through. They can do it all online. There’s a workbook of 100 pages and all this, but then 2 0 1 teaches them how to implement it. It’s a 12 month process. You don’t just flip the switch. It’s a 12 month process. What do you do month one, month two, month three?

Jon: That’s so good.

Ron: We’ve got a number of early adopters right now, out there going “Hmm…” And actually, even talking into some different higher education institutions going, “Okay, we’ve been training pastors the same way for a long time.” And people are going, “Okay but we keep losing generation after generation. Is there something we can do different?” And the good news is yes and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t just have to throw our hands up and just pray that another Jesus move, Hey, we are praying for that. There’s actually best practices. Every industry in the world does it except the church doesn’t. Why wouldn’t we take and wrestle with some of these concepts and go, “How does it apply to my DNA at my church, my city, my culture?” And that kind of thing.

Jon: That’s so good. Well, Ron, I really think you’ve sparked me. I know you’ve sparked pastors and leaders and maybe there’s people listening that aren’t pastors, but they would love to talk to their pastor about this. I want to connect the dots. First off, I just want to say it again, his book, you need to pick it up. It’s called Faith at the Speed of Light. The second thing I want to point people to is, how can they get in touch with you? How can they sign up for these master classes? What are some great ways for them to get into contact, to activate this?

Ron: First thing is go to exponentialpastor.com. As soon as you go there, you can get all the case studies I did all around the world free. They’re all in my dissertation, but put your stuff there and we’ll email it to you immediately. Then there’s a couple videos there you can watch and you can see all the curriculum for the master classes and see if it’s something. You don’t actually have to commit to the whole process. You take exponential 1 0 1, and if you like it, then you could do 2 0 1 to actually implement it. Okay? But why would we not want to learn about a paradigm that’s thriving all around the world in some of the most difficult places? Exponential pastor is where you can get the free case studies and learn more about the master classes.

Jon: That’s so good. Thank you again, Ron, for being on the show today, it’s an honor. I appreciate you so much and your ministry and what you’ve done. I think you should grow your mullet back.

Ron: Thanks.

Jon: Come on. Why not?

Ron: Why not? Yeah.

Jon: Hey listeners, thanks again for listening today. Go to our website, churchintension.com. There you’ll find more resources. You can sign up. You can subscribe to that website and we appreciate you listening. We appreciate all you do in the Kingdom of God. Each of you have a calling. Each of you have a destiny God is playing out in your life and we’re honored to be some small part of that. So thank you for listening. Until next time, we will see you and have an amazing day. Love you.

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The Church InTension podcast is a place to have healthy conversations about areas of tension and the intentions of the Church. Hosted by Dr. Jon Chasteen and powered by The King's University and Gateway Church.