praise and worship

Reinventing DNow to Reach Gen Z


By Doug Franklin January 13, 2020


I can’t say that I know who came up with the idea of DNow, and I don’t know when or where the first Disciple Now weekend was held.

But I’m pretty confident that it was some time ago…

Even so, I would hazard a guess that our modern DNow Weekends look pretty similar to those very first retreats.

And why not? Why abandon a good thing?

At LeaderTreks, we’ve been writing DNow material for several years now, and we hear stories (good and bad!) about DNow events all across the country.

These stories have led us believe that it’s time to reinvent DNow, especially if we want to use Disciple Now weekends to reach Gen Z.

the trouble with gen z

You see, Gen Z presents some challenges to our traditional way of doing DNow.

Gen Z doesn’t trust easily. They need to see that you’re genuine and that you “get” them.

Gen Z is glued to technology. They need real relationships and real community more than they need a dynamic large group speaker and a killer band.

Gen Z is busy. They need to learn to slow down and connect with God more than they need an activity-filled, highly-produced event.

Gen Z values “unique”. They reject anything that feels “one-size-fits-all” in favor of something that feels designed to connect with their unique context.

And the hard truth is that this generation isn’t too likely to sign up for your DNow event. They’re convinced they’ve got better things to do.

reinventing dnow

So how do we reinvent DNow to reach this untrusting, tech-attached, and always-busy generation? Here are four ideas:

Don’t forget your audience

In choosing your DNow weekend theme, don’t forget your audience. Your DNow should meet your students where they’re at. Don’t get caught up in the coolest-sounding title or distracted by your favorite t-shirt design. You should consider questions like:

  • What struggles are my students going through right now?
  • What are my students focused on that’s unhealthy?
  • What biblical principles do they need to absorb or apply?
  • What would it look like for my students to grow one step deeper in their walks with the Lord?

When you keep in mind your students’ greatest needs, your DNow weekend will likely attract more students and lead to greater impact.

don’t miss the relationships

In all of the planning for your event, don’t miss the relationships. Your DNow should prioritize connecting students with their small group leaders. If you find yourself focused more on the retreat location, your meal plan, or your transportation needs, chances are that you may be neglecting what’s most important.

Take time to train your adult volunteers. Set clear expectations. Help them understand the critical role they play in the transformation of students. They aren’t just chaperones; they’re disciple-makers.

This sort of training looks like teaching your adult volunteers to build meaningful relationships, to ask intentional questions, and to share their own stories of redemption. Look for these discipleship principles inside of the LeaderTreks Discipleship Model.

When you’re committed to helping students build relationships with their small group leaders, they’ll stay more connected to your ministry and continue growing spiritually as they’re surrounded by an intentional community of disciplers.

don’t lose the gospel

In all of the added production, don’t lose the gospel. Your DNow should always extend an invitation for students to accept Jesus Christ. It should be motivated by and driving towards the aim of students hearing the Good News.

Avoid telling students what you think they want to hear. Avoid cutting corners where the gospel is concerned. And avoid making your games, activities, and other production elements the star of your weekend. Let the gospel be the main message that’s communicated through every aspect of what you do, and give students the time and space to reflect and respond.

don’t neglect the individual

Even if we remember our audience, focus on relationships, and concentrate on the gospel, it’s possible that we’ll still miss one of the greatest opportunities of our DNow weekend.

To connect with Gen Z, your DNow should be geared towards the individual. Students can tell when you put them in a box or when you present them with a one-size-fits-all solution to a struggle they’re facing. What Gen Z needs is a discipleship plan that’s as unique as they are.

Your DNow weekend should be a springboard for discipleship, and your leaders should walk away with an individual discipleship plan for the students in their small group. This is the sort of follow up that will keep your students connected and growing long after your DNow weekend.

An individual discipleship plan not only acknowledges where a student is at in their faith journey, it also gives direction for their next growth goals and steps. It highlights how they’re growing, where they’re struggling, and which faith lessons have yet to take root. An individual discipleship plan should also provide your leaders with insights on how to care for and challenge a specific student.

LeaderTreks offers several resources to help you create an individual discipleship plan for your students.

Know Growth is a print resource that allows adult volunteers to create a profile of a student, set growth goals, and use discipleship mapping to track a student’s spiritual growth.

HERO Members have access to Youth Ministry Apps, which provides the same tool, but in a digital format. The Student Discipleship Tracker inside of Youth Ministry Apps can also be shared with parents, allowing them to partner in creating a plan for their teen.

Below you’ll find a free download designed to be used as a follow up resource for your DNow. Encourage your leaders to gather the information in the guide and continue the discipleship process after your DNow weekend. This download incorporates the 8 Traits of a Mature Disciple.

Fill out the form below to download a sample individual discipleship plan.

To reach Gen Z through our Disciple Now weekends is going to require some reinventing. But if we remember our audience, prioritize relationships, focus on the gospel throughout, and give attention to the individual, our DNow weekends will look different, but they’ll still have a lasting impact like in years past.

Looking for help reinventing your DNow Weekend? We’d love to partner with you. Check out these DNow Studies designed to meet your students where they’re at, or call our team at 877-502-0699 to talk through ways to move your DNow weekend forward.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More