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Asking Hard Questions About Our Priorities
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Asking Hard Questions About Our Priorities

For youth workers, it’s an itch that won’t go away…

We know there’s something different about Generation Z, but a recent Barna report claims that today’s teenagers are mirror images of their Millennial older brothers and sisters…

If that’s true, here’s a quick snapshot of what that means:

  • They are success-driven and focused on achieving. Yet, they don’t always know how to define success, and they’re not really sure what will make them happy—is it money, purpose, or both?
  • They are perfectionistic and private. While they live online, they maintain a division between their public and private personas. They save real vulnerability for face-to-face conversations, or not at all.
  • They’re growing up in a post-Christian world. Sure, fewer and fewer of them are drawn to church, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have big questions—they’re just looking elsewhere for answers. They see morals and truth as subjective and shifting.
  • They are busy. They are over-involved with sports, jobs, community service, and other extracurricular activities—and they have a pragmatic attitude toward all of it. They treat it all as essential to their future success.

Underneath these broad comparisons, I think there are distinct differences among kids in Gen Z that require us to re-prioritize what we’re doing in youth ministry…

1. Re-prioritizing the importance of attendance…

If we know teenagers are over-extended, how do we adapt? Our past ministry metrics focused on the number of youth who show up and the number who get involved in the ministry. But in a world where every other activity in their life demands an attend-or-die commitment, shoulding kids into attending ministry activities will never work. If we can’t force them to come to us, how do we go to them?

2. Re-prioritizing the way we teach…

The “cockroach” youth ministry model—the one that won’t die, no matter what—is an adult speaking at students, a mini-version of the pastor preaching to the congregation in “big church.”  But the lecture method is a proven failure at “making things stick,” and doesn’t reflect the primary way Jesus led people into transformation. He used stories, conversations, and experiences, connecting them to their everyday lives. Gen Z expects to be engaged and wants active involvement in their learning. Not long ago I used the old-school method with my kids and felt great about it—everyone made eye contact, and they laughed when they were supposed to.  Three days later a few teenagers from the group and I were chatting and not a single one could remember the point of the lesson. In contrast, when we use conversation groups and engaging activities, our students remember the point, and find ways to live it out.

3. Re-prioritizing games…

How important is fun to what we’re trying to accomplish in youth ministry? I think a better question is: “Why are we playing games?” If we think the entertainment-factor in our ministry will influence teenagers to choose youth group over sports, we’re crazy. But fun-and-games helps to lower defenses and build community—two very important goals. But kids don’t really care how polished our games are. And they don’t want them to dominate their time in the group. They want a safe space to go deeper and ask really hard questions.

4. Re-prioritizing outreach…

I coach track, and our meets often run on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Our coaches make sure athletes are where they are supposed to be, and we cheer them on. So many of our athletes spend most of the meet waiting around for their event. They’re stuck there all day. But last weekend my athletes told me this is their favorite part of the day. This “downtime” is ripe with possibilities for organic ministry—hanging out with the team, starting conversations about their life, and their questions. I wouldn’t call this outreach—I’d say it’s simply engaging teenagers wherever they are, under their terms, not ours.

5. Re-prioritizing communication…

Sure, our kids are addicted to technology—we can either grouse about it or learn to engage them in their native mediums. So many teenagers think they have to shoulder life alone, and they’re imploding under the weight of it all. We can’t force them (of course) to share what they’re going through using the digital-sphere as a safe space—it isn’t a safe space. But we can create virtual (closed) small groups using GroupMe or another app to offer support and encouragement and authenticity in the context of everyday life.


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Asking Hard Questions About Our Prior...

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