Jonny returns to his discussion of the differences between ‘millennials’ and today’s young people (‘GenZ’) here in part 2; focusing on the differences needed in approach. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here.
Recently I wrote about 5 Differences between today’s young people and Millennials. In this blog I want to lay out some potential ways that we as youth workers might start to engage with some of these ideas.
1. Emphasise what we stand FOR, rather than what we are against
For decades the church has been known by those on the outside by what it is against. It is anti-science, anti-LGBTQ, anti-women and anti many other things too. Within the church this has been seen as a sign of the church being counter-cultural, or of the church standing against the tide of society for the sake of the Gospel.
Outside the church though, this has been seen as the church persecuting those who don’t conform, and, far from being counter-cultural, it has been seen as the church promoting the established culture. GenZ are intrinsically egalitarian, they are shocked at the existence of racism, sexism, or any other ism. Combine this with their lack of knowledge of the Christian faith, then they don’t know why the church is standing against those things.
But what about what we stand for? We are for redemption, for equality, for renewal, for the least and the lost. I am certainly not arguing that we should give up our markers in the sand, or that we should keep quiet about what we are against, but maybe we need to re-think or re-emphasise. Are we promoting personal holiness through individual action, or are we promoting systematic cultural change?
2. Emphasise the everyday-ness of spirituality
For a long time the idea of ‘spiritual but not religious’ has been a catch-all group for those who believe but don’t belong. While many writers argue that GenZ are neither spiritual or religious, I’m not sure that is the case. It seems that many members of GenZ are intrigued by the spiritual world, but they don’t use the code words we in the church look for to signal that they are spiritual.
Combine this with the way we have made Christian spirituality about a special time and place (Sunday morning, summer camp etc.), then why should young people expect to see God in the world around them?
We can help our young people to see God at work in the world through the people around them and through the amazing things that happen each day. We have a huge help in this from the advertising industry, which has trained this generation to be discerning and skeptical. If we can help our young people to use their incredible skills of discernment, then we can help them to see God at work in the everyday world, and help them to see how they are a part of God’s work in this world.
3. Peter, not Paul, should be our example for conversion and faith
We love dramatic conversion stories. We love to see people’s lives changed suddenly, so that they are redeemed and renewed, and we should. These stories are fantastic and inspiring. These stories stand out, however, because they are unusual. It’s much more difficult to see the hard won, life-long search for truth and the struggle to live out that truth.
Which is why I think Peter is such a good example for us to hold to when we are thinking about conversion and faith development. It is not that he is holier, or superior, but that maybe his example is more timely for us today. How many times did he mess up? How many times did he not get it? How many times did he fail? And yet, he was never abandoned, never rejected, always called back.
By emphasising dramatic conversion, epitomised by Paul on the road to Damascus (which wasn’t as sudden or dramatic as we think, but that’s for another time), we set our young people up for disappointment when they don’t experience this sudden transformation in their own lives.
Emphasising Peter over Paul allows us to tap into GenZ’s understanding of change as incremental and slow, and will help us to develop lifelong disciples, rather than summer converts.
There is no radical rethink here, no reforming of the Christian faith into something new. Instead we need to look at our contemporary culture and, as faithful Christians have done for centuries, see where the contact points between that culture and our faith is and emphasise those.
It can be uncomfortable, but if we can do this well, we can show the rest of the church how it is done and, more importantly, help a generation of young people see that there is a God who loves them, and offers them redemption not just to a new way of life today, but to an eternal life tomorrow.
Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.
When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.
He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.
He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.