Today’s Christian teenagers embody a number of encouraging values. But those same values tend to chafe today’s church.
Since launching Group Magazine almost 40 years ago I’ve been an avid observer of adolescent values, beliefs and behaviors. Much has changed over the years. I reflected on some of these changes after spending time with hundreds of kids in recent weeks at Group’s mission trips around the country.
I saw three values on display that have also been reported recently in national media accounts of the Millennial mind. These three values represent a sea change from previous generations.
1. Shared Participation. This generation wants to get out and make a difference. And they want to do it cooperatively together with others. Their teamwork and eager servanthood while putting a roof on an elderly woman’s house in hundred-degree heat illustrate their appetite for putting their faith into action.
And, in things that really matter, they want to be a part of the conversation. They want to participate, rather than sit passively while an authority “communicates.” Today’s young people have grown up with interactive media. They prefer the web and mobile apps over television–because of the ability to actively participate.
These past weeks I saw how the workcampers resonated and responded to opportunities to actively participate in the large group gatherings. Rather than simply listen to a talking head, they wanted to join the conversation, and step into active worship experiences that allowed them to explore and express their faith with all their senses.
2. Gray Comfort. Today’s kids have determined our world is not all black and white. Some things are gray. Mysterious. Unresolved. And they’re comfortable with that.
They reject a religion that presents itself as a mere list of rules. They’re tired of the war between science and Christianity. They’re suspicious of adult talkers who over-confidently exude pat answers for everything.
This year’s mission trip theme focused on questions–questions that Jesus asked. The kids ate it up. They loved the format that welcomed their questions and their doubts.
3. Full Acceptance. This generation is so past the concept of erecting barriers based on race, national origin, clothing choice, gender or sexual preference.
They embrace the notion of unconditional acceptance. That doesn’t mean they necessarily endorse a person’s every behavior. But they accept the person.
At one camp I watched as an openly gay boy strode to the microphone to participate in an evening program. After he finished speaking, the crowd of teenagers cheered enthusiastically–just as they did with every other young speaker that night. While the older adults in the room may have caught themselves first reacting with thoughts of, “Wait a minute, I think that kid is gay,” the young people looked right past the veneer to love and respect the individual.
There’s a lot I admire about this generation. I believe they offer a bountiful hope for the future, for the future of the church. But much of the church will need to adjust to make a safe place for these young people. Is the church ready?
Are church leaders ready . . .
- to share the microphone, to encourage give-and-take, to allow God’s Spirit to work through a variety of worship experiences?
- to resist spewing pat answers, to make a truly safe place for questions and doubts, to authentically admit that none of us has all the answers to life’s toughest questions?
- to create a real welcoming environment, to remove the unspoken barriers, to understand and demonstrate the difference between acceptance and endorsement?
(To explore more about the coming changes in the church of tomorrow, join me at the Future of the Church summit event in October.)
Yes! I am an older millenial (29), but I totally resonate with these things. And I REALLY hate when the church thinks it can appeal to millenials by adding flashing lights and fog machines. It’s insulting, when what we really want is what you describe here.
I’m concerned with everything here you say. I understand but concerned. Even in my 45 years, I can see the erosion of our society and church together. I understand shared participation but as we know with too many voices and too many cooks, in the end we’ll see a big disorganized mess and a bad tasting stew. I understand the gray comfort and not wanting to focus on rules but we are headed for what it was in Judges where everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. This full acceptance thing where ‘anything goes’ is going to end up with a morality mess IN the church. There is a reason for ‘elders’ because it take people with wisdom, experience and patients to guide and grow the younger generation. Youth are always challenging adults with not-well-thought-out short-sighted things that may seem well and good. As much as I would like to grab the reins and hold them back, I’m also not against letting mistakes be made.
I see that as opportunity because the young people are keen to make a difference. The most important things are we guide them in the right direction. Allow them proper venues to express their love for their neighbours as part of the church outreach to the community. There are nothing more beautiful to the eyes of the world that we mean what we preach. To silence critics, there are nothing better than real actions.
As part of my research, I attended several churches of varying denominations, sizes, and worship styles—though most of them identified with the evangelical tradition. I visited a colossal megachurch with a professional and polished service, an alliterative three-point sermon, and an eye for seekers. I attended a small Quaker church, with a wall of windows behind the pulpit, which looked out on the San Gabriel Mountains. I visited a traditional and echoing Episcopalian church, an evensong, a meditative Taize service, many contemporary services at carpeted Presbyterian churches, and three postmodern worship gatherings bursting at the seams with young people.