I heard this term from a friend who had been at a recent New Wine conference where Pete Hughes spoke about reaching and working with those in their 20s. In my interactions with other church leaders a recurring theme is the extent to which we are struggling to engage our 20s. Perhaps it was ever thus and all that has changed is that my friends and I are now middle-aged. Perhaps, but I think there is something more to it than that.
Back in the day when my generation was being referred to as ‘Generation X’, and ‘Millenials’ were just a twinkle in a futurologists eye, I was particularly taken by Douglas Coupland’s description of ‘option paralysis’. This is the state of affairs whereby we are unable to make a decision because there are too many possible choices and we are terrified of making the wrong one. This has all kinds of negative consequences: from an inability to fulfil social engagements to a reluctance to commit to relationships to depression induced by the complexity of life. This was an issue when Coupland identified it twenty-something years ago; it is even more an issue today.
Option paralysis often combines with an unhealthy mix of a sense of entitlement and a belief in the strictly limited availability of time. For example, a pastor friend told me that one of his worship leaders had announced he would not be able to lead worship for three months as his wife was having a baby – as if becoming a first-time father would so incapacitate him that he would be unable either to worship or strum a guitar. Similarly it is typical to find that those in their 20s are appalled at any suggestion that their commitment to church might mean more in time and attendance than two hours on a Sunday (maybe two Sundays a month) and possibly one evening a week.
This is a generation that really does want to change the world. It is a generation that cares about social justice and global issues. Yet too often this activism is worked out no further than posting links on Facebook: hence (and I know I’ll get upset comments for this) the term ‘slacktivists’.
The problem this creates for middle-aged pastors is that it can seem that those who are most vocal about wanting to have a role to play in church life are the least reliable when it actually comes to turning up and taking responsibility. This often leads to serious disconnect, with frustration on all sides.
What to do?
I can’t claim in any way to have this one cracked at Gateway, but it seems that at least part of the solution is to create an ‘ownership culture’ in which our 20s feel that their voice is heard, that they are entrusted with meaningful roles and where they experience friendship as well as fathering from an older generation. The activist part of the equation has to be encouraged and grounded in reality, while the slacker part has to be exposed for what it is.
The challenge is not so much for the Millenials to up their game, as for us Gen-Xers (and those Boomers who are still at work!) to up ours. If we do not connect our 20s into the mission of the church we will be in big trouble when the Millenials themselves are middle-aged.
None of us can afford to be slack about this: we need to be activists!