For the past 25 years, missiologists have emphasized the importance of engaging the 10/40 window: that geographic area between 10 and 40 degrees latitude that includes the world’s least-reached people groups. But God’s world mission is not only geographic, it’s generational. Today the world is witnessing the emergence of the largest unreached people group in history. You can find it in what we call the 10/30 Window: Those between the ages of 10 and 30 years worldwide.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
No one denies that the world is changing at an increasingly rapid rate. And nowhere is this as evident as among the global youth population. The Church faces unique challenges today unlike any other time in its history. We must seriously consider three global realities in our mission efforts today:
1. An exploding global youth population unlike any other time in history: More than 53 percent of the world’s population is now under the age of 30, and 70 percent of that number are between the ages of 10 and 30.
2. The extension of adolescence across continents and cultures: Adolescence is beginning earlier and ending later. We gauge the beginning of adolescence in biology (the onset of puberty) and its ending in culture (the movement to membership in the adult community). Today, employing these indicators as a guide, adolescence worldwide spans about 20 years, beginning around age 10 to 12 and ending around age 28 to 30.
3. An emerging and rapidly coalescing global youth culture: In many respects, young people around the world today have more in common with each other than they do with the adults in their own countries. There are several reasons for this. First, the rapid and free flow of information in the world connects adolescents and emerging adults like never before (while leaving them more disconnected from personal relationships). Second, driven largely by the global arts and entertainment industry, today’s young people swim in the same global soup of media and worldview. Finally, they share a sense of solidarity as those marginalized and abandoned by the adults in their world.
These three realities at least blur, if not practically speaking obliterate, the geographic boundaries that once divided previous generations. Together they compel us to see the emerging generation as the largest unreached people group today—larger than the world’s 100 largest geographically-defined unreached people groups combined. The 10/30 Window is a people group not bound by nationality, language, or geography, but comprised of those between the ages of 10 and 30 bound by a common culture and experience of adolescence in a rapidly changing world. The global Church must move toward the 10/30 Window, as must the ministry of church planting worldwide.
Ten years ago, MTW called my wife, Rebecca, and me to pioneer this work. Born out of a vision to see a worldwide movement of young people who know God’s love, grow in relationship with Christ and His people, and go as agents of His grace in kingdom living, NEXT’s mission is to serve the global church in engaging the emerging generation. Today NEXT is a growing and dynamic team of missionaries based on four continents. God is expanding us into a global network of national partners and local churches committed to reaching tweens, teens, and twenty-somethings with the gospel.
How We Work
NEXT engages in three key ways:
1. Sending men and women to serve the local church and community. We believe the church is God’s instrument for reaching the nations and the next generation—transforming local communities with the gospel. NEXT missionaries partner with local churches worldwide to reach and raise the emerging generation in communities around the world. In addition, we are working to recruit, train, and sustain cross-cultural youth ministers sent as MTW missionaries who join church-planting teams all over the globe. Today, NEXT is working with local churches to impact their communities in Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the changing landscape of North America.
2. Training Global Church Leaders. Leaders need training. Leaders need resources. Leaders need to be sent. Leaders need to be sustained. GYFM works to equip men and women to lead the global Church in engaging the emerging generation. Through a formal training process, leaders earn a certificate from our NEXT Institute, and seminary credit from our partnership sites like Covenant Seminary in the U.S., San Pablo Seminary in Mexico, and Christ Bible Seminary in Japan. We’re training next-generation ministry leaders by hands on cross-cultural mentored internships that invest in them and their development while they invest in the lives of others. In addition, we serve pastors, missionaries, church planters, and lay leaders around the world by providing seminars, resources, consulting, and counseling.
3. Sustaining the Third Culture Community. Third culture refers to those who’ve grown up across cultures. We call them “third culture” because they do not fully identify with the first or passport culture(s), nor the second or host culture(s), but find they belong to a “third culture.” They do not find their cultural identity in nationality or geography, but in their common experience with others who have grown up across cultures. As MTW missionaries serving the PCA, the NEXT team considers it a privilege and responsibility to come alongside our fellow mission families, to extend the arms of the Church in sustaining them through the challenges of growing up cross-culturally on the front lines of mission. In turn we see the strategic nature of investing in third culture kids (TCKs). Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Ted Ward prophetically said: “Third culture kids are the prototype citizens of the future.” He was right! TCK’s are truly citizens of the world, and that future is now! More and more kids today are growing up cross-culturally: Military brats, Foreign Service kids, second generation immigrants, refugees, international business kids, and mission kids. By their experience, third culture youth are “hard wired” for crossing cultures. God has uniquely equipped them to make a kingdom impact in our globalizing world. A faithful church must be intentional about reaching this unique, expanding, and influential population with the gospel.
Navigating the Theological Turn in Next-Generation Ministry
As we talk about training leaders, sending workers, and equipping young people themselves to go as agents of grace in kingdom living, it’s important to address the biblical and theological foundation of NEXT’s work. Around the world, pastors, parents, and churches tend to approach adolescents and emerging adults in a pragmatic or programmatic way. Typically the approach is theologically anemic and displays a lack of awareness of changing cultural and developmental issues. On the other hand, those who attempt to address next-gen ministry theologically tend to rely heavily on the work of one theologian or primarily on social research, or they focus on one issue, giving it little biblical exposition.
NEXT’s training begins with the biblical narrative, providing a theological framework to navigate the changing developmental and global-cultural realities of adolescence. We encourage leaders to be reflective practitioners—to think theologically and act “glocally”—as we help guide adults toward biblically faithful and effective strategies to reach and raise the young people in their local communities all across the globe.
Through our expanding network, NEXT is uniquely poised to champion the cause of next gen ministry, to serve as a catalyst for mobilizing men and women globally to lead the Church in a variety of biblically grounded tween, teen, and twenty-something ministries. Together we are working to Reach the Nations and Next Generation with the love of Christ.
Eric Larsen is an MTW missionary serving globally with Next. For pictures, stories, resources, and ways to get involved, visit nextconnect.org. Dr. Larsen’s forthcoming book, MissionNext: How the Church Can Reach a Global Generation is set for release in 2017.
This article was updated in February 2017. The original version was published in InVision in 2013 under the title “Toward the 10/30 Window.”