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Reaching and Teaching Millennial Teens

By Carey Huffman

At the outset of a new millennium, you have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of influence with those who may well fulfill this Great Commission of Christ once and for all.

The second largest generation in American history is now making its way through our schools, youth groups, and classes. A generation full of contradictions, they are causing even the most seasoned veterans of youth ministry to rethink their approach. Religion to this generation is by no means synonymous with Christianity, yet they are perhaps the most spiritually curious and open group of young people ever in this country. It's a tragedy that if trends continue, we would reach less than 5% of this generation for Christ. But wait, God has a different agenda. He intends to use youth leaders who are willing to understand these times and these teens, and do what it takes in the power of His Spirit to win, build and send the generation that will likely fulfill Christ's commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Let’s take a closer look at the Millennials, their unique characteristics, and how we can be more effective at reaching, teaching, and discipling them for Christ.

Post-modern & Pragmatic

In a post-modern society, perception is everything. One’s own reasoning, experience, and preferences become the basis of truth. This mentality causes Millennials to be very experience oriented. They want to "try it before they buy it," meaning that truth must often be validated by experience—not because the truth demands validation, but because this generation requires it.

Take advantage of the fact experience creates a context for learning by involving students more actively in the process. Since effective youth discipleship not only includes ministry to youth, but more importantly ministry with youth and by youth, teachers must expand their role to include more than dispensing knowledge and helping students figure out where it applies. Students must be challenged and given opportunity for practical, purposeful involvement in and out of the classroom.

If students live a virtual spirituality—taking what they want/need from scriptural challenges, and then walking away with little life attachment or consequences—many will continue to disconnect their faith from other aspects of life such as relationships or entertainment.

Help students connect beliefs to behavior by offering practical reasons for learning. Lead students to determine specific ways the truth translates into life at school, home, and work—with definite people, situations, and actions in mind. Teach them to recognize spiritual gifts and discover where theirs might apply. Give them opportunity to develop and utilize those gifts, and they will mature as their focus turns from what they get out of church to what they can contribute.

Post-Christian & Pluralistic

Make no assumptions about biblical literacy. Kids today are very open spiritually, but religion does not imply Christianity. Even church kids are adopting the notion that there are many valid expressions of faith and roads to God. Know what you believe, and through relationship and open ears, earn the right to challenge their thinking and convey the uncompromising truth of eternal life in Christ alone—based on Jesus own character and claims from the Word.

Teens want to know who God is and what He says about himself. Take them to the Word, revealing God’s unchanging attributes. Teach them to inductively study the Bible, and inspire them toward daily time with God. Give them resources to help.

Value Diversity/Thrive on Change

Technological advances, geopolitical changes and shifting relationships have caused young people to expect change—even to become comfortable with it. As a result, leaders have more freedom than ever to make immediate, effective changes in programs and processes to discover what works with their group. The drawback is an unusually high standard of what is worth their attention, so programs must keep moving with little dead space or predictability. Today’s student, very literal and visually oriented, responds well to plain talk about personal, practical issues and experiences, especially when learning is hands-on and incorporates contemporary media and technologies. Although the speed and accessibility of information has conditioned students to make decisions with less thought and reflection, Sunday school and other extended CE settings can provide more ample time to consider tough issues.

Passionately Tolerant

This means that teens are often intolerant of anyone who draws a line in opposition to anything culturally acceptable. While God’s unchanging truth is always relevant, it’s vital that your approach to students be blended and balanced with grace. Since they want to reach out to a broader spectrum of people, they will be more likely to embrace ministry that demonstrates real, active compassion. This must mark an unwavering stance on biblical principle, or even sincerely searching students will tune you out. Wade patiently through issues of uncompromising truth.

Morally Confused

Immorality at least acknowledges a standard of deviant behavior—amorality often concedes no standards at all. Over 60% believe that you cannot know absolute truth. One third say that something is morally/ethically right if it works and is perceived as good. Different people, in the same situation, can define truth in totally conflicting ways—and both still be considered right.

Teach the principles behind the precepts, with God’s loving care and unchanging character as the basis of right and wrong. Lead reasoned discussions on choices, consequences, and spiritual cures. Dare to ask the tough questions the world will confront them with, and help them develop a faith that is not deterred by deviant standards. Offer biblical training that equips them to share absolutes in a morally and spiritually pluralistic society.

Think about it—we have been given the awesome privilege of leading, training, and equipping what may be the final generation. That is the responsibility that lies before us at the outset of a new millennium. Take this disciple-making challenge seriously. May God bless you and direct you His Holy Spirit as you pass it on.