“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.
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?