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Often, when you hear an “expert” speak or write about reaching a particular generation, it will inevitably be someone from an older generation. For example, you’ll have a Baby Boomer or Generation X’er talking about how to connect with Millennials. In no way am I saying this is an ineffective approach. In fact, there is a plethora of resources out there done in this particular way that are extremely helpful. However, I wanted to take a different approach.
Over the last year, while speaking at student camps, DiscipleNows, conferences, young adult worship services, etc., I took the opportunity to sit down and ask these students some probing questions. One of the things I love the most about young people is if you want to know what they’re thinking, all you have to do is ask them. Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask! So, instead of adults telling other adults how to reach students, I decided to ask students, “What do adults need to know about your generation?” It was an incredible journey of me becoming a student myself so that I could hear from this generation about reaching their generation.
With that in mind, here are seven ways to reach students in their own words:
- Students want to be seen as people, not projects: If the main drive of the church is to reach students so that pews will be filled or that your church or student ministry will be seen as cool, trendy, or relevant, then you’re completely missing the point. Have a desire to reach students because they are made in the image of God, have souls, and matter to the kingdom of God. No one wants to be someone’s project, and neither do students.
- Students want more out of church than potluck dinners: This generation wants to be a part of “doing” something. They’ll want more out of their church than sitting on a pew, listening to sermons, going to pot-luck dinners, while waiting on the Rapture Bus to swoop down to pick them all up. They are not scared to die young; however, they are terrified to die at a ripe old age while not having done anything significant with their lives in their own eyes. They are not typically impressed by a church’s size or budget. They’re more interested in being noticed relationally and in what the church is doing outside the walls of the building.
- Students don’t despise adults: People tend to think that students don’t want to have anything to do with the older generation. However, this generation is in desperate need for older generations to invest in them. This is largely a fatherless generation. They often seek out or are more open to discipleship or mentorship than we tend to believe. But, they won’t know how to ask for it, so they ask you to “hang out.”
- Students value the “why” over the “what”: Students do not typically want to do something just because it’s the way it’s always been done or because it’s what their family has always known. They are not driven by heritage. For example, a student is not going to grow up to be Southern Baptist just because his parents were. If we can’t answer their “why” questions or we get defensive over their questions, we’ll lose them. Be ready to answer their honest questions with love, patience and kindness. Their experience with something or someone will often dictate their views more than history will.
- Students don’t want to be seen as the future of the church: Remember, the younger generation is not the future of the church ‒ if they’ve been redeemed with the blood of Jesus, then they’re the church right now. So, let them have some ownership of the ministry, and be patient with them when they mess up … possibly a lot. A great way to keep students engaged in the ministry is by constantly communicating, illustrating and empowering participation in the vision and mission of the church.
- Students are more globally minded: Most students are up-to-date on world news and affairs, especially in the area of entertainment and music. This generation may drive the older generations a little crazy because they may seem to be less patriotic to the USA. However, this is simply not the case; they just value other countries, cultures and citizens equally. They tend to view things from a global perspective instead of a national perspective. It’s very possible that the Lord may accomplish the Great Commission through their interest in the nations. Educate, disciple and mobilize this generation toward the nations; they’ll love you for it!
- Students want authenticity and transparency: Nearly all students grow weary of gimmicks and “sleek presentations” very quickly. The more transparent and vulnerable a communicator is, the more students connect. There was a time when speakers/teachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations; however, this generation wants to hear those personal stories. As adults, if we act as those who have it all figured out and not in desperate need of God’s grace daily, we’ll lose their attention because they won’t believe that we’re “being real” and therefore our faith is unattainable for them.
I’m personally encouraged by this generation of students. Even as an adult, I resonate deeply with their views. My prophetic prediction (Please, don’t stone me if I’m wrong) about this generation is that God will use them to further the Great Commission more than any previous generation. May they not be seen as projects, but instead be seen as extremely valuable people who need to be reached through the Gospel, discipled in the Gospel, and set free with the Gospel to reach other students for the glory of Jesus Christ!