The Coming Wave in the church
A get to spend my day to day life with the next generation coming along in the church. I see every day hints at what the church might become in the future. I have my ideas about what they’ll do in and to the church, but I’m not sharing that here. Instead I’ll just list 25 prominent characteristics of my students here and let you connect the dots. I’m interested in what you’ll say. If these characteristics hold true for them after college, how do you think this “Coming Wave” will affect the church? (See disclaimers below)
- From larger churches, yet value smaller ones. The last study we did showed our [ministry] students came larger churches—the median home church was 700. Yet they really value smaller churches. We’ll see if they value them enough to actually work in one. Or what they means about how they’ll approach their work in larger ones
- Model of a minister is a youth pastor. They are products of youth pastors. Senior pastors and solo pastors seem like District Superintendents to them—something they might some day do but not on their radar at all yet.
- Prophetic rhetoric—they are unsatisfied. They think there is something wrong with the church—something really wrong that needs fixed.
- Expect lots of structure. They “never went out to play” on their own. They were taken on play dates, to organized sports, to dance lessons, to clubs after school. They expect directions and instructions and supervision and help. When they are told “there is no syllabus or assignments in the church” it terrifies them. They don’t seek a job “where the pastor leaves me alone” but want plenty of structure and mentoring.
- Denominations are good. While they don’t like denominationalism they like denominations and are far more “loyal” than earlier generations. They like the general church even more than districts. If headquarters leaders can hold on for another decade they’ll be in the sweet!
- Suspicious of all-the-answers approach. They despise cocky know-it-all answers and believe people who have all the answers are faking it or have not thought through things deeply enough. They are open to “other answers” besides the ones that are recited by everyone today.
- Value orthopraxy—especially right attitudes. A right answer given with a wrong attitude is suspicious to them. Attitudes and treatment of others is more important than right answers. They would have hated the Pharisees of Jesus day—people generally correct in their doctrine but wrong in their attitudes. To them, “Heresy is an attitude.”
- Holistic—everything is spiritual. Integration is their lifestyle. They pray about everything: baseball, sex, kissing, and light bulbs. A U2 concert can be worship to them as easy as prayer meeting.
- Assume evangelical church is the mainline. They have never known a time when evangelicals were the minority. They assume we are the mainline church.
- “Journey conversion.” They were raised in youth groups that expected them to be saved but offered them dozens of times for commitments and recommitments and they assume that conversion is a journey more than an event. Their approach to evangelism is thus helping others on that journey step by step.
- Value social action—worldwide. They value green, helping the poor, supplying food for the hungry, caring for those with AIDS, acting on behalf of sexual slavery and whatever else Bono says are the acts that a “real Christian” should be doing.
- “Organic.” They like simple things, authentic stuff, being real and they expect everyone to confess their sins even publicly on their blog. To hide a sin is a bigger sin than the sin itself. And they don’t like fancy—many complain about super-super video streams running behind the choruses and call for a simple white screen—they think lots of boomer worship is fake and almost all bands are too showy. Some even argue that the band should be in the back of the church.
- Self-centered entitlement. They have always gotten what they wanted and seldom paid for it. They use parental money or borrowed money for life. They have parent-supplied cell phones and cars and swipe their cards for $3.00 coffees at the coffee shop daily. They expect stuff to come to them out of life and are thus slow to express gratefulness. If a boomer shells out $40 for pizzas to treat them they will wander over to the pizzas, glance over the selection then ask, “None with sausage?”
- Assume a staff ministry. They not only expect to serve with a church staff they expect to have a staff. In my sophomore class when I assign them to develop a church program to promote one-to-one mentoring, they often assume they’ll have a staff to do the work! Really!
- Minor concern for evangelism. They have a tiny bit of concern for the lost. Mostly their “evangelistic” concern is a pre-evangelism concern for how the world views loud Christians who noisily scold the world for things. They’re embarrassed by the past scolding activism of the church and think the church has more confessing to do to the world than visa versa.
- Kindness is a central virtue. Thus being unkind is a cardinal sin.
- IMHO approach. The shorthand web language represents their approach to propositionalism— “In My Humble Opinion.” They consider other approaches to be arrogant.
- Hard workers—especially in groups. I have never seen more hard workers than this crop of students, especially when they are doing a project in a group. They will work all night if they are working with each other to produce a collaborative project.
- Leisurely approach to getting started in life. Most expect to get settled in life and ease into life by age 30. My denomination’s ordination system (college plus two years of service then ordination) is designed for my generation not theirs. They feel rushed by such a system and many want to settle their calling by age 30 or so.
- Despise self-promotion or bragging. The single best way to make them dismiss you is to say anything that appears to be bragging or self-promoting. You can’t even mention your “books in the lobby” or they will totally reject you as a self-promoter clown. Humility is not a virtue—it is the required minimum.
- Tolerant. The Boomer’s attempts to fight their tendency to toleration failed. It is a central characteristic of their generation.
- Tremendous idealism and naivety. They really believe they can make the world a better place and can remake the church into what Christ wanted it to be. They are shocked to discover that people in the church can sometimes be critical, argumentative and divisive. “It isn’t right—why is this?” They expect a time of prayer will solve most all problems and if people are right with God they wouldn’t act this way.
- See the church “doing life together.” Their idea church is a collection of people who like each other and “do life together” something on the pattern of F*R*I*E*N*D*S.
- Woefully trained in “life skills.” Many have never learned how to balance a checkbook or file their income taxes or make a budget. When they get their first apartment off campus they are shocked to discover that they have to pay for water. “Water??? Why would I have to pay for water?
- Not afraid of holiness. While many of their parents have hidden the term under the bushel they are keenly interested in the call to holiness and many really think it is possible to become a “fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.”
To the degree that these observations are accurate, they say a great deal about the shape of the Church in coming years. Of course, the sample of students are limited to those who would attend that particular school... What do you all think?