It’s 9:08 in Devonshire 1, and the room is slowly filling up to experience the first seminar of Youthwork, the Conference 2014; “Today’s Discipleship, Tomorrow’s Disciples”. The air conditioning is whirring, the awkward ‘chair-next-door conversations’ have started, and the title, Today’s Discipleship, Tomorrow’s Disciples is stirring interest.
Our speakers, Nathan Iles and Phil Knox, are here holding the torch for British Youth For Christ, so we’re expecting this to be fuelled by a drive and passion to ‘take the good news of Jesus Christ relevantly to every young person in the UK.’
(This is live, sorry about any mistakes!)
An opening question “how good was your breakfast?” with a hearty response breaks the ice and kicks us into gear. This is a fast paced, high energy presentation with masses of important information and deeply applicable challenges – so buckle up!
Ten Unique Challenges of The Millennial Generation
Sociologists have been saying that ‘there’s something different about this generation’, something that creates new categories, reaches for new terms and raises new questions for how we do youthwork today. They go by many names: the millennials, the paradoxical generation, the dot-coms, the emerging adults, the 18s-20s – and they come with unique wordviews which require us to tailor our approach to youthwork accordingly.
So what is unique about this generation and what are some of the ways that we can speak truth to them?
1. They are digital pioneers.
They don’t just go online, they are online. Over half will check their social media as soon as they wake up. They live in the moment and that moment is on the smartphone, the tablet and the laptop.
Paradoxically this hyper-connectivity with a whole net of other digital users also creates a sense of isolation, and often a polarisation between the persona in reality and the persona online.
There needs to be a definite level of incarnational involvement in that world. We need to be God incarnate online, and help our young people be responsible digital pioneers and good citizens of the online world.
2. They are anti-institutional
Once upon a time we trusted politicians, we trusted organisation and we trusted institution. Those days are rapidly wearing thin. There is a pandemic lack of desire to belong to, or be a card-carrying member of any kind of institution.
However, this does not mean that this generation is not deeply spiritual. They are! There is a rejection of organised religion but a widespread searching for a deeper sense of reality.
We need to tackle nominal church going. Phil reminded us that ‘small is beautiful’ and that we need to see a de-emphasis on the Sunday morning service and a greater emphasis on the small group. We further need to give young people a bigger image of what church can be, moving away from consumerist models. “We need a society to contribute to rather than a church to consume.”
3. They are instant consumerists
The motto of this generation is tesco ergo sum, I shop therefore I am. This is the first generation to identify as consumerists, and specifically instant consumerists. We can go from hearing a song on TV to downloading and owning it within thirty seconds. There used to be a day where we browsed video rental shops – now we feel hard done by if we can’t stream a video within seconds.
We can address this by speaking out on generosity and speaking out against consumerism and the desire craze. What kinaesthetic experiences can we give to our young people (like visiting homeless kitchens) to teach them about generosity?
4. They are influenced more by friends than romance or family
Peers have replaced parents. Friends have become the most dependable unit. Even in popular culture, TV shows have moved away from the family unit (The Simpsons) to the friendship circles (Big Bang Theory).
The church, however, can uniquely give people a broader vision of family through all-age community. When young people were asked in a recent study, ‘what do you look for in a youth leader?’ 85% responded with a parent or grandparent figure.
Nathan gave us a great example of a program called ‘sponsor a young person.’ The deal is the young person has to say hello to an older person, and the older person has to commit to pray for that young person and give £1 a month to support them to go on a residential. Brilliant!
5. They have paradox between need for community and increasing isolation
There is a deep desire for individualism and a parallel longing for community. They are the ‘have it your way’ generation but they also have a deep need to be part of something bigger than themselves.
In youth ministry we need to hold these tensions and speak into these paradoxes. We need to speak into individual decision and church community This should be easy for the church! Faith is rooted in individual decision, in light of a whole community.
6. They are a post-christendom generation
Religion is no longer at the centre of public life. Jesus is a swear word and Noah is a myth. In 1985 520,000 18-30s were going to church; in the 20 years since that has more than halved. This generation no longer has the context, the background or the language to engage directly with Christian culture.
Sunday school for many in this generation is a thing of the past. People don’t know the Bible stories now. We need to translate the language and use words that young people understand. We also need to look at a different paradigm for the communication of Gospel, using stories works more often now than using something like the 4 points Gospel. Not least because the lack of prior understanding also means that the stories also now have a real freshness.
7. They are spending more time in adolescence
The average age of Adolescence is extending and now sits somewhere between the ages of 10-27. They are also sometimes called the ‘Peter Pan’ generation because ‘they never grow up.’
There are ways, like being sexually active, where they are growing up faster, however transitioning into full adulthood is getting harder and taking longer.
As church and youthworkers we need to intentionally celebrate the translations into adulthood by intentionally addressing transition issues and by supporting parents more. One of the things Youth For Christ has done is changed the age spectrum in its constitution from 11-18 to 7-25. We should consider running our youth groups older.
8. They have a ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deist’ worldview
The way that emerging adults view God is like Santa Claus or like a cosmic butler. He helps us be happy by bringing us good things and encouraging people to be nice and fair. The ultimate purpose of life is hedonistic – that is to be happy. (Ideal moment to kick in with Pharall Williams.)
Bottom line here: We need to get uncomfortable. Comfort is the enemy of growth. We should as youth workers give our young people a sense of adventure and of mission. It’s not enough to entertain young people and show them a good time. We need to dare young people to do incredible things in their world for Jesus Christ.
9. They are anti-commitment
The average American has 7 jobs in their 20s and one of the most downloaded apps in the UK today is ‘try before you buy dating’ which allows you to hook up with no strings attached. This bleeds into our profession too: the average time a UK church leader spends at a church is 7-10 years, however the average time a youth leader spends at a church is 18 months.
What does commitment to Jesus look like to an anti-commitment generation? We must help young people to chose day in day out for Jesus Christ. The challenge is enabling teenagers to dream again. Helping them think big, aim high and work hard to get there. All the while we must constantly remind ourselves that generationally, things do shift. Things can change.
10. They have a happy midi-narrative – worldview
Happiness is the central goal of life. Period. This isn’t necessarily new, however what might be is how that is achieved. You don’t pursue happiness through metanarrative (the big picture of life), but on a much more modest scale that you can control in your microcosm of your own contacted life. An interesting picture this is our Facebook profiles. A small reality that we can control and protect.
We need to tell the big story though. We need to tell the whole story of God, creation, life, Jesus Christ. We must tell the metanarrate and challenge the microcosms. One of the best ways we can do this is to invite them into it. They too are part of this great story!