Josh and Gareth share how their teams have developed a vision for their youth ministry. How are they starting to see it come to life with the help of Learning Community?
Learning Community is our residential volunteer training programme which runs across training weekends throughout the year. Each cycle is three years long. As the end of our latest cycle comes to a close, Gareth and Josh reflect on their time with learning community and what they have gained as a team.
Gareth is a Pioneer Minister, vicar, in Aylesbury with Berryfields church. After planting a church on a new housing estate and setting up a youth ministry in the area, they wanted to receive more training to help give their youth ministry a solid foundation.
Three years later, they have developed a mentoring pipeline where they are training leaders to mentor young leaders to mentor the young people in their youth ministry. They are seeing relational youth work happen in their church.
Josh, a youth leader in Redditch, was encouraged by one of the other youth leaders in his team. Danielle has been on the Gap Year and Degree programme with Reign Ministries and wanted to share discipleship training with her team.
At the same time, Josh wanted to invest in training. As a result, they have not only seen the benefits in their youth ministry, but have started investing in the churches around them. They would love to see all the churches in their area flourishing in their youth ministry.
” In 3 or 4 years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s like, just do your thing.”
Before turning to the topic of sexual fluidity, it’s worth looking at the impact that online pornography has had on Generation Z’s sexuality in general. According to James Emery White in his book ‘Meet Generation Z’, 70% of 18-34 year-olds regularly view porn online. Moreover, he mentions that the average age teens first watch porn is 11 years-old.
Statistics show that teens are starting to view porn at a younger age, but they also show that they are becoming increasingly addicted. Pornography seems to be taking over the lives of many young people; it has negative effects on how they relate to friends and family…. not to mention the opposite sex.
“I remember the first time I saw porn, I was probably about six. I went to a primary school which was attached to a high school. There were always older kids…
“I’d say about nine, a lot of the boys at school were either interested in seeing porn, had seen some or were watching it a bit. You’d have to be pretty clueless not to be aware of it…
“The first thing I did when I got my laptop for the first time – I got it about 3 months before my phone – was go up to my room and look for porn.”
“It was exciting, like a bit sort of dirty, but mostly exciting, secret.
“The thing I couldn’t believe was how much there was of it. It’s like the more you look the more you find, and you can literally find anything…
“At first, I’d only watch a bit and then I’d slam the laptop shut and feel all scared. But then it was obvious – nobody cared and there wasn’t going to be the porn police showing up to arrest you and tell your parents.
“So, I kept watching more and more…”
“Instead of hanging around my mates at lunch, I’ll go home and watch porn. I watch porn every night. Sometimes straight from school. I just lock the door and put headphones on.
“We went to Greece last summer and I was panicking I wouldn’t be able to access porn. But, luckily the hotel had WiFi and I could. I had to be a bit more careful as we were sharing this apartment… “
“Do I think this has changed the way I see girls? Yeah. Sort of. I haven’t had a girlfriend and it seems weird to think about the girls I know doing the stuff I watch.
“Like, I do think about them in those… like, the porn scenes sometimes, you can’t help it. But it’s really hard to imagine doing it in real life. I don’t know if real life will be as good as porn films.
“Why? Because some people say that girls are never as dirty in real life as they are in porn. And like, when you watch porn films you can sort of put yourself in the position of the man, and he’s always the boss.
“I don’t feel like that around girls in real life so I don’t think real-life sex can be as good. Also, no girls in school look like the girls in porn films which is okay. But, I love how girls look in porn.”
Jared, 16 Southampton. Estimated 60 hours per week on devices. (Combi, 2015, pp. 186-189)
The impact of pornography on teenagers is being explored in more depth through emerging research. Want more insight into the impact of porn on teens? Channel 4’s documentary, ‘Porn on the Brain’ is a great watch for more info.
Sexting and Pornographic Images
Unfortunately, viewing pornography is not the greatest danger facing Gen Z. Young people are increasingly becoming – willingly and unwillingly – the objects of pornographic images and videos. La Trobe University’s Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society found;
Nearly 3/4 of 15-18 year-olds have sexted.
Half of 15-18 year-olds have sent naked or semi-naked photos and videos of themselves
84% have received sexually explicit messages by phone or email.
Sending these message and images has actually become a new form of courtship, says James Emery White. However, the physical damage and emotional damage from being an object of pornographic images/videos cannot be overstated. Especially when they are capable of being shared around friendship groups, entire schools and the virtual world!
Gen Z: Equality, Fluidity and Acceptance
Equality and Acceptance
Staying true to their core values of diversity and tolerance, rather than question the cause and effect of practicing multiple sexualities and genders, Gen Z adopts a stance of complete acceptance.
Gen Z are connected to many different people, cultures and value systems. This has contributed to Gen Z’s value of diversity, acceptance, tolerance and equality.
Among these cultures and subcultures, Gen Z have met people and have access to a variety of sexual practices and lifestyle choices. Potentially leading Gen Z to becoming more sexually fluid than other teenagers in the past.
Sexual and Gender Fluidity
James Emery White highlights a YouGov survey, carried out in the UK, which shows that;
“49% of young people, between the ages of 18-24, identified as something other than 100% heterosexual.”
James Emery White and YouGov Survey
These realities are not confined to sexual fluidity. Gen Z seems more than able to cope with a fluid sense of gender too. One of the major stories of Gen Z’s adolescence was watching Olympian, Bruce Jenner, transition to Caitlyn Jenner.
Today, most will have friends, or at least acquaintances, who are living out as a gender different from their birth. There is a real sense amongst this generation that;
“Sexuality should be set free from any and all restrictions and people should be allowed to follow their desires, moment by moment.”
Helena Horton, 2015
It is beyond the scope of this post to offer a depth of responses or applications. The purpose of this post is to help educate us on the perspective of Generation Z. One important conclusion is that it is very difficult for Generation Z to imagine that they can live a full and meaningful life without being sexually active.
Any discussion of a Biblical response must start with the questions of identity. If it is true that we are created by God, the reality is we are primarily spiritual – not sexual! We must help young people see that the Bible, and in particular the life of Christ, shows us that our primary satisfaction will come from our relationship with God and His people, not from our sexual expression.
Short attention spans and socially isolated. The good and bad about this internet-in-its-pocket generation.
The smartphone is perhaps the most significant factor that defines the distinctive behaviours of Generation Z. Some people are beginning to label it the ‘internet-in-its-pocket generation’. In contrast to the previous generations who experienced the exciting emergence of the internet and the ability to access it anytime and anywhere, for Generation Z, the internet has always just ‘been there’.
In his book, ‘Meet Generation Z’, James Emery White highlights that teenagers spend nearly 9 hours a day absorbed by media. Sparks and Honey found 91% of Gen Z go to bed with their phones. Moreover, Giselle Abramovich found 79% of Gen Z showed symptoms of emotional distress when they aren’t able to have their personal electronic devices.
In my work with Reign Ministries equipping youth ministers our students laugh at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and add their own “basic human needs” to the bottom of my handouts.
The impact of having a ‘supercomputer’ in one’s pocket is far-reaching. It has changed the way young people learn, where they gain knowledge, how they work and play, how long they can focus, who their friends are, how they feel about others and how they feel about themselves.
Changes in Learning
Similar to the revolution set in motion by the Gutenberg’s printing press that paved the way for information to be distributed and accessed by the common person, mobile internet devices have made knowledge and information constantly and immediately accessible to all. This carries with it many obvious blessings.
The author of this session has appreciated the way his own children have benefited from this immediate and free access to the internet when they are struggling to understand their Maths homework. Rather than trying to find time with the teacher between classes or after school, they can simply type their question into YouTube and search through a variety of instructors until they find one who can explain mathematical concepts in a teaching style best suited to their style of learning.
And, if they didn’t understand everything clearly the first time through, they can simply pause, go back and re-watch it as many times as necessary. This way of learning has obvious advantages over what the traditional classroom can offer. This ability to access information has led to a very important dynamic that is true of Generation Z…
“…the ability to find whatever they’re after without the help of intermediaries – such as libraries, shops or teachers. This has made them more independent and self-directed than generations before them.”
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z
Young people no longer need to track down an expert or find a place that sells or stores books, journals or periodicals if they want to learn about a particular topic; all the information we need is available in the palm of our hands. This ability to access seemingly limitless streams of information does not always make true learning easier, however.
“Like no other generation before, Generation Z faces a widening chasm between wisdom and information. Quentin Schultze writes that the torrent of information now at our disposal is often little more than ‘endless volleys of nonsense, folly and rumour masquerading as knowledge, wisdom and even truth.”
James Emery White referencing Quentin Schultze (2002)
“The new task of education is to help students evaluate information.”
Chuck Kelley (2011)
Shorter Attention Span
In addition to completely transforming the way Generation Z accesses information and learns, constant connectivity to the internet has had major effects on our ability to focus on a task.
According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 seconds in 2015.
“…to put that in perspective, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds!”
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z
Internet Browsing Statistics (White)
Average length watched of single internet video: 2.7 mins
Percent of page views lasting less than 4 seconds: 17
Percent of page views lasting more than 10 minutes: 4
Words read on web pages with 11 words or less, as a percentage: 49
Percent of words read on an average (593 words) web page: 28
Combine these facts with previous statistics that showed Generation Z can multitask across 5 screens, it becomes clear that this generation prefers to give attention to several things at once rather than focus on one thing at a time.
However, while conventional wisdom holds that multitasking accomplishes more, many emerging studies show that we severely overestimate our ability to multi-task successfully. Constantly switching attention between tasks is affecting our ability to problem solve.
Watch this Ted Talk by Manoush Zomorodi about “How boredom can lead to our most brilliant ideas.
Because of Generation Z’s ability to access vast amounts of information and endless amounts of entertainment anytime, anywhere, many are concluding that this generation is the most anti-social and lonely age group to date.
However, how accurate are these conclusions? What do young people themselves have to say about the ways they would like to relate to their peers?
To answer these questions, Youth for Christ asked young people how they most like to spend their time socializing. They found 32% preferred spending time with friends outside. Moreover, 31% preferred spending time with friends at home.
In contrast, 24% preferred to socialize on the internet. But just 6% liked to spend time with peers at an out-of-school club/activity/group. Unfortunately for youth leaders like us, only 2% preferred to spend time with peers at a youth club.
We will pick up on the statistics regarding attendance at youth clubs and outside of school activities in a later session. But despite what most may assume, young people still prefer face to face interactions with their peers over interactions via a screen.
In fact, Pew Research Centre found 85% of young people love to meet up with friends in person. Only 15% of young people prefer talking through Social Media.
Although Gen Z prefers socializing with their friends in person, online interactions have expanded their relationship networks. Young people use their devices to watch video content created by people from around the world, to game with friends from around the world and to interact with people from around the world. All this on a variety of social media platforms.
“…26% of Gen Z would need to fly to meet most of their social network friends.”
Sparks and Honey, 2014
This means they have not merely studied facts about other countries and cultures in a classroom, but they actually have friends from other cultures. These global friends will all have varied – and often conflicting – value systems and ways of living. And, all of these different behaviors, values and lifestyle choices seem to ‘work’ for them.
When languages and oceans separate people groups, it’s easy to become ethnocentric. However, it is much more difficult to critique a person’s worldview when you have regular personal interactions and friendships. Therefore, Generation Z is characterized by a strong sense of acceptance and inclusion.
Employers are beginning to grow more aware of these core values and are conscious to create work environments which foster them. This is shown by research conducted by Door of Clubs. In a survey, 5000 students were asked their most important value of a company when entering the workforce. Most importantly, equality was the No.1 value.
“Diversity, inclusion and belonging should be core values of your organization and can impact your ability to attract and retain an entire generation of talent, not just talent from underrepresented groups”
Pranam Lipinski and Sharon Florentine
In my post titled Understanding Gen Z’s Sexual Fluidity, we unpack what these tightly held beliefs may mean for the church. Also, what this means for our efforts to share the truth claims of Christianity with Generation Z.
Generation Z hasn’t rejected God as previous generations may have done. They simply don’t ever think about him. What might that mean for your church?
Teenagers Past and Present
We can be fairly certain that adolescents, since the emerging youth culture in the 20th Century until the present, have felt anxious about their place in the world. Particularly entering adulthood!
In the distant past, children would have grown up to follow in their mother’s footsteps to raise a family or followed their father to the farm or the factory.
But adolescents from around the mid-century until today have a seemingly endless array of choices and opportunities at their feet to help script their own way of life. We explore this further in Year 3 of the Youth Ministry Module, as part of The Degree.
Different Generations, Similar Priorities
Youth For Christ recently found that Generation Z possesses many of the same priorities, worries and concerns that relatively recent teenage populations like Millenials and Gen X had. You can read my earlier post if you are unfamiliar with the difference between Millenials and Gen Z.
For example, when asked about their own lives and their top worries, 54% answered “School and Exams”, and 30% “What Other People Think of Me”.
When asked about their priorities, 82% said that “Making my family proud of me”, 64% answered “Becoming Successful”. These priorities wouldn’t be far off how young people from previous generations communicated about the things that were important to them.
So those in Generation Z do share several traits common to all adolescents in recent decades. But significant differences do exist and many of them have huge implications for the church. Specifically, Generation Z hasn’t rejected God, as previous generations may have done, they simply don’t ever think about him.
Generation Z is Post-Christian
Individuals who have grown up as part of Generation Z have little or no history with God, the church or the Christian faith. It is important to note that Generation Z have not so much rejected God as much as they just have never really ‘met’ Him in the first place.
“The 2015 British Election Study showed that those who claim to have no religious affiliation or no religious faith has risen from 3% in 1963 to 44.7% today. Among adults aged 25 and under, the number of ‘nones’ climbed to nearly two-thirds.”
This does not mean they are not interested in spiritual things. It’s just that they are turning to places other than Christianity and the church to try to connect with the spiritual realm.
This presents several challenges to the church, as the ways it has sought to engage with young people in the past may no longer prove effective.
Challenges for Starting with Parents
Because Generation Z has grown up in a fully Post-Christian culture, they often aren’t raised by Christian parents. Therefore the church will find it difficult to engage with parents as a starting point for reaching significant numbers of young people.
And even those parents who have a Christian faith are increasingly feeling overwhelmed at the task of helping to shape their children’s worldviews and beliefs. In the ‘Passing on Faith’ research conducted by Olwyn Mark, only 40% of parents said they had had a conversation about faith with their children.
Furthermore, 34% said they believed social media and technology would make a bigger impact on their children’s beliefs than their own influence (Youth for Christ, 2016, pp. 40-41 citing Olwyn Mark’s Passing on Faith research).
Challenges for Gathering Young People
I recently attended the Youth Evangelism Conference and was struck by how often the topic regarding ‘the numbers of young people leaving the church’ was mentioned. Resources and workshops were on offer that could help youth leaders in their efforts to make faith more ‘sticky’ for young people.
While we do want to want to hang on to those young people who have grown up in our ranks, the statistics regarding Generation Z make it painfully clear, the overwhelming majority of young people are not in the church in the first place.
“70% of the UK population have no intention of ever attending a church service. That means new styles of worship will not reach them. Fresh expressions of church will not reach them. Alpha and Christianity Explored courses will not reach them. Guest services will not reach them. Churches meeting in pubs will not reach them. Toddler churches meeting at the end of the school day will not reach them.
“The vast majority of un-churched and de-churched people would not turn to the church, even if faced with difficult personal circumstances or in the event of national tragedies. It is not a question of ‘improving the product’ of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events”
Young people are not coming to church services on a Sunday. And recent research amongst Generation Z also reveals they are much less likely to access youth clubs or drop-in sessions. This, coupled with the reality that young people can interact socially without leaving the comforts of their own bedrooms, does present challenges to the mission-shaped church who desires to gather young people.
Challenges in Communication
Despite the reality that fewer people are interested in coming to the church when it is gathered, especially on a Sunday morning, the church continues to place a high priority on its weekend services.
Furthermore, most churches seem to continue to place a high emphasis during these services on a spoken message that is delivered primarily as a one-way transmission.
However, due to the increase in the ability to access the internet from mobile devices – the average attention span of young people is significantly decreasing (see my post titled, Gen Z: The Internet in It’s Pocket Generation).
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015.
Adapting our Communications
The church has been bound by Jesus and by the early apostles to preach and teach the Word. We do not have a choice on whether or not to do this. But the church does have a choice regarding how it is done. What impact should decreasing attention spans have on how the church communicates its message in this culture?
Much more reflection will need to take place by church leaders and youth leaders working with Generation Z in order to be more effective in how we communicate. But James Emery White offers an initial and very helpful take:
“(Generation Z) communicates in bite sizes…Bottom line? Whatever it is we are attempting to convey, much less explain, will need to be communicated more frequently in shorter bursts of ‘snackable content”
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z
Reason for Hope
The reality that Generation Z has grown up with little or no awareness of God, coupled with the challenges of attracting young people to church outreaches or programmes, may cause today’s youth leaders to feel overwhelmed and want to give up before they even start. But the news is not all bad.
Experts who have been studying Generation Z and church leaders who have been working with them, sense a growing curiosity amongst this age group. Like all good ‘postmoderns’, Generation Z appears sceptical of organised religion, but they are not anti-God or anti-Jesus.
While the previous generation has essentially been ‘inoculated against faith’ by the adults who raised them, it’s because of this that Generation Z is now curious. Gen Z has virtually no awareness of the Christian faith, which causes them to be open to exploring it when presented with the opportunity.