June note from Dri: The Open Generation

The Open Generation

In 2021, Barna partnered with Alpha, Biblica, World Vision, Association of Christian Schools International, Bible Study Fellowship, Christ in Youth, and Christian Vision, on a global research project assessing the spirituality of teenagers. What they found is that “this rising generation is open and inclusive, seeking truth, authenticity and change.” From the aggregated data, they “have used words like optimistic, engaged, malleable, curious, authentic, inclusive and collaborative” to describe this generation… more so than previous generations at this age, and young adults they heard from just a few years ago.

Barna et. al. found that these students are hungry for something more and they are open to it. The hostility toward the gospel that many Millennials experienced at this age, has lessened. This is good news! We, as the church, as parents and grandparents, have an opportunity not only for our own children and grandchildren, but for our teen’s friends and our friend’s teens, to introduce them to Jesus and come alongside them as they grow a deep and lasting relationship with him. The downside is that there is a major gap between the reputation of Christ and the reputation of Christians for these teens.

Teens, even non-Christian teens, have relatively positive views of Jesus, but only one third say that he was God in human form. In fact, only half of those who self-identified as Christian, agree with that statement. Additionally, teens don’t see Jesus as personally or actively engaged in lives today. They describe Christians as less loving and more judgmental and hypocritical than they describe Jesus. Less than a third of all students say that Christians see value in every person, stand up against wrongdoings and injustice and are good at listening to other’s stories. Barna concludes that we have an opportunity to “present teens with not only the historical and compassionate Jesus they recognized, but also a risen and active Jesus they have yet to know.” There is a great need for Christian education, but it has to be done in the context of relationships, where they experience the love of Christ in real, tangible human relationships. When we do this through relationships, by being like Christ, and modeling the Christian life for teens, they will experience a deeper spiritual formation and discipleship that will stick with them for a lifetime.

What does this look like practically?

  • Begin building relationships with the youth in our church.
  • Befriend your teens’ friends.
  • Find excuses to sit with youth at fellowship events.
  • Make it a point to know their names and stories.
  • Ask them about their week.
  • Ask them about ways you can be praying for them, and then be sure to follow through.
  • Take an interest in their lives and activities.
  • Show up for their events and activities.
  • Find ways to encourage them.
  • Send them a note or birthday card, or find out their favorite snack-food.
  • Volunteer as a small group leader or Sunday School teacher.
  • Serve as an acolyte helper once a month before and after service.

And then, model Jesus for them. Show them what it looks like to follow Jesus. Show them the hope that we have in Christ. Be honest about shortcomings. Engage them in conversations about their faith, about who Jesus is, about what they believe. Start with listening, and then ask questions.

For more ways to engage teens at FPC, contact Dri Bayer.
For more information about The Open Generation study visit opengeneration.info.