Two Questions for Millennials & Gen X-ers

The only thing that limits us is our imagination…

At the church I’m at in Arizona, I’ve been put in charge of creating a new worship service to attract “all the young people”. That being said, I’m in the brainstorming stages right now and I want to crowd-source some of this brainstorming. That being said, I’d love to get your input on 2 questions.

1. What made you leave (or consider leaving) the church? (Or if you stayed in church, what made you stay?)

2. What kinds of things would be important for you to find in a church, if you were to go back?

Any input you’d be willing to give would be GREATLY appreciated!

Cheers,
Eric

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In Defense of My Generation

I recently read an article that described the new wave of young adults as the “Peter Pan” generation. It described a generation of kids who refused to grow up. I know I’ve talked a lot about this in a couple recent posts. But this struck me in a different kind of way. It seems incredibly pejorative. Now there is some merit to these claims if we look at specific instances of my generation — Jersey Shore comes to mind. Easy target, I know. But embedded in this “Peter Pan” label is the broad, sweeping implication that we’re all childish, immature, petulant children who are afraid to grow up. I think it’s far more complicated than that. These implications spread much further than simply the church, politics, or education.

With the rise of technology and the internet, we are able to know more than ever before. Because of this, my generation’s view of authority is different than any other generation in history. A general mistrust of societal institutions has become commonplace. One could even make a case-by-case argument that every cultural institution that we have been taught to hold in high esteem has given us ample reason to question their integrity and their motives. Our coming of age has involved a massive re-assessment of the meaning of responsibility and accountability. The fact that we have to employ a fact-checker in our political discourse (and that most of what is said is, at least somewhat, false) is seen as reason enough to submit to the tempting call of apathy.

Our generation has and will continue to struggle to create meaning in a time where there is almost nothing we can be sure of. Every generation is messy, complicated, and has its own obstacles to overcome. In this way, I think we are just like every generation that has come before us.

The course of history — not misplaced apathy or optimism — gives us hope that we will get by. We will welcome the responsibility of adulthood on our terms and in our own time. We grew up with loose ends, inaccurate labels, and exceedingly high expectations. I think we’re going to do just fine.

Cheers,
Eric

What To Do About Extended Adolescence?

I’m not going to call John Mayer a prophet, but there is something of a quarter-life crisis that’s spreading throughout the youth of America. A lot of people in this age-range are going to school longer, delaying marriage and family, job-hopping and apartment-swapping. They’re moving back home after they get their degree to save money, traveling to faraway places to work and taking some general “me” time to decide what their future looks like. They’re looking for their “dare to be great” situation. But what is behind this phenomenon? Is it an individual or a cultural phenomenon? Or perhaps more importantly, how is this going to affect the generations ahead?

Some of the newest research in adolescent studies has said that adolescence now lasts from 11 years old to 29 years old. This is a far cry from the industrialized childhood of even just 80 years ago. When kids were on the farm, they became an adult when they were old enough to do the work. Then after the second World War, teens left the factory jobs and started going to high school and youth culture was born. Now with a bad job market, higher educational requirements, and the glorification of what can only be called the “frat boy” persona, there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to do things like “grow up” and “take responsibility”.

Early adolescent theorists describe adolescence as a time of “storm and stress” in a person’s life. Then it was thought that this storm would last only a few years — say from age 12 to about 17. But what do you do when that storm now spans 18 years? The storm and stress is a childhood unto itself. That can’t be good. At the same time, questions about the so-called “helicopter” parents play a role as well. They’re called this because these are parents that are always hovering over their child as a helicopter over… well, whatever helicopters hover over.

At the end of all of this, I have two sources and three questions:

Sources:

  • Check out Robert Epstein’s book Teen 2.0. It’s an incredibly in-depth analysis of this phenomenon and offers a unique way forward.
  • There is a conference on this called Extended Adolescence Symposium. Click on the link to check out the information and support a great cause.

Questions:

  • What role does individual responsibility play in extended adolescence?
  • If you serve in ministry, how do you help parents who seem to show these co-dependent tendencies?
  • What role do you think our predominantly consumer society plays in this?

I hope you can engage with some of these questions and share some experience you’ve had surrounding this prolonged adolescence.

Cheers,
Eric

Listen to Millennials, Please

Nadia Bolz-Weber posted a great article this past week on Union Theological Seminary’s New Media Project about the Millennial generation in the church. I wanted to post the text of the article because I think it’s just that good. So here it is…

This past weekend I taught a class at Iliff School of Theology on Emerging Church in the US and the UK. Predictably the issue of social media came up as did some expressed discomfort with things like text messaging and Facebook interactions replacing “real community.” A couple of folks cringed when I said that I do a lot of pastoral care via text messaging, which brought up the issues of Millennial culture and authority.

I encouraged folks (as I usually do) to look at Pew Research Center’s work on Millennials and what characterizes Millennial culture. There even is an on-line How Millennial Are You? quiz one can take to see where you rank generationally and culturally. My goal in having people look at this research is to help them see the ways in which mainline Protestant churches are, for the most part, not located culturally in a Millennial context, and yet Millennial culture will only be taking up increasingly more space in the American landscape, not less.

The conversations I hear in the church about young people seem to be people over 50 trying to figure out how we can stop the church from dying—how can we “target” populations (please don’t ever, for any reason, use this term) who aren’t in church, how can we be more “relevant” (same goes here), how can we get young adults to be involved. I realize that these conversations, which happen all over the country, are in large part coming from a place of loving the church and wanting it to be around for the next generations, but I think these conversations are not really helping us. It’s like asking, “How can we make horse and buggies appealing to Baby Boomers?” Just because they may not be in any way interested in a horse and buggy doesn’t mean they don’t care about transportation.

Another way of looking at it is that you can try to market land-lines to teenagers till the cows come home. You can do as much market research as you’d like and lament the fact that kids just don’t care about phones anymore because none of them have land-lines. Or you can get some kids to tell you about cell phones and the ways in which they love to communicate with those they love even though their ways look different than your ways. What I mean is this: If younger generations are not coming to church, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about the Gospel. It just means that their understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is culturally different from what they see in most mainline churches. This is not to say that mainline churches are not a faithful expression of the Gospel, only that it is no longer a normative expression of the Gospel.

Conversations about how to save the church should maybe shift in this way: We should find all the people we can who rank high on the Millennial scale (they can be any age, trust me!) and who answered “very” to that one question “how important is it to you personally to lead a deeply religious life?” and then ask them “what does it look like to be the church?” Since they are native to the cultural shift in which we find ourselves, they have an authority to speak to a burgeoning ecclesiology that we may not yet be able to envision.

Here’s what I like about the New Media Project: They seem to recognize that while one side of the church is criticizing the use of new media as a sign of the downfall of the traditional church, the other side sees it as the “answer” which, if adopted quickly, can prevent the downfall of the traditional church. Neither approach is useful they seem to understand. So my hope is that the New Media Project will instead continue to ask those for whom new media is not “new” at all (those who are native to it) and who love the Gospel what it means to them, and how they see it as part of being the body of Christ. They are the ones who can tell us.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, one of the case studies of the New Media Project. She holds an M.Div. from Illiff School of Theology and is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? She blogs regularly on Sarcastic Lutheran.

So what caught your eye in this post? What kind of stuff do you do to help incorporate this new generation into the life of your church?

Cheers,
Eric

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