Go to the Source


Raise the Future | Rob Hoskins

Rob HoskinsIf you want a quick pulse of today’s youth, notice the words they say and the questions they ask. It’s challenging to keep up with the slang the next generation uses. Once a word becomes popularized, it just as quickly finds itself canceled or outdated. The 2023 Oxford Word of the Year was rizz (defined as attractiveness)—and it’s already on its way out with teens. Beyond the head-scratching vocabulary we may hear thrown around, on a deeper level, how intentionally do we seek to understand our audiences?

Whether you’re a pastor in the heart of the city, a teacher shaping young minds, a busy parent or a follower of Christ in any season, understanding your audience is pivotal to effective ministry. Healthy growth happens when we understand our audience and have the ability to guide, teach and mentor them in a relevant way. 

One of my greatest joys is building young leaders and serving great leaders. It’s an honor to speak into the challenges they face and celebrate and encourage them along their journey. I’m always seeking new ways to share timeless biblical truth with them. But I can’t properly minister to my family, ministry partners or spiritual sons and daughters unless I understand them. Seeking to understand builds credibility with our audiences, allowing for vulnerable conversations and life change to occur. 

Understanding is not operating based on an assumption. It’s asking the right questions—often difficult ones—actively listening, and allowing research and data to illuminate the truth. We can dismiss or ignore the trends and questions of the next generation, but that would be a disservice and detriment to the growth of the church. 

A common assumption is that many people aren’t interested in visiting church. In the Global Youth Culture study, 30% of non-Christian teens indicated they would be open to attending a Christian church service if someone invited them. Think of a teenager who is contemplating inviting their friend but is afraid that there’s only a razor-thin chance they would say yes. Imagine the youth pastor who is discouraged about stagnant growth because it seems like no young person is taking the practical step to extend an invitation. In reality, nearly one in three would say yes to going. 

And it’s not just teens who are open to exploring faith. In a Barna study about spiritual openness that included 2,000 adults from the United States, 44% of respondents said they are more open to God today than before the pandemic, and three out of four want to grow spiritually. Statistics can help frame how to move forward. 

We can’t operate out of assumption. Guessing isn’t needed because there’s the ability to go straight to the source, our audience, for insights. 

The world is rapidly changing all around us. Let’s not use our past understanding to multiply a present audience. People seek answers to life’s biggest questions, and we can guide them to God, who has a great plan for them and knows them by name. 

Yes, let’s use wisdom and experience to guide mentoring conversations, but a current understanding of our audience should lead the way. 

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Rob Hoskins
Rob Hoskinshttps://robhoskins.onehope.net/

Rob Hoskins is the president of OneHope, a global ministry committed to engaging children and youth with God’s Word. He is the co-author with John C. Maxwell of Change Your World (HarperCollins Leadership).