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Reaching Millennial Kids

Christine Yount Jones

6 things you must know about kids born from 1984 on.

Boomer, Buster, Gen-Xer, Millennial. It's enough to make your head swim. If you're like me, it all begins to blur. So, why another article on generational trends? Because, to be quite honest, understanding generations helps us wisely target them.

If you don't account for these six things about Millennial kids, you'll miss impacting this generation.

1. Millennials are idealistic. The 1990's became what Mario Cuomo termed the "Decade of the Child." Children's issues topped the agendas of the 1988, 1992, and 1996 presidential election races. In June of 1996, hundreds of thousands of people went to Washington, DC, to take a stand for children at the Stand for Children Rally.

Neil Howe and Bob Strauss, authors of The Fourth Turning, write that although the generation before Millennials was viewed as castoffs, today's Millennials "have become symbols of an Unraveling-era need to stop the social hemorrhaging before it could damage another new generation."

A protective wave of adult concern bathes this generation of children. Boomers are working hard to shield Millennial children from the diet of media sex, violence, and profanity that the generation before them was weaned on. For example, the new TV show ratings and legislated V-chip enable parents to screen out objectionable programming.

The awesome benefit of such protective concern, according to Strauss and Howe, is that a valued, protected generation grows up believing in its ability to make a difference. This is an idealistic, hopeful generation -- a generation, I believe, whose heart has been crafted by God to serve him with fervor. This generation will own the message that with God, all things are possible!

2. Millennials are committed to changing their world. This generation has a burgeoning civic virtue. Nickelodeon's annual Big Helpathon encourages kids to volunteer in their communities. Over 400,000 children volunteered for the event in 1994. In 1996, that number grew to 8 million.

Millennials "gravitate toward social goals and human relationships that can be clearly defined," according to Strauss and Howe. "They expect and receive challenges from older generations."

Churches are catching on to the need to involve kids in meaningful, world-changing activities. In Riverside, California, Bill Russell's KIDS QUEST program is a weekly discipleship program where sixth-graders study the Bible, deal with tough issues, and train for service. Groups of eight or nine meet weekly for 17 weeks. At the end of that time, these groups join 200 sixth- and seventh-graders for an outreach in Mexico.

God's hand is at work creating a heart cry in children to be involved in something bigger than themselves. God is working in the hearts of children so they'll embrace what's on his heart. If we don't convince them that giving their lives in service to Christ is a big enough cause, they'll go elsewhere to find a compelling cause they can give their lives to.

3. Millennials work together. Cooperative learning groups -- where kids learn to accept one another's differences -- are a big part of kids' school scene. Part of this shift in education is a reaction to the changing workforce and the need to prepare children for more collaborative work situations. And part of it is because of the sheer effectiveness of kids learning in groups, solving problems together, and gleaning from each other's strengths.

Strauss and Howe write that Millenials are instinctive team players. According to these generational experts, Millennials have "a strong ethos of constructive activity, a peer-enforced code of dutiful conduct, and an overwhelming sense of generational community."

This generation is eager to rally together to solve problems. God is raising up a new breed of Christian that can fulfill the Great Commission to the ends of the earth! The more we get kids working together at church; learning together; serving together; and playing together, the more effective we'll be in training them.

4. Millennials understand right from wrong. The previous generation upheld "if it's right for you, then it's right." And society, the church, and parents are rebounding from the relativistic results of such a philosophy.

Educators inside and outside the church are seeking to instill clear-cut values in children. Public schools are inundated by values and diversity education programs. Josh McDowell uses his "Right From Wrong" program to teach churched kids that there is a body of truth.

Parents are also trained to point the way. Here are a few article titles that appeared in secular parenting magazines this year: "Raising a Kind Child," "Do Unto Others," and "What It Takes to Raise a Responsible Child." This generation of children will champion truth because they'll understand that there is truth! What a great opportunity for children's ministers to help children grab onto God's Word as the absolute authority in life.

5. Millenials are family-centered. Faith Popcorn, a trend analyst and the author of Clicking, coined the term "cocooning" to describe a trend among today's families. Cocooning is the need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world.

Studies show that there has been a three-year tripling in the popularity of "staying home with the family." Families perceive extra commitments as a threat to their time together. Therefore, it's very difficult to get families to commit to more than Sunday morning activities.

"Family values" captures the gist of Millennial nurture. In a recent survey, 41 percent of kids in grades 1 through 6 said they'd rather spend time with family than play sports with friends, watch TV or play video games, or read a book or listen to music.

In the Million Man March and the Promise Keepers movement, men are seeking atonement for past child neglect and vowing to become better role models for this generation's future. Working fathers now average 11 hours per week with their kids, or 94 minutes per day, up from a 1988 study in which they spent only three hours a week, or 26 minutes a day, with their children.

Psychologist Dr. Robert A. Frank says that "We're seeing a brand-new type of family emerge, one that's going to improve parent-child attachment and reduce social problems."

Children's ministers say they need help training parents to train their children. This is a drastic shift from 20 years ago when most parents expected the church to train their children. Now parents are saying "We don't have time for another intrusion," and children's ministers are adapting to this dilemma.

Darrell Fraley, children's pastor at Hope Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, recruits parent volunteers to more than children's ministry. He encourages them to get involved because "one of the best places for parents to informally learn solid parenting skills is at church, serving in children's ministry."

6. Millennials need relationships. Today's kids are technologically savvy, but experientially unsavvy. They're whizzes on computers, the Internet, and electronic anythings that intimidate many of us. They have the world at their fingertips. And they have a "been there/done that" attitude because they can see or do practically anything through media.

We're tempted to compete with technology and make our ministries technologically exciting. But the truth is, what these kids need is less stuff and more relationship for them to "get it." Rather than focusing primarily on programs, we need to focus on people. Millennial kids need consistent teachers who enable kids to be in nurturing relationships with one another and with adults.

I hope you've caught on to what an awesome thing God is doing in our midst. He's raising up a generation of children that's cut from the same cloth as Joshua-kids who are eager to go into the Promised Land and claim it for their God. May God give us wisdom and insight in the days ahead!?

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