NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- America's Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, possess world-changing potential, youth leaders were told during a national conference in Nashville, Tenn.
"This generation is making a huge impact," said Jess Rainer, one of the conference's featured speakers.
"They are sending shockwaves throughout global society," said Rainer, administration and outreach pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.
Rainer, coauthor of "The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation" with Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, joined his father in unpacking data and insights from their research during LifeWay's National Youth Worker's Conference, which included 34 breakout sessions with experts in student ministry.
Despite being more than 78 million strong, only 15 percent of Millennials profess to be Christian, a trend the Rainers hope to see reversed through educating leaders on how to reach the emerging generation.
The older half of the generation is exiting college and are "redefining adulthood," determined to make a statement, Jess Rainer said. The youngest Millennials are 10-year-old future leaders, and this is where youth workers fit in by grappling with the realities of this generation.
Jess Rainer explained five defining characteristics of Millennials gathered from interviews with 1,200 Millennials and published in their book.
First, Millennials are both a hopeful and self-burdened generation. An overwhelming 96 percent of respondents believe they will do something great in their lifetime.
"You are in a great place at a great time," Thom Rainer told the youth leaders at the Sept. 12-14 sessions, "because even though a low percent of this generation is Christian they are a generation that is ready to make a difference."
Growing up as a Millennial, Jess Rainer said he heard that he could do anything he wanted to do, that success was achievable and he was responsible for making the world a better place.
Second, Millennials are technologically and social media savvy. Of the 1,200 Millennials surveyed, 70 percent said their cell phones are a vital part of their lives.
"Technology is huge for this generation," Jess Rainer said, noting that more than half of Millennials are active users of Facebook. "Social media is an intricate part of their lives."
Third, Millennials value learning through formal and informal education.
"The Millennials are the most educated generation in American history," Jess Rainer said. Beyond formal degrees, Millennials value informal education through mentorships.
"We as Millennials want someone to invest in our lives," Jess Rainer said. "We want people to come along side us and mentor us. This is where youth workers come in."
Fourth, Millennials are disconnected spiritually.
The Boomer generation, the group born between 1946-64, began to move toward antagonism toward Christianity, Thom Rainer explained. "We were the generation that doubted institutions like church and government," he said. "We began to have a negative attitude toward Christianity. At least when you're antagonistic you are engaged.
"This generation, as a whole, is so disconnected that their attitude is not antagonism; it's apathy," Thom Rainer said. "Therefore, you cannot expect them to show up in church because they are supposed to."
This is a generation that needs to hear that faith makes a difference, he added.
"This is a generation that is not going to be satisfied with 'churchianity' as usual," Thom Rainer said. "They're not going through the motions, like what much of my generation has done in the name of Christian faith."
Showing Millennials the relevance of faith is key to reaching them, Thom Rainer said. "That means that faith has to make a difference in their community and to the nations," he said.
Fifth, relationships are paramount to Millennials, with 61 percent of respondents citing their family as their most important relationship.
"There's nothing more important to Millennials than family," Jess Rainer explained. "If you're wondering where to start with Millennials, start with their family."
The Rainers ended by challenging the youth workers to reach both the Christian and non-Christian Millennials.
For Christian Millennials, leaders must reject status quo, inward focus and superficiality.
"Millennials want to dive in deep," Jess Rainer said. "They realize that life is brief. They want to get to work."
Reaching non-Christians means tearing down the wall of indifference, Jess Rainer said. He encouraged youth workers to simply invite Millennials to church.
"A simple invitation goes a long way," Jess Rainer said, adding that humility and transparency also help to reach non-Christians. "Just remember that Millennials are connected through media and committed to family and peers."
"You are in a great position of leadership with this generation," Thom Rainer said. "If they come to know Christ, they can turn the world upside down."
The next National Youth Workers Conference will be Sept. 10-12, 2012, in Nashville. For more information about LifeWay student ministry, visit LifeWay.com/Students.
Kelly Shrout is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.
Youth workers' influence
can guide next generation
By Kelly Shrout
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Influence is a gift from God -- and one that must be cultivated, said Pete Wilson, founding and senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn.
Speaking during LifeWay's National Youth Worker's Conference, Wilson exhorted the crowd to cultivate the gift of influence by living authentically, loving deeply and lavishing hope.
Wilson noted how influence, the theme of the conference, can change the lives of young people.
"Live authentically," he said. "Your young people want to see that you don't have it all together. They need to see that we are all sinners saved by grace."
Challenging the youth workers to love deeply, Wilson noted, "We need to care more about making a difference than making a point" akin to how Jesus often created an environment where people could belong before they believed.
"Grace with footnotes, asterisks or prerequisites is anything but grace," he added.
Wilson pressed the youth workers in concluding his remarks to lavish hope on students in their care.
"Don't ever give up on them," he said. "Part of my job as a pastor is defining reality and using my influence to reveal possibilities. Practice the art of possibilities with your students. Show them what their lives could be like with Christ. Show them what they might not be able to see on their own."
Heath Eslinger, head wrestling coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, spoke from Matthew 5 to address how Christ changed the attitudes of those in His circle of influence.
In the same manner, he said, youth workers must change the attitudes of those with whom they work.
"We change the attitudes with education," Eslinger said. "Jesus began by addressing issues that needed to be addressed."
Christ also demonstrated the truths He proclaimed and urged His followers to go and share the Gospel, Eslinger said.
"Set up an infrastructure for people to be successful and tell them to go and do it," Eslinger exhorted.
Nate Carr, 1988 Olympic Medalist in wrestling, taught a breakout session on the value of prayer in gaining influence.
"As an athlete, I needed a strong body, strong mind and strong heart," Carr said. "When I gave my life to Christ … God told me to leave the gym and train with Him."
Spiritual training begins with prayer, Carr said, in sharing his testimony of how spending hours in prayer changed his life and broadened his influence.
"As you spend time in prayer, you can't remain the same," he said. "Your circle of influence will grow and your relationships will heal. Prayer keeps you focused and brings things out of your heart."
Carr encouraged the youth workers to fervently pray for their students and to "take the faces of your young people with you as you bring them before the Lord."
Author and speaker Kelly Minter, drawing from Nehemiah, told the youth workers, "You are people who have chosen the hard job, much like Nehemiah. When your students see the level of sacrifice you have made for them, you will be able to influence them as far as the eye can see."
Minter encouraged the youth workers to care deeply about the things of God.
"It is virtually impossible to influence people about things we don't care about," she said. "We have to be people of God's heart. We see in Nehemiah that before anyone can have an influence, they must care."
David Cook, a sports and performance psychology expert, shared how God called him to use his influence to write a book "Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia," which ultimately turned into a Christian film "Seven Days in Utopia" starring Robert Duvall.
"Don't get struck by fear," Cook told the student workers. "Remember that one life can change someone's eternity."
Featured musicians for the conference were the Chris White Band and Jake Gulledge. The Skit Guys, a Christian comedy and drama duo, performed and served as conference hosts.
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