From my perspective, I see the largest generational changes between this group and my own (I’m 41 as I stated in my earlier article). No other time frame has seen this much change in so short a time. Consider this about the 20 somethings:
The have never know television without the option of a VCR (now DVR) to record their favorite shows and basic cable was always on. Nickelodeon, MTV, and the Cartoon Network were always available. In my generation, I had to share a black and white TV set with my older sister and our choices were rationed since the local independent station aired the cartoons, Gilligan’s Island, and the Monkees reruns all in one place.
Cellphones and the internet have been common with them since they were old enough to care. When I was in high school, my friends and I used to joke about the very few people we knew who had “Car Phones” (Remember the big bricks those things used to be?). Now, not only can you make a call but you can text, surf the net, and play video games on a device that fits in your pocket. Computers are common too. My high school graduation gift was a Commodore 64 computer. I remember in my early 20’s thinking I had hit the jackpot when I finally added a modem to it so I could access bulletin boards! (For you younger folks, this was the precursor to the internet!) I remember monitoring my phone usage when calling the BBS’s (as they were called) since the best ones were always long distance calls. Now, I surf the internet for free in my local coffee shop (I am writing this over a cup).
None of them remember the Reagan years in our country and formed their opinions about politics growing up in the Clinton era. This is a biggie. The hate speech from both sides of the aisles (and there was plenty) led them to form a different worldview about politics than I did.
As for church, they grew up during the Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker scandals. Their parents were likely sickened by the transgressions of these well known televangelists and the child abuse of many young boys by Catholic priests and their thoughts about church leaders (of which I am one) were formed with much less trust than I was raised with. When I shook a preacher’s (or priest’s) hand, I felt I was shaking the hand of someone who could be trusted and who was to be respected greatly. If I didn’t, I’d find myself in the crying room getting a whipping if I didn’t stay quiet during the service.
One other thought and this is purely my own but I also see many in this generation who grew up with the megachurch and the decadence of such ministries soured many on where their money and time would be spent. I have nothing against the megachurch but many in this generation I talk to ask me about why such elaborate buildings are needed. Why do we need all of the stuff that makes up a church? Some things are certanly necessary but it can be argued that others are about satisfying someone within the church who has an itch for a certain ministry. I’ve been questioned about how the money is spent and if it really goes to those who need salvation and true life change.
There is no simple answer but as I ponder my thoughts about outreach in general I know this much to be true: People need the Lord in their lives today. It’s true of the 20-somethings just as it is true of my own generation. Finding ways to connect by involving and allowing this group to grow and take leadership (and be willing to let them make mistakes) will be paramount as we move forward. If we continue to stifle their own growth and not allow any change in our ministries to take place as this group makes suggestions, we will continue to lose them. We do not have to compromise to be successful here. We merely need to be willing to grow in our own spiritual life and leave the comfort of our own little ministry circle to reach out to someone in this group and invite them to church. Will you be that one? I hope so.