Today’s Christian teenagers embody a number of
encouraging values. But those same values tend to chafe today’s
Since launching Group
Magazine almost 40 years ago I’ve been an avid observer of
adolescent values, beliefs and behaviors. Much has changed over the
years. I reflected on some of these changes after spending time
with hundreds of kids in recent weeks at Group’s mission trips around
I saw three values on display that have also been
reported recently in national media accounts of the Millennial
mind. These three values represent a sea change from previous
1. Shared Participation. This
generation wants to get out and make a difference. And they want to
do it cooperatively together with others. Their teamwork and eager
servanthood while putting a roof on an elderly woman’s house in
hundred-degree heat illustrate their appetite for putting their
faith into action.
And, in things that really matter, they want to be a
part of the conversation. They want to participate, rather than sit
passively while an authority “communicates.” Today’s young people
have grown up with interactive media. They prefer the web and
mobile apps over television-because of the ability to actively
These past weeks I saw how the workcampers resonated
and responded to opportunities to actively participate in the large
group gatherings. Rather than simply listen to a talking head, they
wanted to join the conversation, and step into active worship
experiences that allowed them to explore and express their faith
with all their senses.
2. Gray Comfort. Today’s kids
have determined our world is not all black and white. Some things
are gray. Mysterious. Unresolved. And they’re comfortable with
They reject a religion that presents itself as a mere
list of rules. They’re tired of the war between science and
Christianity. They’re suspicious of adult talkers who
over-confidently exude pat answers for everything.
This year’s mission trip theme focused on
questions-questions that Jesus asked. The kids ate it up. They
loved the format that welcomed their questions and their
3. Full Acceptance. This
generation is so past the concept of erecting barriers based on
race, national origin, clothing choice, gender or sexual
They embrace the notion of unconditional acceptance.
That doesn’t mean they necessarily endorse a person’s every
behavior. But they accept the person.
At one camp I watched as an openly gay boy strode to
the microphone to participate in an evening program. After he
finished speaking, the crowd of teenagers cheered
enthusiastically-just as they did with every other young speaker
that night. While the older adults in the room may have caught
themselves first reacting with thoughts of, “Wait a minute, I think
that kid is gay,” the young people looked right past the veneer to
love and respect the individual.
There’s a lot I admire about this generation. I
believe they offer a bountiful hope for the future, for the future
of the church. But much of the church will need to adjust to make a
safe place for these young people. Is the church ready?
Are church leaders ready . . .
- to share the microphone, to encourage give-and-take, to allow
God’s Spirit to work through a variety of worship experiences?
- to resist spewing pat answers, to make a truly safe place for
questions and doubts, to authentically admit that none of us has
all the answers to life’s toughest questions?
- to create a real welcoming environment, to remove the unspoken
barriers, to understand and demonstrate the difference between
acceptance and endorsement?
(To explore more about the coming changes in the church of
tomorrow, join me at the Future
of the Church summit event in October.)