Creating a culture for young adults to thrive
Our emerging generations have many new dreams to birth, and an ability to think outside the box and take risks. The vital question for the Church of today is, how much are we taking a risk on them? By Nick and Marjorie Allan
Western Millennials are sometimes stereotyped as ‘snowflakes’. The term is generally used pejoratively to describe a group of entitled, politically correct, militant, selfie-taking, flighty, emotionally vulnerable souls with no grip on the real world.
Broadly, this is a mistake. In the midst of some real challenges and some quirky characteristics, a generation is rising up who are fed up with the status quo and the political climate. They have witnessed what a lack of faith and spirituality has done to their parents’ generation. They really care about the world around them and the world they will leave behind, and they are making small but very significant and highly creative steps to be and find solutions to problems. They are surprising us with their bold actions and they may indeed leave behind significant societal changes. It is driven by a determination, resourcefulness and resilience which belies the challenges they face.
Like yeast in the dough, entrepreneurialism runs through the veins of Generations Y and Z. This will do wonders for kingdom initiatives if we let it loose. The question is, will our churches or kingdom initiatives take the risk and pass over the reins to these generations now? The fruitfulness of any organisation (or church) is dependent upon the degree to which we recognise the talents and giftings in those around us and empower these individuals to reach their full potential. Our emerging generations have an ability to think outside the box, whether it comes to solutions to problems in a business, dealing with the homeless of the city, or communicating in public. They are a risk-taking generation who attempt small hidden initiatives, fuelled by big thinking. They are not afraid of risks. The vital question for the Church of today is, how much are we taking a risk on them?
Please take the time to ask yourself these kinds of questions:
Are we creating a culture in which young adults can dream and start something new?
Are we allowing them to influence our programmes, strategy, governance, communication, evangelistic initiatives?
In the UK today we see a few great examples of churches led by and shaped by millennial leaders. It is not necessary
that every church leader over the age of 50 must suddenly resign in favour of young blood! But if we are serious about reaching, raising and releasing the rising generations, we must be intentional in doing so. In Sheffield we have found it helpful to deliberately create opportunities to release younger volunteers and leaders: even when that feels too early or a bit unwise. What keeps it safe is a culture of high support. People become what we call them to.
If you do not know where to start on this one, we would encourage you to create a permission-giving culture where people know they can dream and be heard. As leaders, we can often mistakenly feel like we have to come up with all the dreams and ideas. That is exhausting for us and disempowering for others, but many churches operate like this. Generations Y and Z have many new dreams to birth. Let us empower our rising adults by reminding them of God’s old and big story and the cause of which they are a part. Let us inspire them as to the past and believe in them for the future.
We encourage all those within church to consider the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of reaching, raising and releasing Generations Y and Z to flourish as missionary disciples in today’s world. That means designing a culture which fosters church visions, values and structures aimed at:
Empowering them: not just into leadership and mission, but in their own exploration of spirituality and discipleship
Releasing the next generation to dream a kingdom dream, and have a good go
Powerful encounters in the presence of God
Having them in leadership, and being willing to be led by them
Helping them to process life’s struggles, battles, demons. Building scaffolding around them so they may not just acknowledge their baggage, but be willing to address it deeply, and feel safe enough to journey towards emotional health and wholeness
Mentoring them among the multigenerational connections which the Church uniquely offers to society
Connecting their generation’s passion for social change and justice to the Church’s historic mission
When we planted The Well Sheffield we aimed to create a culture of momentum where people could dream and start new initiatives, but always within the premise that every activity or ministry we began needed to have a missional meaning and to be accessible for the unchurched. It was a challenge to help Christians lose their ‘churchiness’ and live in a different way. Discipleship means calling people to live the ‘Jesus way’ not necessarily the ‘Church way’.
It is so important, for example, to realise that this generation has been raised to dream, and dream big. They are dreamers who are motivated by inspiration. They do not want to be managed, and much less told what to do or believe. They want to be led by leaders who create a culture in which to dream and run, providing them with support. Young adults around us at The Well Sheffield frequently ask the ‘Why?’ in relation to tasks or church structures. Outside of church, they are not used to simply being told ‘it’s this way’. As Generation X leaders, we have found it very important to understand the ‘why’ and work hard to answer it.
Our opportunity is to help these generations realise that walking in the footsteps of Jesus will lead you to the most ‘whole’ kind of life. What does whole-life discipleship look like? Each of us needs to have a clear understanding if we are to spur one another on. If we can help the Church of today to live like Jesus in the whole of life, the kingdom will be breaking out all over the place. We need to articulate from the pulpit and around the kitchen table what discipleship according to Jesus looks like. We need to live it, model it and inspire it in others. It is a timeless message and the kind of life all are looking for. As we live it, others will follow.
Nick and Marjorie Allan lead The Well, a Baptist church planted in Sheffield in 2016 which has one of the highest concentrations of young adults in our Union
This is extracted from their book The XYZ of Discipleship: Understanding and Reaching Generations Y & Z, which was published by Malcolm Down Ltd in April 2020. The book is also now available in the Baptists Together online shop.
This article appears in the Summer 2020 edition of the Baptist Together magazine.
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