5 Trends Facing the Next Generation of Discipleship

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Our youths are facing some of the most significant challenges in 2020. They are living in a state of uncertainty due to coronavirus, racial tensions, an upcoming presidential election and hopelessness. Millennials and Gen Z are facing some of the most prominent difficulties today. The outlook for young adults and teens—which, Barna research shows, was already diverse from other generations.

Where do we go from here? How can many of our youths navigate the changes that face them — so they feel free to disciple others, and grow themselves? Here are five current trends influencing youths today.


1. Screen Time

The average time spent on technology is seven to 10 hours. Screen time is up over 60 percent due to the pandemic.

This includes YouTube, television, computers, phones and gaming devices. Millennials and Gen Z  admit they have seen increases in screen time, and 85 percent of pastors are not equipped. 

Recent Barna data shows half of pastors say they are struggling in their ministry to kids and youth.

“Research shows, across the board, that there is no more important influence on a young person’s faith development than their parents. [Pastors, your] influence can best be leveraged when you equip parents who have, in general, far more time—especially during the pandemic—around their children and their teenagers.”

2. A Lack of Communication

Discipleship starts with a conversation, remember this? No text, no email — just a simple discussion to share about who God is. We were isolated before coronavirus, and it is becoming increasingly a problem to connect with others. Encourage others to develop a plan to safely stay in regular touch with people in the church community.

3. Not Seeking God

In a self-centered and self-reliant culture, our lives are to be about more than ourselves as Christ-followers. God wants us to seek Him earnestly. However, this has been supplanted by the ego. Jesus unequivocal declaration is — “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily.”

In seeking God and spending time with God, we find a need a foundation for the future.

“Historically, Gen Z and Millennials are less likely than older generations to be connected to a church,” Barna reports. “In Faith for Exiles, Kinnaman and Matlock share that the church dropout rate among 18–25-year-olds has increased from 59 percent to 64 percent in the past decade.”

4. A Decline in Church Attendance

Those who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and attend church at least monthly before the pandemic. Fifty-percent say they have streamed their regular church online within the past four weeks, research reveals. “Another 34 percent admits to streaming a different church service online other than their own, essentially “church hopping” digitally.”

Pre-COVID-19 church attendance has dwindled over the years. A Pew Research Center telephone survey conducted in 2018 and 2019, shows 65 percent of American adults describe themselves as “Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade.”

5. Depression and Mental Illness

National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief reported that eight percent of “adults older than 20 reported having depression during a given two-week period. Of that total, the prevalence of depression among women was almost double that seen in men.” Major depression is the second most debilitating condition, second to cardiovascular disease. Christians like anyone else are subjected to the illness, but the last thing they want to do is call attention to themselves. Barna data also shows a downward trend in hopeful feelings amid churchgoers. 

“One in three U.S. Protestant pastors (35 percent) believes their people to be hopeful in the current moment. One in five (18 percent) says their congregants are anxious, and one in seven says their people are tired or frustrated (14 percent each).

We don’t know all the factors influencing the next generation of believers, nevertheless — our world is changing, and all of us need to be consciously aware of the hurdles confronting the church and leaders.  

Corine Gatti-Santillo

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