WASHINGTON - A prominent pollster and youth outreach ministers argue that young people mimic the relational and evangelical focus of the Early Church. They maintain that older generations need to learn from youth and witness to them in new ways rather than attempt to convert them to the older forms of worship.
"The church of tomorrow is not the glass cathedral – it's the living room," John Zogby, founder of the "Zogby Poll" and the Zogby companies, a prominent pollster and best-selling author, told The Christian Post in response to a question at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
Zogby, whose book First Globals: Understanding, Managing, & Unleashing the Potential of Our Millennial Generation debuted in June, claimed that young people born between 1979 and 1994, a group referred to as "Millennials" or "First Globals," prefer personal interaction to identifying with institutions. "Millennials are not institutional – they haven't had much of a reason to trust institutions," Zogby argued, noting that institutions do not emerge as young people's heroes.
Nevertheless, "people have a religious gene," and they end up trusting one another in relating to a personal God. He referred to the new methods of community – from Facebook and Twitter to texting and email – as an encouraging trend. "This is a rapid-fire world…they're talking, communicating, building communities."
Zogby said that the best outreach for millennials are their own peers. "Forget about the Kardashians, they want to know what each other are wearing and thinking," he said. He urged American pastors to embrace this localism, to "enable the formation of groups rather than the maintenance of capital-intensive structures." Zogby even mentioned that peer-to-peer outreach would mimic Christ's ministry on earth. "Sounds a bit like Jesus, doesn't it?" he quipped.
"If the Apostle Paul were alive today, he would be using Skype," John Henry, international director of the University of the Nations Student Mobilization Centre at Youth With A Mission (YWAM) told CP in an interview on Tuesday. Henry said that millennials are not looking for new teaching so much as mentorship and leadership from those serving actively in the mission field. He also emphasized the Apostle Paul's use of remote communication as comparable to social media today.
"Just like the classroom is getting flipped, I think the church is getting flipped," Henry said. "This generation is able to get content – what they want is action and relationship." While Zogby urged pastors to connect with "First Globals" through their peers, Henry encouraged them to mentor the young personally.
Young people, driven by big dreams and the desire to make an impact, often care about Social Justice without understanding what it is, the youth minister explained. "It's not just about the poor, it's about God himself…He deserves justice," Henry explained. Young people want coaching from the older generation who have the purse strings and the power – "Their concern is not about themselves and our concern shouldn't just be about them."
"Hospitality was the key issue of the Early Church," Henry argued, noting that young people understand "what it meant to break bread with someone from a different culture." Millennials' multiculturalism is an asset, not a liability.
The experience of millennial Christians "is much more akin to how people connected in an identity sense with the Early Church," Mark Oestreicher, general editor of the June book NKJV Ignite: The Bible for Teens, and founding partner of The Youth Cartel, told CP. Oestreicher emphasized that millennials' allegiance and identity has shifted from the national and institutional to the global and local.
"Most of the older teenagers and twentysomethings I know are much more interested in being citizens of the world," and in the "networked, constantly shifting amorphous group of relationships" which form their sense of community, Oestreicher said. Nevertheless, he argued that this trend is not limited to one generation, but forms the centerpiece of modern American culture.
The Bible editor emphasized 5 modern trends: a wealth of information, immediacy, disposability, consumerism, and the networked culture. This worldview render any sense of permanency difficult, Oestreicher argued, since young people have grown up learning that "everything's fluid and changing."
On the other hand, this mentality emphasizes the importance of experiencing God in the here and now, and makes the transcendent mysteries of the Creator "really attractive to millennials."