Your students are part of one of the most unique generations in the history of our country. They are called the Millennial Generation and include everyone born between 1980 and 2000. It's America's largest generation, almost 78 million strong which is 2 million more than the massive Baby Boomer Generation (people born after World War II and up to 1964). This generation is creating big changes in culture, the work force, and even student ministry. If church leaders are going to reach today's students and minister to them, we better do everything we can to understand them. Thom S. Rainer and his son Jess W. Rainer have just written a fabulous book, The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation. They go into great detail describing what motivates and what's important to this new generation. For example, the Millennial Generation wants to make a difference in the world, but they're not workaholics. They value family, but are leaving the church family in droves. According to the Rainer's only about one in three attend a church on a regular basis. Only twenty percent are actively involved in Bible study.
After reading the book The Millennials, and thinking about my own ministry to millennial students over the past few years, I have come up with some observations which hopefully will help you in your ministry.
- The impact the Millennial Generation will have on student ministry will not be the same for all churches. Change in the Bible belt and in rural areas tends to be slower than in metro areas and other parts of the country. But rest assured, the change is coming.
- Creating mission and ministry opportunities for your students will be more important than ever. Within those events students will need a clear sense of purpose and how what they are doing is making a difference.
- More than ever, students need to be reminded and taught of the importance of the church in carrying out God's mission in this world. The activities and programs of most churches will change, but worship and Bible study need to always be a top priority.
- High tech communication is huge with this generation. We all need to keep up our technical skills but don't abandon the old schools ways of communicating. Sending a Happy Birthday note on Facebook is great but a personal card or phone call is still something teenagers enjoy. A text message about playing a great basketball game is nice but personally attending an event can make a big impact on a student.
- The Bible will always be central to youth ministry. In Isaiah 40:8 we find these words "The grass it will wither and the flower will fade but the word of our God stands forever." No matter how generations change and people change, teaching and preaching the word of God will always be the most important way to minister. Methods and programs will always be in flux. But your one constant should always be teaching and living the Bible among students.
- We must seek to understand the cultural context of the students in our ministry. Is your relationship with students inner-generational or cross-generational? In other words, are you a Millennial, Generation X, or like me, a Baby Boomer youth leader? Leading those of your own generation is probably easier because you know them better. Those leading from one or two generations removed may have to work harder to stay relevant but can add a great mentor edge to the equation. Be very well versed on not only the generation you lead but the generation to which you belong.
We are in a fast changing culture and world. The youth minister who takes the time to understand the current generation of teenagers will have a definite advantage when it comes to helping students grow and mature in their faith. (By the way, another great book that will help you understanding the inner workings of different generations is The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The Millennials and The Fourth Turning are also available as a digital download on Amazon Kindle.)