The Futuristic generation is standing at your church's
doorstep. Are you ready for them?
Effective churches have struggled to successfully connect with
Boomers, GenXers, and Millenials for the last 60 years. Keeping up
with each generation's quirks and idiosyncrasies is tough work for
sociologists, let alone churches with an already-full plate.
If your church is one of those stretching to find ways to make
that connection, congratulations! You've convinced the
"me-generation" Boomers to pencil in worship on their busy Sunday
schedules. You've managed to steer the tough-nut-to-crack GenXers
into your pews. And you've tapped into the drive, technological
expertise, and social consciousness of the Millenials. No, it
hasn't been easy to recognize, understand, and meet these
generations on their own ground, but you've managed to connect.
Here's the kicker: You've probably already got one or two
members of the newest generation (yes, that's after the Millenials)
squalling for Mom or Dad from your nursery right now. That's right
-- the next generation is already on the doorsteps of America's
churches. Is your church ready to receive them and lead them to the
arms of Christ?
To find out, we asked experts, authors, and children's pastors
across the nation to unveil the Futuristic generation.
Parents of Futuristics "Gadzooks! I didn't realize we're
starting a new generation." That's how one veteran children's
pastor put it. You might be echoing that sentiment. The good news
is, this is your wake-up call -- so don't hit the snooze
Sociologists have dubbed the generation born beginning this year
with interim names such as the Futuristics, the New Adaptives, and
the New Silents. History shows that generations are usually marked
according to historical events. The newest generation, which we'll
refer to as the Futuristics, will most likely be chartered as the
post-September 11th generation. The Futuristics are born to GenXers
and Millenials -- two generations we must better understand to
predict and understand their children.
GenXers (born from 1961-1981) have long been described as
hardened, anti-institutional, unwanted latchkey kids and adult
slackers expected to eventually put the nation at risk because of
their aversion to civic duty and patriotic responsibility. GenXers
are characterized by their eagerness to embrace risk
professionally, but they're skeptical and cautious about
relationships -- especially marriage. As a group, they distrust
institutions, reject authority, and cling to their splintered,
angst-ridden culture. As parents, GenXers have determined not to
repeat the mistakes they perceive their parents made in
childrearing. So they've crafted their own method of parenting.
Consider this quote from Ariel Gore of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"A snapshot: a man and his son are walking down Haight Street. Both
of them are carrying Spider Man lunch boxes. Welcome to parenting,
Generation X style."
Millenials (born from 1982-2002) are considered the most
cherished generation since the heroes of the G.I. generation, and
they represent a major shift in society's opinion about children.
These kids were ushered into the world with "baby on board" bumper
stickers. They're more protected, prosperous, higher-achieving, and
technologically oriented than any other generation in American
history. The Millenials are the societal antidote to GenXers.
Viewed as team-oriented, modest, upbeat, and intelligent,
Millenials as a whole hold high moral and civic standards. They
feel duty-bound to set right the world they're inheriting. And they
reject the negative, angry image of GenXers.
"I think we're more preppy. They liked that grungy stuff. It
was, like, cool for them not to take a shower," said Alexandra
Fondren, age 13, in Neil Howe and William Strauss' book
Millenials Rising: The Next Great Generation.
Millenials were born to parents who sheltered them mercilessly.
They were safeguarded physically and mentally. They were signed up
for every activity, team, club, or organization available -- inside
and outside of school. Building their self-esteem was paramount.
Experts agree that their team-centered -- rather than
individual-centered -- worldview will shape their future ability as
a group to handle conflicts and pursue historical achievements.
As new parents to the next generation of children, experts
predict that the Millenials' strong desire for community and
personal confidence, patience, and intelligence will drive their
parenting choices. Strauss and Howe predict that Millenials will
lean toward overprotecting their children and that they'll foster a
culture of conformity among their kids.
Larry Shallenberger, a children's pastor in Erie, Pennsylvania,
offers this insight: "GenXer and Millenial adults will respond to
programs that offer character-building and service opportunities
for their children. GenXers realize that their Boomer parents were
perhaps too permissive with them, and they'll look toward
neo-conservatism. Millenials might be looking to pass on to their
children the service orientation that they adopted."
A Futuristic World Futuristics are joining a world in which
cutting-edge technology includes landmine destroyers;
date-rape-drug-spotting coasters; virtual ultrasound in which
parents can "feel" the face of their in utero child; dolls that do
math, speak multiple languages, and read flash cards; 3-D online
environments in which people can live a second life of their
design; minivans that transform into sports cars and are powered by
hydrogen fuel cells; and the Earth Simulator, the most powerful
supercomputer ever built that keeps track of everything in the
world -- rainforests, smoke-belching factories, the Gulf Stream,
everything -- so it can look forward in time to see what'll happen
to our environment. All these things may seem like science fiction,
but they're not. They're all real and in existence today.
Futuristics are born into a world where Johns Hopkins
University's top Applied Physics Invention of 2002 was the Combined
Chemical/ Biological Agent Detection by Mass Spectrometry -- a
system designed to thwart terrorist attacks. Futuristics may never
know what pre-September 11, 2001, America was like.
"The Futuristic generation is marching toward an all-inclusive
life," says Tracy Carpenter, a children's ministries director in
Corona, California. "Kids are online at age 3, or they're playing
with every kind of computerized toy possible. Information is at
their fingertips; the exposure factor is huge. The Futuristic
generation will choose their teachers, their food, their churches,
their pastors. Why? Because people want more choices and more
Such an all-inclusive life introduces a host of new -- and
unforeseen -- dangers. "Technological changes bring everything in
the world into the kids' realm," says Connie Neal, author of
Walking Tall in Babylon. "We used to be able to keep kids from
worldly influences; now they're barraged in ways we don't want them
to be. We need to protect kids by teaching them to wear the
spiritual armor of God -- instead of putting all our efforts into
building a wall to keep the world out."
Futuristics Now One question children's ministers must answer
before they can proactively minister to the coming generation is:
Who will the Futuristics be?
Cultural trends, history, and current events tell us the
Futuristics are likely to be similar to Woodrow Wilson's
Progressive generation that sought fortune and glory in mining,
railroad, and oil well ventures and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
Silent generation that witnessed America's rise into a global
superpower. Strauss and Howe predict that this generation -- like
the Progressives and the Silents -- will be "sensitive and complex
social technicians, advocates of fair play and the politics of
inclusion. Overprotected as children, they'll become
underprotective as parents."
Strauss and Howe also predict that Futuristics will be
"overprotected at a time of political convulsion and adult
self-sacrifice. [They'll] become sensitive helpmates, lending their
expertise and cooperation to an era of growing social calm."
So who are the Futuristics, and how can churches connect with
them early on?
Seeking Stability -- Thom Rainer, author of Surprising Insights
From the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them, says, "This new
generation will be born to parents who'll be desperately seeking
stability in relationships and families. The loneliness of the
parents will be the inherited value that the Futuristics will try
to avoid. Churches that understand how to connect strangers and
unchurched people to their fellowships through intentional
relationship connecting will have the best hope of reaching this
Futuristics will be bonded by a strong desire for community. And
while their lives appear more and more complex technologically,
experts believe that Futuristics' emotional lives will tend to be
more simplistic; more black and white.
"If the current trend of Millenials continues -- which I believe
it will -- their children will be seeking places and people that
hold to absolute truth," says Rainer. "The Futuristics will most
likely reject and rebel against the relativism of postmodernism,
and seek places and people that really believe in an objective
reality. This provides a tremendous opportunity for the church to
recommit itself to an uncompromising stand on the truth of God's
Word. Churches that reach out to this generation with truth at
early ages will likely see a great harvest."
Searching for Self -- Children's pastor Anthony Meyers of
Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, says, "The new generation won't
fit into the cookie cutter mold of others. They're a unique breed
and the ministries that tap into the cultural and social issues
they face while guiding them toward God will be the most
Generations are easily stereotyped, but it's vital to remember
that we deal with individuals, not extensions of a generation
label. Ministry to Futuristics will require that we get
"We must see kids for who they are -- not who their parents
are," says Carpenter. "People going into ministry need to look at
becoming teachers, coaches, and social workers. We need to get into
places where kids are and will be vulnerable. We need to be a light
to these kids, but we can't shine our lights where the light
already is -- we must go out in the dark. We can't keep entering
empty rooms. If we don't go through the doors of the full rooms --
even when it makes us uncomfortable -- somebody else will. Frankly,
I think loads of pastors will believe they're right where they want
to be on the map, when in reality they'll be on the other side of
As Futuristics seek to eliminate shades of gray from their
emotional and spiritual lives, experts warn that the risk of
conformity for conformity's sake threatens. There will be a
tendency to invite only the "joiners."
Shallenberger adds, "My guess is the spiritual risk for the next
generation is that they'll experience Christianity primarily as a
tool to promote social conformity. The dangers are that individuals
will either reject Christianity on this basis, or those who connect
will be introduced to its ethical demands at the expense of
experiencing grace and relationships. Futuristics may be introduced
to the duties of Christianity at a faster rate than they are to the
relational sides of faith. The Christian story may continue to be
presented as a collection of moralistic fables rather than
salvation history. This generation might move away from the
postmodern trends and embrace 'how tos' and lists of life
Mastering the Medium -- "Although the gospel never changes, the
method of delivery must," says Meyers. To prepare for the
Futuristics, Meyers' ministry is "keeping up with technology and
cultural trends. We get them more involved. [They're] birthing
their own identity in the ministry. They then take ownership and
help evolve the ministry itself."
Carpenter recommends that pastors become fluent in computer-ese.
Computers -- and all developing forms of communication and
information sharing -- are here to stay. Those who reject new
technology ultimately will reject the new generation, whose lives
will be largely based on it.
Another likely shift will be the need for churches to
continually expand their figurative walls to include the
unchurched. There must be a willingness -- an eagerness -- to "meet
them where they are," as Meyers puts it.
Dale Hudson, a children's pastor in Springdale, Arkansas, says,
"If we're going to impact this next generation, we must continue to
reach out to those outside our church walls. The churches that are
content to stay in their 'holy huddles' will not impact the next
generation. Do it through sports programs, community festivals, and
so on. And by investing in people's lives one by one."
Building a Bridge -- "Parents need to have a realistic view of
the times their children are growing up in. The doors of
communication between parents and children need to be much wider,"
says Meyers. "The Futuristics will be looking for deeds, not words.
They want their parents to be role models and leaders, not just to
talk about what should be done. More than ever, parents must lead
by example." The church-to-home connection seems stronger, but
ministries must be diligent about partnering with parents of
Futuristics. Without the GenX and Millenial parental stamp of
approval, the church's role in children's lives will become an
expendable one for many Futuristics.
"One thing never changes from generation to generation: Kids are
starving for someone to love and care for them," says Hudson. "It's
not the 'cool stuff' that our children's ministry has that will
change a child's life. It's our adults building a relationship with
that child and connecting her with Jesus. It only takes one adult
coming into the life of a child to see that child's life changed
forever. All it takes is one loving, 'real-deal' adult."
Ministries will need to think far outside the box in order to
establish their roles in families' lives.
"[Children's] spiritual needs remain the same; the challenges of
the world around us will most likely get worse," warns Neal.
"Therefore, we need to work with parents to help kids learn to
guard their hearts. We can help this generation of parents be the
strategic influencers they need to be if we don't just do their job
for them in terms of nurturing their kids spiritually, but if we
also help them accomplish that mission at home."
The Last Word Churches historically have lagged when it comes to
changes in our culture, but there's a movement afoot to tap into
society's pulse. It's a two-step process -- first recognizing, then
connecting with, new generations.
"It's a hard job, keeping up with the next generation. But
there'll always be a next generation. That said, a major focus of
ministry must be the youth -- not viewing them as an appendage, but
as a key organ," explains Meyers. "If the next generation is viewed
as a little pinkie finger, then if times get tough, you can cut it
off. But if the next generation is a lung -- the life breath of the
church -- if you cut it off, the church will have a hard time
breathing and begin to slowly suffer and die. If you pour into the
next generation's spiritual arena with a serious focus, they'll
become the legacy of the church." "I can see the Futuristics
becoming the greatest Christian missionary force in our nation's
history," contends Rainer. "The Christians of this generation will
be a small minority of the total population, but their commitment
to Christ and his Commission will be unwavering. This generation
won't know what it means to be a casual Christian."
The Futuristics, like their Millenial and GenX parents, will be
a powerful and distinctive force -- one that'll propel Christianity
into a future we can only imagine. cm
Jennifer Hooks is managing editor of Children's Ministry
Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.