Nextgen Pastor – River Valley Church
Solomon once said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”1 While that’s true in most cases, it doesn’t hold up with culture. Sure, there are universal values in every culture to certain extents, but the reality is that too many church leaders use that statement as a way to dodge figuring out how the next generation ticks. If the next generation is the future of the Church, then it deserves the better part of our personal bandwidth to get where they are and engage them.
The late cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once stated, “Throughout history, most cultures have been dis-figurative, where parents and grandparents help their young to understand the future.
A few times it becomes co-figurative, where change happens so fast that society depends on the young to help understand the future.
However, I anticipate that a time is coming in history where technology changes so fast that culture, for the first time in human history, will be pre-figurative, where children will have to figure out for themselves what their values will be.”
Little did she know that she was talking about the generation of young people who are currently filling our Kids and Youth Ministries. That generation is Gen Z and they are arguably ages 0–18. That means if you’re a youth pastor, your last Millennial graduated from high school last year (unless they were held back that is), and what is incredibly defining in regard to Gen Z is that they are no longer a generation of consumers; rather, they’re a generation of publishers.
Did you hear me? I said they are a generation of PUBLISHERS.
What this means is that this generation no longer wants to come to church, sit, consume what you say and then leave the church and publish, but they want to “publish” what God is saying to them right now. In every area of their lives, especially through the communities they engage through their smartphones, they are publishing. The business world has gotten this, public school systems have understood this, and even major news outlets have realized that to get people to engage news, you have to allow them room to “publish” what they think about it. So where did this generational shift take place, and furthermore, WHY did it take place?
The answer is simpler than you think.
The reason this generation is one of publishers is because they are neurologically wired that way. Think of it: Everything we access and everything we do creates a neurological pathway in our brain, similar to a hiking trail in the mountains. The more you access that same thing, the more traveled that neurological pathway becomes, and pretty soon that hiking trail becomes a superhighway of information. And now, you have a new default programmed into you. Is it any wonder that what we access, and the frequency in which we do so wires the way we think? Americans look at their smartphones an average of 80 times a day and spend at least five hours a day perusing social media, headlines, games, the news, and God-forbid, darker corners of the internet.
Now it makes sense, in Romans 12:2, when Paul tells us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the RENEWING OF YOUR MIND.”2
So what do we do with this information? How does it shape our churches and more specifically, our youth services?
Well, we can start by restructuring our youth services to reflect the generation we minister to. We can create more opportunities for students to publish in service through small groups, social media engagement, journaling, or group talk. We can lead people in an actual faith journey rather than taking them straight to a destination every time we preach. And when we do preach, we need to preach to increase biblical literacy and develop biblical thinking patterns rather than dropping tweetable quotes that populate a Twitter feed rather than filling their minds with the equipment necessary for taking the journey with God themselves.
I’ll leave you with this thought…
A year and a half ago I was in conversation with the gentleman who oversees youth ministry for the AG in Japan. After talking to him about what I outlined above, he gave me this statistic: Ten years ago there were, on average, 30 teenagers in every church in Japan, but today there are .7 teenagers in every church (that’s right, point seven). He said the reason was because they kept “doing church” the way they always did it in the past expecting this generation to fall in line. Instead, the next generation left the church building, but not their faith, and instead formed communities where a faith journey with Jesus could be discovered, discussed, and published.
Let’s get ahead of this here at home and do all we can to reach everyone we can as we shape ministry contexts to engage the generation sitting before us.
1 See Ecclesiastes 1:9.
2 NKJV, emphasis mine.