MINISTRY AND THE
By Mark Tittley
So much has been said and written about the Xer generation
- but most of us in youth ministry are now working with the next generation. Can we come
closer to understanding them?
1. Enter the Millennials
Millennials are youth born since 1981. They are the generation entering high school on the
heels of their Generation X brothers and sisters. They have been exposed to life's
realities - violence, racial tension, increased sexual awareness, technical
sophistication, etc. They have also experienced the apathy, general discontent and
hostility of the Xers. The '2000 kids' will be the torchbearers of the next millennium,
which gives them a certain 'mystical significance,' says Dean Borgman, from Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary. They are participants in what he calls 'the second great watershed'
for youth culture. And the repercussions are causing us to rethink how churches do youth
2. Characteristics of Millennials
These youth, say Howe and Strauss in The Fourth Turning (http://www.fourthturning.com/html/fourth_turning.html)
will be vastly different from the youth we have worked with over the past two decades. The
following characteristics are evident:
The millennials are more trusting, liberal sorts, who believe in second chances. They are
among the few preservers of social conscience, though they tend to be willing to accept
almost any party line as long as they remain involved.
Their confidence has been produced by a focus on protective family structures. They are
being raised in a youth-friendly (some say youth-obsessed) environment. The parents of
millennials raise their children protectively and encourage cooperative
politicians define adult issues in terms of their effects on children; Hollywood is
replacing cinematic child devils with child angels; TV and the Internet are cordoning off
'child-friendly' havens; and educators speak of standards and cooperative learning.
In movies there is an almost angelic characterization of Millennials as opposed to the
almost satanic view of Xers when they were the same age. Older people are going to be very
interested in protecting this generation. There's a big interest in making sure kids
aren't just left alone - that parents are always with them. The thinking is kids do bad
things when they're alone. That's when they do drugs, have sex and other kinds of horrible
There is an emphasis on doing things in teams. Youth in our world have more in common with
each other than with the adults of their own cultures due to the pervasive influence of
the media in their lives. Collaborative learning is being stressed--team learning in the
classroom and noncompetitive sports. (Xers have a more individualistic approach to life).
The motto for Xers is "Just do it." The motto for Millennials will be "Just
do it together." There's going to be a revolution in the way kids judge each other.
Before it was was a youth who could dominate and get the edge who was admired, but now the
youth who tries to get the edge at the expense of his peers is looked upon badly. The one
downside may be the lack of individuality youth will have, but there will be a lot less
youth with attitude.
These youth are becoming more interested in the political sphere of life. They will get
more involved in politics and community service and be less concerned about working after
school to earn spending money.
They will combine peer pressure with optimism to bring solutions to problems. They will
use positive peer pressure to lower the rate of teenage crime, pregnancy, and suicide. All
in all they will form a culture that will be more wholesome, upbeat, and conformist. They
will not be cynical like their Xer brothers and sisters. They will be praised by the media
for their positive contributions to society. A recent study by the Horatio Alger
Association found that "today's teens are neither as rebellious as adolescents in the
1970s nor as materialistic as those of the 1980s." Among their greatest concerns is
the "decline in moral and social values." Teens in the nineties, the survey
says, are "troubled by crime and violence, AIDS, drugs and environmental
The study by the Horatio Alger Association found that seven in ten youth say 'religion is
important in their lives.' The following comments from millennials show something of their
feelings and expressions of spirituality: The messages in church and youth group have
a strong effect on the decisions I make (age 14); it is extremely hard to pay attention,
no matter how hard you try (14); going to church is the highlight of my week (16); it is
good to go to church to get a better understanding of what God wants us to do, but it is
boring (16); I have a hard time applying the messages to the hard parts of teenage life
(16); a lot of times the messages at church go in one ear and out the other (16); when God
has his way in the church, it gets exciting - you can't help it (16); I don't like long
sermons or gabbing women after church (14); it recharges me for the week - the pews hurt
my back, but that's a small thing (15); sometimes the church makes everything so
complicated that I can't relate it to my life (14); it is for older people who know more
and understand more (15); our church has speakers that talk generally in a monotone, which
is mostly boring - if they told how they really felt, and showed it, it would be wonderful
(15); if I saw my church telling others about Jesus and reaching out more to others it
would influence me to do the same (15); I like church because it gives me time to talk to
God and ask him to forgive my sins (14).
3. Millennials and Spirituality
Very little has been written about Millennial spirituality. It appears that they will be
more open to the church than Xers. They too will be open to experience God - especially in
ways that involve them in corporate experiences of His presence. The large group worship
experience will be an important way in which Millennials will be able to express their
belief in God. As their world increasingly revolves around electronic communication (high
tech), they will be longing for and open to intimate relationships (high touch) - they
will want to find and enjoy a closer and personal relationship with God.
4. Millennials and Commitment
Millennials will be a whole lot more open to commitment that Xers ever were. They will be
more trusting. They will respond to programs that call them to commit, especially when
there is a focus on collaboration and not competition. They will commit to
service-orientated programs and projects that the youth group runs. Where these projects
involve peer ministry they help millennials to increase their commitment level.
5. Ministry Among Millennials
The following changes will be necessary if we are to minister effectively among
A. New Ministry Approach
In order to reach millennials we must focus more on relationships both with kids and their
parents - becoming less program-oriented and more people-oriented. Programs may reach kids
for Christ, but relationships will help keep them there. More time will need to be spent
in developing significant relationships with youth.
B. New Ministry Philosophy
There was a time when entertainment worked with youth, They could easily be attracted to a
church building for a fun program. This is getting harder and harder as society is
creating more and more entertainment for youth.
C. New Ministry Strategy
There was a time when a trickle-down strategy was used where the group would reach the
leaders of a high school (usually the athlete types) and then the people they influenced
would be attracted. But youth culture has changed and there is no longer one group that
asserts an influence over all the others. There is a host of subculture groups that are
generally accepted and co-exist.
D. New Ministry Events
The Class of '00 article
reviewed the following ministries effective with today's teenagers:
(1) Peer ministry - Here the emphasis of youth
ministry shifts from entertainment to long-term maturity and the discovery and
implementation of spiritual gifts for church leadership. A youth group in Illinois
discovered the truth of kids ministering to kids. At the heart of their approach serious
meetings for believers who want to grow spiritually - youth church with intensive Bible
studies. During these events youth are upfront. They minister to one another.
(2) The Practices - On the other end of the
spectrum is a model that celebrates the established church while finding innovative ways
of integrating young people into its tradition. Here adults and youth are involved in
discovering their common heritage. A confirmation process is used that draws on the Jewish
tradition of bar mitzvah and Christian catechesis, a fourth-century church
tradition for training and discipleship with adult mentors. Here the service provides a
meaningful ritual whereby the youth is expected to master the practices and rites of
community and commit himself or herself to the faith as an adult member. Here too, youth
are involved in the program, but with adults involvement as well.
(3) Platoons and shepherds - Somewhere in-between
the peer ministry and practices models is a two-pronged platoons and shepherds approach
which captures the peer ministry impulse while preserving the intergenerational connection
with the larger worshipping body. Student leaders are trained to run cell-groups within
the youth ministry. Each group has a student leader and an adult coach. They meet together
in the week and are involved in running the cell together. Five things happen at platoon
meetings (a) fresh bread (sharing what God has communicated with them through a
Bible passage in the week; (b) the empty chair (a reminder to pray for friends to
join the group); (c) announcements (this preserves the cohesiveness of the larger
youth group); (d) lesson (here the student platoon leader gets into the Word); (e)
prayer, care, share (praise items, struggles and needs are shared in the context of a
The challenge we face to develop ministries that are
focused on (1) Collaboration (we must get youth involved together in ministry - those who
have been led to Christ must not be spectators at events that target pre-Christian youth,
but expected to fulfill their role in reaching others); (2) Service (Millennials who long
to get involved in corporate action where they bring change in society need
service-orientated events to feed their sense of significance - they will commit to
projects they can do with others); and (3) Leadership (youth must be trained for
significant ministry involvement - we must help them to discover their spiritual gifts and
provided a context in which they can use them.
To explore a model for ministry among youth check out: http://www.btc.co.za/model/main.htm
By Mark Tittley.
Mark serves at the Honeyridge Baptist Church in Randburg, South Africa
(just outside Johannesburg) as pastor of youth and discipleship. For the past six years he
has set up and taught a youth ministry major at the Baptist Theological College in South
Africa. Mark has a degree in theology from his denominational college and a diploma in
training from a secular institution. He is married with two children.
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