The church consists of people from the various generations that make up our current culture. I joked on Twitter that my generation is remaining quietly in the background… at least, for the moment.
My generation continues to stay under the radar. pic.twitter.com/klzmIOWvI5
— Philip Nation (@philipnation) January 9, 2019
Each generation possesses generalized features that act as levers to engage them into service. Within the church, it is no different. It is not a good thing or a bad thing that generations are different. It is just a thing. So, as leaders, we need to pay attention and know how to lead each into spiritual maturity and God’s mission.
My interactions with Millennials and Gen Z have led to five conclusions about how to activate them spiritually. Each of these two younger generations have distinctions but I find these five ways are relatively consistent throughout those born after 1980. Don’t take these as exhaustive but as observations from one father, pastor, and student of culture. I hope they will help you in your own disciple-making work.
1. Source of knowledge. Epistemology is the study of the origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge. Each generation has a differing view on how we come to knowledge and its personal application. With both of the younger generations, they have departed from a mass position of monotheistic religion being a starting point for understanding knowledge. In making disciples, we must engage in a higher level conversation with them on the origin and nature of knowledge in order to then speak about God as its source and the One who determines what is true.
2. Teach a spiritual-based view of life. The younger generations do not have the clear dividing line that other have acted with between the “spiritual” and the “secular.” Rather, I find them more at ease with all things being spiritual. Feel free to help them give eternal consequence to all spiritual realities they sense.
3. Passion for the epic. People have always enjoyed epic stories. It’s why we continue to tell them. But, generations swing away from one another. In past generations, we accomplished spiritual growth by hierarchical teaching, mainly from Paul’s epistles. Again, this is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is just a thing. The younger generations are longing for more epic in their lives. They still need the robust theology of Romans and Ephesians. But they long for the grand stories of Genesis, 1 Samuel, Song of Songs, John’s Gospel, and The Revelation. Sweep them into God’s epic story of redemption so they’ll see the largesse of what He is doing.
4. Relationally-based with a twist. The “build it and they will come” mentality was not great to begin with and is relatively ineffective among Millennials and Gen Zers. They are the first American generations that are native to the technological world. As a Gen X guy, I’m an immigrant to their homeland. Fumbling with my iPhone and an amateur with online life, as a leader, I must work to enter into how they relate. Our in-person interactions differ from conversations with older generations. Learning to value relating through tech platforms may seem unhelpful to me but it is natural to them. So, leverage it for their spiritual gain.
5. Globally-informed and active. They believe that they can change the world. Why? Because they’ve witnessed countless peers do it through social media efforts and Kickstarter campaigns. It is critical that we as leaders do not create and live in our own theological and ministry ghettos. I say it pejoratively because when you decide that your own little bubble as a leader is enough then you’re missing the wider work of God’s church in the world. Plus, these generations want to move past their own lives. Don’t let the constant check of a smart phone fool you. They are a globally-connected generation. The more you can point them to what God is doing throughout the world and invite them to join Him, the more likely they will step forward spiritually.
The Millennial and Gen Z generations have specialized features to address. So do the Builders, Boomers, and Gen X folks. Knowing them personally and valuing them completely is necessary for discipling them effectively.