'We need their energy, vision, passion and wisdom'
Baptist Union President Yinka Oyekan explains why a focus on young adults is a key element of his Presidential year
For my presidential year, one of the critical things I'm planning to do is to gather 1,000 Baptist young adults together for a time of envisioning and to release some wild dreams.
I’m using the term ‘Young Adult’ as defined by Carl Smethurst in his report Baptists Together: Young Adults 18-35s and the Church
. The Young Adults referred to in his paper mainly comprises of millennials (or Generation Y), those entering adulthood in the first decade of the millennium (born 1982-1992); as well as Generation Z those born in the following decade (1993-mid 2000s).
We know we have around 15,000 18-35-year-olds in our movement – and we need their energy, vision, passion and wisdom in all aspects of leadership in our movement.
Characteristics of millennials
While recognising that every individual deserves to be treated as such, it is helpful to understand what makes millennials tick, which should be of particular interest as it is estimated that around 73 per cent of the Young Adult group are millennials.
The most surprising thing for me was to discover that millennials are one of the most optimistic groups
of individuals of any generation[ii]. Even though many recent economic disasters like the banking crash and the recent recession have disproportionately impacted them as a group, they nevertheless have confidence and optimism about their future. Success looks very different to them than to their parents.
“success” seems to mean an abundance of experiences rather than an abundance of things.”[iii]
Generation Y, as they are sometimes called, are more interested in creating, whether that be online content, service, or products, than they are in consuming them, making them less materialistic than their parents who were the first real consumer generation. Millennials want a lifestyle that is sustainable and fits in with their values
While often criticised for living online rather than in the real world and having a screen stuck in front of them all the time; the truth is that millennials are deeply concerned about community. It just happens to be the case that they have multiple forms of community, some online and some offline and they find it easy to fit into both worlds.
Our Baptist family, and especially those in leadership in our family, must take the time to understand them so that we can better engage with them.
You will find that on the whole Generation Y is civic-minded. They keep up with social issues and try to stay informed. My eldest son once said to me while in the middle of some long-forgotten debate that “in the age of google, ignorance is a choice”. The matter in question was quickly resolved by googling it. Notwithstanding the recent surge in the phenomena of fake news, this generation is adept at spotting as anything which does not smack of authenticity, and quickly discards it.
And so their civic-minded attitudes make them action-oriented. A church which creates room and pathways for social engagement within the church or without will find them better engaged. They also love to collaborate and including them in church teams means leaders finding and utilising tools that will facilitate that collaborative approach to problem-solving
[v]. Listening to them is an integral part of engaging them. This is the generation which received much praise and attention from their baby boomer parents and expects that same consideration to continue. They have been encouraged to believe that they can make a difference and are motivated to try.
Most surprising is that despite millennials not entirely trusting of religious institutions, there is a rising number
of individuals who have absolute faith in the existence of God[vi].
In the early years of itinerant ministry, I mentored young adults as a priority in my ministry. And when I settled down to pastoral ministry the practice continued: some are now businessmen, others church leaders or charity
workers. The list is encouraging, but I noticed that not every minister, itinerant or otherwise, took the same approach. There seemed to be pot luck for some youngsters within the church context. I have watched with joy how Steve Clifford mentored Gavin Calver, who has now succeeded him as General Director of the Evangelical Alliance. I also am about to hand over the leadership of the English network of Churches I oversee to one of my assistant ministers, who is currently doing a course at Bristol Baptist College.
The intentional mentoring and the creation of opportunities for leadership with Young Adults have got to become a priority in our churches. Indeed, it is hoped that every regional team and missional context will consider how to provide pathways to leadership within our Baptist family.
“What if it became abnormal practice for a Local Church Minister, Pioneer, Youth Specialist, Regional Minister, National Specialist Team Leader, General Secretary, President to not be mentoring someone? What if the majority of those being mentored were young adults?” - Carl Smethurst in the Young Adults report 2019
Baptist Together Young Adults gathering
Finally, when Mark Hirst (a millennial Baptist minister), the team he is putting around him and I bring together 1000+ young adults in Reading in March 2021, to showcase the fantastic future opportunities that lie ahead of them within the Baptist family, it must not be a one-off event. It should include a concern for our planet and many other worthy causes to which this conscientious group can give their time and energy. They are a generation in search of a worthy cause and of course, none is more deserving than making Christ known through education, hospitals, shift work, business, ministry and many other means. Their inclusion in leadership to help find solutions will mean we are more likely to get our district message across to the millennial generation outside our churches and connect with Gen Z following them.
I thank God for spaces like Soul Survivor, Hillsong and others where millennials have had the opportunity to express their spirituality. It’s time for us to create Baptist spaces that others both in and outside our movement can benefit from as well.
i. Carl Smethurst Baptists Together: Young Adults 18-35s and the Church baptist.org.uk/youngadults
ii. Millennials Still Optimistic, Millennial Marketing bit.ly/millennialsoptimistic
iii. Are Millennials Redefining the American Dream? Krystina Nguyen, Huffington Post bit.ly/millennialhuffpo
iv. Allysia Lowe, digital marketing eofire.com/millennial-entrepreneurs/
v. Tara Gentile business strategist and the founder of CoCommercial bit.ly/millennialsamdream
vi. Adriana Flores Adriana, contributor at My Millennial Guide mymillennialguide.com/what-is-a-millennial/
This article appears in the Summer 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine
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