Today’s teens are a generation of activists, and it’s not hard to see why. They are informed, motivated, networked, and empowered; not shy about vocalizing their opinions and not unsuccessful at earning their share of national attention.
Many companies and brands are riding this wave of wokeness, and changing their approach as they try to appeal to this new generation. For instance, Teen Vogue, once a typical fashion magazine for teenage girls, has remade itself as an “incubator for activists” – providing readers with information and analysis on current political and social issues side-by-side with the latest beauty tips. Since making this strategic shift, they’ve seen their readership triple.
Now, youth ministry isn’t a business, and the Gospel isn’t a branded product, but in a time when the Church is seeing so many youth and young adults separate themselves from the local church, there may be a lesson to be learned from the likes of Teen Vogue. Which is: If we are serious about really engaging Gen Z in faith, Scripture, and the life of the Church, then we’ve got to care about the things they care about. And we’ve got to do it in a way that goes so much deeper than aspiring to “relevance” and “relatability” via pop culture references and the mustering up of youthful energy.
The good news is, the thing this generation of activists cares about is the wellbeing of society. Good news: the wellbeing of society happens to be something of an area of expertise of Jesus. We just haven’t always presented it in a way that compels youth to grasp onto it.
It’s not that the majority of churches try to turn a blind eye to the social issues of the world. In fact, many youth ministries do a good job of providing their students with church-sponsored service opportunities and regularly encourage them to “make their mark on the world” for Jesus. However, this is a generation committed to authenticity and diversity. How authentic do you think teens find feeding the homeless one afternoon per month when the sole intention is to recite the gospel and then leave them in a situation completely unchanged? How diverse do you think they find it when either the words or actions of their Christians leaders express a disregard for the perspectives, expertise, and potential partnerships to be found outside of the Church?
We must lean into the opinions and perspectives of students. We must learn from them. We must understand their context and not be quick to disregard their questions, concerns, and doubts about the Church. Then, we can approach them with a newfound understanding and teach them what it means to be in the world and not of the world. We can do this one-on-one and in small group discussions.
Here are four helpful questions to help facilitate this conversation:
- What in society should be rejected, and how should one go about rejecting it?
- What in society can be leveraged for the sake of the gospel and God’s Kingdom?
- What in society should we celebrate as those who point towards the goodness, beauty, and truth that is innate in humanity and creation?
- What systems or norms in society aren’t in line with God’s will, and what changes should we advocate for?
Learning to ask these types of questions can be the first step your students take towards an activism grounded in God’s coming Kingdom, one that testifies to and enacts Jesus’ Gospel – one that is authentic.
The teens in our youth ministries care deeply about what goes on in the world. They want to make a difference. As we raise them up in the faith, it’s important that we ground the life of discipleship in a world-transforming context, and teach them that they can maintain their love for authenticity and diversity while faithfully following Jesus deeper and deeper into His Kingdom.
- Consider a topic that’s prevalent in your local community right now. Try talking about it with your students using the questions offered above.
- Ask your students what current issues they care most about. Dream about ways your youth ministry can be a part of making a difference.
- Reflect on how your youth ministry currently connects the Christian faith with what’s going on in the world.
- Download our FREE 4-week small group series, Made for A Mission, to dive deeper into this topic.
- The Feed Team would love to connect with you as you seek to make changes in your youth ministry. Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.