Yesterday I was given a copy of an article written by Shane Stacey who is the Director of ReachStudents, the student ministries arm of the Evangelical Free Church of America. It was entitled, “11 Reasons Why Youth Are The Strategic Bulls-eye of our Missional Target.” He gives 11 reasons why the Church must focus on reaching the “12-22 Window.” In the bold font are the points he makes followed by my commentary.
- This is a “tipping point” generation. Stacey reminds us that the Millennial/Generation Y generation is the largest in history. Worldwide there are 3 billion people who are under the age of 25. There are 100 million (and growing) under the age of 25 in the United States. Everybody is focused on this generation in terms of research, marketing, political involvement, and religious outreach (not necessarily by Christian groups).
- They are treasured by God. God loves kids. Stacey notes that God “is quick to call Himself the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), which is the ever-increasing reality of the Millennial generation.” This is something I can attest to in my almost 19 years of youth ministry experience. Single-parent households and blended families are becoming the norm, not the exception, for youth in general and high-risk children and youth specifically.
- Youth are wired for passion; looking for a cause. Kids have a heart for service in 2010, 11.6 million millennials gave over 1.2 billions service hours to their communities. Over 21% of millennials served in 2010. These youth are looking for a cause, and according to the Corporation for National & Community Service the top four types of activities were: fundraising (23.4%), general labor (22.4%), mentoring (21.4%), and the collection and distribution of food (23.5%). This is one of the reasons why I encourage our mentors to serve with the mentees they work with because not only does it help them connect relationally with their youth, it exposes them to causes greater than themselves. Stacey quotes Kenda Creasy Dean from her book Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for the Passionate Church when she says, “Students are looking for something worth dying for and, sadly, all too often we give them pizza.” How very true. I’m reminded of Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the Lord took the prophet Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones. It was an utter wasteland. I look at the culture of today and I see a moral wasteland. I look to the families we serve and often I see a relational wasteland. Yet when Ezekiel prophesied over the dry bones and they were filled the breath of God they stood and were “an exceedingly great army,” (Ezekiel 37:10). Can you imagine the impact this generation would make for Christ if reached? We’d see former “dry bones” become a vast army for Jesus.
- Youth are like new wineskins. Referring to Jesus’ statement in Luke 5:33-39, Stacey notes that youth are “moldable having little to unlearn.” While I’m not sure that is entirely accurate based on the indoctrination via popular culture (and sometimes even within the schools) that is entirely true, but in comparison to most adults I would definitely agree.
- They are highly responsive to the gospel. Stacey states a commonly cited fact that most who place their faith in Christ do so before their 20th birthday. I also see this among the youth that I serve. With kids who have been placed in a juvenile detention center and are facing the loss of their freedom there is an acute awareness of their need for forgiveness and a need for a Savior. Some may not think they are worthy (nobody is!), but one thing I never have to convince a youth of while he or she is in lock-up is that they’re a sinner (Romans 3:23).
- Youth funnel through a conentrated window in Middle/High School. Basically you never have to wonder where the youth are. Stacey points out that 25 million students will pass through the 67,000 high schools and middle schools in the United States. What are we doing to reach out to schools in our communities? Stacey says, “it may not be possible to reach an entire community, but it can be entirely possible to reach an entire school with the gospel.” I would add it is definitely a possible to reach juvenile detention centers and juvenile placements with the gospel as well. The simple fact is that we can’t expect these youth to come to us; we must go to them.
- Youth are searching for community and are socially networked. Kids love to connect. I think of my own high-school aged daughter and she wants to constantly text, email and “Facebook” her friends (to her parents’ annoyance I might add). Youth are beginning to grasp social media at a younger and younger age. While there is debate about how healthy this is the fact remains that a youth’s social media involvement is demonstrative of their desire to connect relationally. Stacey points out, “both their motivation for connection and the social economy of the world creates an absolutely incredible environment for the spread of the gospel. It is relationships through which the gospel spreads most effectively and rapidly.”
- Youth are globally-connected. Via the internet, Stacey notes, our world has been shrunk. Through social media and gaming many youth have connected to youth from other countries. Relating this point with the fact they are wired for passion, youth will more naturally consider living missionally both next door and to the ends of the earth, (Acts 1:8).
- They are kingdom contributors, now! I tire of youth within the Church who have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior being referred to as the “church of tomorrow.” No, they are the Church of today. As one veteran youth worker (I can’t think of his name) said to me years ago, “They may be young, but the Holy Spirit within them is no child.” We must find meaningful ways in which to have youth serve within the local church and without – something more than an occasional youth Sunday.
- They have their whole lives ahead of them. Stacey points out, “There is a good possibility that the majority of young people still have 50 years ahead of them. If a gospel-centered focus coupled with a disciplemaking DNA is developed within them now, there are greater possibilities for a lifetime of multiplication.
” Very true.
- Jesus modeled it for us? It is very likely that many of Jesus’ disciples were young. Whether that was intentional or not is debatable. Stacey refers to James Stewart’s book The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, that Stewart points out that “the Apostle Paul, writing almost a full generation after Jesus’ ascension, reports that the 500 to whom the risen Christ appeared, ‘the greater part remain unto this present,’ (1 Corinthians 14:6). The natural inference is that the spiritual conquest of Jesus was mainly among younger people, (pp. 56-58).”
So what to do? First off, look around and see what youth there are whom you can make an impact with. A youth pastor friend of mine yesterday said, “you don’t have to spend hours a week, ministering to youth.” Basically, how can you engage the youth who you see at church or in your neighborhood? It can be as simple as asking them how their day went. Secondly, we need to go to them. The church in general, and youth ministry specifically has been event-centric and invitation-focused. We need to understand that many youth will never naturally attend an outreach event (and some, like the juvenile offenders I serve, are physically unable to do so). Also since they are so relational, we can not take a short-cut and avoid building relationships with youth. This will mean leaving our comfort zone and getting to know youth on their turf. Third, we must find ways for both non-Christian and Christian youth we work with to serve. They are longing for purpose in their lives, and we can help them discover that.
My hope and prayer is that you would whether you serve in a church’s youth ministry or not would see yourself as a minister to the youth in your church and in your community.
Originally posted at Serve Our Youth Network.