Friday, August 7, 2015

A NEW GENERATION IS IMPACTING OUR CULTURE & OUR MINISTRIES: An Initial Look at “The Plurals”, America’s Newest Generation

“Of the sons of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times,
to know what Israel ought to do…”  1 Chronicles 12:32

One of the hallmarks of visionary leadership is the ability to anticipate the future. I’m not talking here about some bizarre prophetic utterance. I’m referring to the capacity to take a look at the generational trends facing today’s young people and then make intentional decisions that are based on genuine cultural developments.
I am absolutely convinced that ministry leaders must look at emerging generations to identify their common characteristics as part of the leaders’ strategy to set the direction for the future of their ministries. For example, I have often recommended Dr. Christian Smith’s books (Soul Searching, Souls in Transition, and Lost in Translation) to ministry leaders that are interested in reaching Millennials. I have also found Thom Rainer’s book The Millennials to be a classic for church leaders on ministering to that generation.
It is this simple – ministry leaders must get to know young people! The future effectiveness of our ministries is at stake.

A new generation is already here. The Millennials (probably this country’s largest generation ever) are headed to college and are entering adulthood. Church youth pastors and children’s workers are now experiencing a whole new generation of young people – and it is a generation that will certainly alter the future landscape of our culture and our ministries just as the Millennials did before them. That’s what happens when generations change.

Meet The Plurals
               We are presently living through a major generational shift, so says one of America’s leading experts in demographics. The Baby Boomers are nearing retirement, Gen X’ers are at the height of their social leadership, the last of the Millennials are leaving high school – and the entire youth population in this country will be comprised of a new generation. It’s time to meet the first generation of the 21st century.
                Historically, generations change every 15 to 20 years based upon discernible demographic shifts, specific historical events that are mutually shared across a similar stage of life, and changing mindsets that separate one generation from another.
(You can read more about this topic in the Magid Generational Strategies’ free report An Introduction to The Pluralist Generation at http://magid.com/sites/default/files/pdf/MagidPluralistGenerationWhitepaper.pdf.)

“The Plurals” (named after the pervasive philosophy of “pluralism” – the attitude that roughly says everyone can do what they want, that diversity will rule the day, and that most authority structures can’t be trusted), or “The Homeland Generation” (named as the generation that came into existence after 9/11 with a sense that the “homeland” was no longer safe) are today’s youth. Specifically, they were born after 2000, and currently boast of over 28 million members. Based upon current birth rates, this new generation will crest at about 50 million people, give-or-take a few million depending upon immigration numbers. (See http://www.multpl.com/united-states-population/table.) 
(Note: It usually takes a few years for a generational moniker to become widely accepted. However, the leading voices referring to this new generation as “The Plurals” are researchers and bloggers such as Michael Hais & Morley Winograd; while perhaps the leading advocate of the term “Homeland Generation” is generational expert, Neil Howe. You can Google these authors to see what they are writing about this new generation.)

As time goes on the distinctive characteristics of this new generation will grow clearer and will become more and more obvious. Yet, I believe the following characteristics of “The Plurals” will prove to be ministry game-changers. I am making my overly-simplistic observations based upon recent speaking opportunities to teenagers and after reading what several other writers are saying about this next generation.

1.       Plurals are ethnically diverse.
Prognosticators are reporting that this will be America’s last generation with a Caucasian majority. One report put it this way, “The proportion of Caucasians in America will continue to diminish, creating a pluralistic society, one in which there isn’t a majority ethnicity of race.”
This generation grew up with a mixed-race president - and are more likely than any other US generation before them to have a social circle that includes mixed-race, Muslin, Hispanic, and Asian people groups. Race is a non-issue for Plurals.
2.       Plurals will be cautious financially.
Today’s young people came of age during the period of highest economic pressure since the Great Depression. All they have ever known is a world that is experiencing great financial strain. They are watching Baby Boomers postpone retirement due to financial concerns, and are experiencing their Gen-X parents struggling to pay off college debt, while making short-term decisions on major fiscal decisions such as renting instead of buying a house. Many Plurals will undoubtedly prove to be very cautious about their futures as they live through the economic uncertainty of today’s global society.
3.       Plurals are the most protected generation ever – yet are quite fearful.
The mindset of this generation of children and teenagers will largely be shaped by the child-rearing style of their parents. These are the offspring of the celebrated “Helicopter Parents” or even “Stealth-Bomber Parents”. Don’t forget that these kids will have no personal memory of the horrors of 9/11, but that they were raised by parents who have vivid memories of the Twin Towers being attacked, the mass shootings in school and theaters, and the global Ebola scare. Plurals may indeed be the most protected and fearful generation in a long, long time.
I have personally noticed a huge dichotomy within the parents of today’s young people, which I think will greatly impact ministry leaders. Plurals will either be from hands-on, often over-protective homes – or they will have experienced a hands-off, almost disinterested parenting style. Either way, their family issues are a big deal for this generation.
4.       Plurals are tolerant – especially concerning the definition of the family unit.
The most-cited buzzword for the Plural generation has been “tolerance”. That one word is the defining catchphrase for this entire cohort. One of the most significant influences upon young people today will prove to be the recent US Supreme Court decision concerning the definition of marriage. They have been raised in a time where sexual orientation issues have dominated the public conversation – and the dialogue is not going away soon. The “typical” family unit no longer exists for Plurals. Many of them will not even know anyone from what was once considered a traditional or “nuclear” family.
5.       Plurals will be the most connected generation in history.
Like the Millennials before them, the Plurals are a native digital generation. They’ve always had the Internet – and it’s always been in their pocket, not necessarily on their desktops. Social media rules the day for this age group. They are always online. They have never known a time when people could not immediately and instantaneously connect with each other. They also have a confidence in their own ability to learn anything on their own that comes from being Internet-connected their entire lives.
It will be interesting to see if there is a long-term fallout in the Plurals future ability to communicate within a physical community of people. In other words, will online connections ultimately and considerably hurt face-to-face conversations?

There will undoubtedly be some interesting ministry ramifications from these trends. Every generational shift demands a methodological change from the church. We must we sensitive to the changes in culture from one generation to another while not ever abandoning the mandates and principles of Scripture. It will be fascinating to watch this new generation grow up.

Friday, July 10, 2015

What Do Generational Differences Look Like in Ministry?

We’re facing a clash of generations in America.

The Baby Boomers – the generation of “The Sixies”, Woodstock, and The Beatles singing, “You say you want a revolution…” – are kicking and screaming into retirement; while the Millennials – the first generation of “digital natives” (see http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/04/business/digital-native-prensky/) and the most-observed generation in history – are facing their 30’s.

Boomers don’t want to give up control – and Millennials are in effect saying, who needs you? And are creating new ways of doing things. This phenomenon is true with everything from pocket-sized computers (thinly disguised as cell phones) to the Church. This trend is maybe mostly true in the Church. Millennials are walking away from traditional churches en masse – and a new generation of pastors would rather plant new churches than take on an established, traditional church.

Yes, most Millennials want and are seeking out growing relationships with older, significant adults as mentors. (See https://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials.) But, from my perspective, the generations are looking at the basic aspects of ministry very, very differently. It is my conclusion that the different generations need each other, probably more than ever before. But, it often look like the two generations are speaking different languages when it comes to ministry.

  • Boomers think mentoring is an “information dump” (like orientation sessions) – Millennials want relationships with significant, older people.
  • Boomers think discipleship is a series of scheduled meetings – Millennials want to do life together.
  • Boomers think evangelism is most often a systematic presentation – Millennials seek to build relationship within communities.
  • Boomers think structured church programs should fill up their weekend schedules – Millennials are more attracted to relational conversations around a cup of coffee.
  • Boomers think Millennials should “pay their dues” before assuming positions of leadership – Millennials believe they have much to offer and want a voice in influencing the direction of the organization.
  • Boomers want fellowship with others from their own generation – Millennials crave growing relationships with members of other generations.

The generations need each other in the church. What can we do to build growing and intentional, inter-generational connections in the Church?


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

Over the last several months I took the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

1.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.
The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.
I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.
The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 
2.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.
Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.
3.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.
Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.
4.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have not been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.
Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.
Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!
5.       Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.
My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.
I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

(Note to Readers: Full disclosure - I serve on staff at Summit University of Pennsylvania, a school where all of our students are Bible majors. This means that I am surrounded every day by students who are preparing to serve the Lord in a variety of ministries or careers. These are students who are all actively involved in various local churches and therefore are students who have made the commitment not to walk away from The Church.)