Last week I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of David Kinnaman from the Barna group for a presentation of his book You Lost Me in Nashville. The intimate setting at Belmont University provided a great forum for discussion of the crucial issues facing the church as we seek to reach the Mosaic generation (or Millennials, Gen-Y, whatever term you want to use). It’s been about a week, so here is what I’ve taken away from the seminar:
- This generation is radically different – To steal Kinnaman’s terminology, this generation is “discontinuously different.” The dropout problem (estimated to be 59% of high school youth group graduates) has been an issue for over 50 years in churches, when young adults leave youth group and eventually return to the church in their 20s-30s when they have kids. However, that trend is not happening. Several factors are involved, from failing to launch (most college grads move back home, less than 50% of people age 30 have ‘launched’ into adulthood), the syncretistic landscape of postmodernity, an increasing distrust of institutions, and more.
The core of it though is summed up by the title: you lost me. In droves, young adults are saying that along the way the church failed to speak their language, give them answers to their pressing questions, or provide an environment for their honest inquiry.
- Mosaics are spiritual people – This was one of the more interesting findings, that young adults aren’t abandoning their faith, but they are increasingly moving away from the institutional understanding of their faith. So instead of an organized ecclesial foundation, young adults are developing their own groups, or the church is deconstructed to where it becomes a collaborative community of faith. The perceptions of the church are: 1) Overprotective towards culture, 2) Repressive towards sexuality, 3) Anti-science, 4) Exclusive towards peers [creating an in-group Christians-only social structure], 5) No room for doubt/questions, 6) Shallow in its approach [the term “slogan driven” was used to describe this], and 7) Expecting a rigid lifestyle. I’ll have some comments on this at the end.
- The cultural environment they are entering is fundamentally different – The West is increasingly moving to a post-Christian era. Morality, cultural norms, and values had been defined by a loose understanding of Christianity. But as secularism rises, the definition of “normal” is shifting towards a more individualistic, anti-authoritarian approach. A fundamental understanding of Christian ethics, which had provided the skeleton for culture, is eroding. The world Mosaics find themselves in is radically different from their parents. Kinnaman proposes this analogy to describe their situation: Exiles in Babylon. Because of this fundamental difference in culture, the church must respond radically different. I’ll have more on this at the end.
- What Mosaics want: deep, real, and sacrificial relationships – Buzz words like “authenticity” are used to describe what Mosaics want. They are saturated in social media, YouTube, and text messaging. But what they crave is a real relationship with a real person. The church, with its multigenerational dynamic, can provide this. Connecting the generations provides an avenue for young Christians to ask hard questions, and for older generations to invest in the future. The word ‘legacy’ is central here. Mosaics are marked with access, knowledge, and information. What’s missing is wisdom. That’s where our older friends and neighbors come in.
- We must redefine youth ministry – Kinnaman posed the question of “will we see youth ministry as a holding tank for teenagers or will we see them as Gospel partners?” Instead of armpit relays and silly things designed “to get youth to come” we must instead recognize both the potential of teenagers for great things and the need to equip them to live as exiles in a foreign land. Approximately 52% of Christian teens want a science-related career (medicine, research, teaching, etc) but >0.5% of youth pastors have talked about science in their teaching ministry. Also, only 16% of Christian students can articulate how the Bible applies to their career choice. We are losing our entrepreneurs, our scientists, and our creatives. We must be about the business of cultivating and developing a comprehensive Christian worldview in our students, rather than settle for the coolest air hockey game ever or the world’s largest banana split. Instead of the short-term, our focus must change to the long-term. Voddie Bauchaum uses the term “intergenerational faithfulness” to describe this objective. This goes beyond giving them slick answers for their college professors (my assessment of the majority of apologetics ministries, not all, but many I’ve seen) to giving them real skills and a comprehensive Christian worldview.
- The understanding of vocation is shifting from a job to a “calling” – The idea of the freelancer was presented to describe this. Instead of finding their identity and purpose in a job, many Mosaics are at heart entrepreneurs, who want to put in the time and effort to make a difference. Whether it’s TOMS, Kony2012, or any number of other efforts, Mosaics are marked by this entrepreneurial spirit. Their equipment is a backpack, not a briefcase. And with their technological access, anyone with a Mac and a microphone can make an album, anyone with a Mac and an idea can write a book and publish it online (are you noticing a trend, we love Macs!). This is a radical shift from the 9-5 approach our parents and grandparents took to life. Mosaics want to be defined by their legacy more than their occupation.
- Most stunning… Different generations were asked if they viewed particular people favorably, in both pop culture and in Christian circles. Among Mosaics, Paris Hilton and Billy Graham were both given about the same percentage of favorable views. More stunning than how low a perception Mosaics have about Billy Graham is that they were able to find that many people who view Paris Hilton favorably!
So what do we do in the church?
- We must recognize the game has changed, and adapt. We cannot continue to do things the way we always have and expect different results. We cannot assume that young people care about our programs, rallies, choirs, traditions, or our “glory days.” We need to focus more on cultivating gospel faithfulness, engage in mission, and develop deep relationships with Mosaics.
- We have to answer some of the hard questions, but do so thoughtfully. Depending on Romans 1, singing you ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart, or giving slogans (or worse yet, alliterated outline) to speak to this generation would be like speaking French in Japan.
- We must shift our emphasis from programming to discipleship, and change our scorecard of success from short-term to long-term. Instead of measuring with our conventional methods, we need to change our measurement to the degree by which we are developing lifelong disciples. Attendance and giving are still valuable measurements, but they must be made secondary to the fruit of discipleship and depth of commitment to Christ.
- If we are serious about reaching college students and young adults, then we have to be open to changing the church culture. Not just by adding a service, hiring staff, or doing something kitschy to attract a crowd. A significant DNA change. We must be willing to forsake our traditions for the sake of the gospel being made precious to the next generation. We mustn’t change culture for the sake of reaching a demographic, but because change is necessary for the health of the church and the fame of Christ to be spread.
- Let’s take seriously the charge to raise up children in the fear of the Lord. Let’s return the place of discipleship to the home. Let’s equip dads and moms to invest in their children and empower them to influence their friends and neighbors for the sake of Christ.
I’ll finish by asking the question Kinnaman used to launch our thinking about this issue…. Do we love our traditions more than we love our children?
Just some thoughts, feedback?