“Oh well, whatever, never mind.”
I still remember the first time I heard Kurt Cobain sing those lyrics. September 1991, I had just started my freshman year of high school, filled with hormonal high school angst, unsure where I fit in, wondering how to cope and survive the next four years.
But then one night, I saw that video with kids slam dancing in the gymnasium. I was obsessed. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the anthem that would define Generation X.
Generation X felt overlooked, unloved, and aimless. As a result, our pent up anger was eating away at us. Nirvana and the subsequent grunge movement gave many the words to articulate what we were feeling and created a community where we could belong.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m a Generation X kid.
You might be from a different generation. Your song might be a track from Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Biggie Smalls, Backstreet Boys, or BTS.
You see the world differently than I do.
And that’s the point.
Each generation experiences the world a little bit differently than the previous generation. And those experiences influence our decisions, our relationships, and even our faith.
It’s why Orange studies the current and emerging generations. We want to ensure that the message connects with kids and students, but that’s not always as easy as it might sound. We need to do some research, ask some questions, listen, and learn.
As you do, keep a few ideas in mind:
Every generation experiences unique moments in history that impact how they see the world and their potential for success.
Think about the global events, economic health, technological innovation, and cultural trends that marked your own generation. How did those impact your hobbies, where your family lived, what you studied in college, what you cared about, and where you devoted your time?
The same is true for the emerging generations you serve. The most current example is the global pandemic and its continued aftermath. This event has already defined how Generations Z and Alpha experience their education; handle trauma, anxiety, and depression; relate to family and community, and decide next steps as they enter into the workforce. Knowing the possible impacts of current events can help you prepare for what families will need from your church.
Every generation has a center of gravity, a starting point from which they process information, make choices, and take action.
Older generations have a tendency to watch younger generations interact with the world and dismiss their choices as naïve or inexperienced. Yet what we dismiss as “inexperienced” might be their generation’s way of processing the world around them.
Understanding a generation’s starting point takes some homework.Try Immersing yourself in youth culture, visiting local schools and discovering more about how kids learn. Head to Google and learn more about the books, the movies, the YouTube channels, and social media influencers shaping the content your kids are consuming. Read the books. Watch the videos. Listen to the music. Without judgment, ask your kids open ended questions about what they enjoy and connect with. Then, consider the ways you can leverage what you learn from culture to connect God’s truth to the next generation.
As you do this, it’s important to remember that we can’t go backwards. Kids and students are growing up in the post-modern world with a post-modern mindset. While rewinding back to modernity is a lost cause, we can learn how to better connect with a generation who has a post-modern perspective. Rather than fearing it, we can learn from their point of view and how best to help them discover God’s truth.
Every generation needs a story bigger than themselves to align their gifts, talents, and passions for the greater good.
As you learn more about the generations you serve, you’ll start discovering what they care about, like environmental stewardship, racial justice, unhoused neighbors, or kids in foster care. As leaders, we can help kids and students connect those passions with clear action steps to make a difference in their community. This is a key aspect of helping kids and students develop a faith of their own. When you help them discover that much of what they care about is also close to God’s heart, you expand how they see God and the role they can play as part of the Church.
As you start to dive into generational studies, remember not all kids will act exactly like their generation’s stereotype. Many factors influence how people will demonstrate characteristics of their generation: where they grew up, age of parents or care-givers, traumatic experiences, educational model, and ethnic or cultural background.
However, these generational values do offer us a starting point. They not only help us understand the people we serve. But they give us insight into how we can make sure that every kid in every generation tangibly experiences God’s love in a way that moves them to build a faith of their own. If you want to learn more about the next generation join us at Orange Conference 2023, where I will be leading a workshop called, “An Introduction to Gen Alpha.” Visit theorangeconference.com to learn more and continue the conversation about to better understand the next generation.