Our food will always be the same, but the way we present it has to change with the culture if we want this generation to try it.”[1]  McDonalds

Many of the things that were important to us in our teen years are no longer important for many of our youth.  The games, conferences, films and stories we used with adolescents in our time are no longer pertinent, yet the existential issues remain the same.  Who am I? Where am I going? During the search to find answers to these questions, teens from 40 years ago saw their parents, teachers, religious leaders and people in their immediate circle as the only authorities and sources of wisdom and direction.  External influences were less significant, and could be more closely controlled by adults.  In today’s digital age we find ourselves in a world with a wide range of sources of character information immediately accessible which stimulates our senses and our thirst for answers.

The church finds itself with the challenge of an “ICE” generation – internet and cellular. It is a generation that has open doors to find answers in any place, with the chance to corroborate information and receive answers to the questions they dare not ask their parents or pastors. While their existential questions remain the same, our approach cannot be the same. In many cases our answers must also be reevaluated. Our exegetical lenses to interpret Biblical texts must be expanded to include sociological, anthropological and psychological views, among others.

To work effectively with emergent generations challenges us to study the post-modern world through a process of “kenosis,” which is a rejection of myths and preconceptions to be able to enter a new way to conceive, think and react to life’s questions.  Emerging generations have moved towards different approaches to spirituality in order to interpret cultural changes and to find answers to their questions.  They have turned their backs on institutionalized religion.

In the face of these dramatic changes, what are our alternatives? My suggestions to be able to minister to a digital generation are:

  • Build relationships, even though it means that fathers, mothers and religious leaders have to use new means of communication.
  • Encourage experience with God, not knowledge of God, from doubts and questions, not from doctrinal beliefs as absolutes. Promote God as an experience and encourage that experience, even if is outside the church setting. It will give them a chance to meet God in creation, in nature, in relationships with their peers, with their families and in society. Demystify the common, profane, not-holy things. Everything is divinely created.  We make a space profane when our actions separate God from his creation.  In this way the church will not be an exclusive place, but rather an amplification of my experience with God, but now in community with others who think like I do.

From a broader understanding of the reality of these youth, we are able to make room for a new way to do ministry that allows us to reach people’s hearts led by their needs rather than what we believe.  God is always drawing near to human beings from their level of understanding: “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, AS MUCH AS THEY COULD UNDERSTAND” (Mark 4:33). For that reason, our call must be to change the container, not the contents.

[1] Jutila, Craig, et al, Children’s Ministry in the 21st Century. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2007) 44.