Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — When Stanley Williams, Baptist Resource Network (BRN) director of BRN Next collegiate ministry, and Eric Reiber, BRN collegiate minister at Penn State University, took the floor, one thing was clear–they are devoted to bringing the truth of Christ to the next generation.

The duo taught a breakout session, “Unpacking what you need to know to impact the next Generation with the Gospel,” during the BRN’s 2021 Accelerate Conference on Oct. 5.

Their session started with Eric introducing a video compilation of college students answering the following five questions:

  1. If you needed relationship advice, who would you ask and why?
  2. Imagine for a moment that you had the thought, “Aah, life is good.” What would be happening in your life to cause you to have the thought, “Life is good”?
  3. Imagine you were guaranteed success if you worked really hard, what big problem would you try to solve?
  4. If you knew someone who was a little bit different and you wanted them to feel like they fit in, where would you take them where you know they would be accepted no matter who they are?
  5. If you were able to ask God (or the ultimate authority in the universe) one question they had to answer truthfully and clearly, what question would you ask?

These are the questions so many young adults are asking. To allow students a safe space to answer them is critical, and that’s exactly what the Next Gen team does on a daily basis. This video was made to not only shed light on what college students are so often wondering about but also to give pastors, lay persons and anyone interested in reaching the next generation a glimpse into a young adult’s heart, mind, and soul.

They highlighted several key topics relevant to the collegiate world. First, they talked about the culture the current generation in college was born into. This included three cultural norms for students: secularization – there is a less supportive context for faith; privatization – all things related to faith are a private affair; and pluralization – society is telling students that all faiths and worldviews are equally valid and true.

For this generation there is less support for their faith; all things related to faith are only for private discussion, and all worldviews are good and valid. This has unfortunately become the trend. Gen Z is born into this, they know no other ideology, this is normal to them.

Second, they gave us a picture of who these students are.

  • They have tight relation spheres versus social massive media presence. In other words, personal relationships are kept close and tight-knit. On the outside it looks like they are connected to a lot of people on social media, but, in reality, they are not. Eric also highlighted the idea that there is a high value placed on family because the family is one of the only authoritative people/groups they trust; and because of the digital world, the world is scary, therefore they keep those relationships extremely close.
  • They are stressed and anxious, and asking questions like, “What is my purpose? Who am I?” They are overstimulated and asking the question, “Can I finally relax in my life?”
  • They are content creators. They don’t want to replicate what we’ve already done. So, we need to guide them with wisdom, help them interpret their world, then let them go into the world.
  • They are pragmatic. They are no longer asking, “Is it true?” but rather “Is it good?” Also, “Is it worth it?, Is it going to be worth my time?”

Not only is asking questions something that this generation is doing, and doing often, but also using technology is at incredibly high rates. “Technology is something young people know, but it’s something that our generation has been introduced to,” Stan said. It’s key to understand the role technology plays in the lives of young adults and that it is the primary way in which they communicate.

So, who are these students?

Typically, the time of transition from high school to college and young adulthood is when we lose so many. “A student/collegiate minister is in the unique position to see the future, because (we) work with the future!” (R. Turner, BRN). Inasmuch, there are two pivotal transitions: high school to whatever they’re going to do as a young adult; and that they become Kingdom-focused when they come out of whatever that bubble is into the real world.

Where are these students?

Stan took us through five ideas to help us answer this question. In their development of a personal value system, young people have a lot of information but not a lot of values. In their resolution of the parent/child relationship, this is really a way to assert their own sense of autonomy and how they relate to that person as an authority. They are coming to terms with sexual identity, and in that process, have been normalized to believe that everything is everything, that everything is okay. As they deal with the need for intimacy (relationships and community), companionship and belonging are critical. Finally, they are going through the process of discovering their vocation/calling, which helps them find purpose.

So, with all that being said, what are some key takeaways for us to remember? How do we reach the next generation?

  • Prioritize experience before explanation.
  • Prioritize belonging over believing.
  • Prioritize identification before influence: you need to make them understand that what they are sharing is not alien to you; this will give you space to be seen as someone not completely unfamiliar with where they are coming from.
  • Communicate through image/icons more than words. Check out movies that this generation is watching; check out music they are listening to; find the themes that you can use to communicate the gospel and be relevant to them.
  • Cultivate trust before attempting to communicate truth. It’s critically important to make it a point to cultivate trust within the context of relationship with this generation before we communicate truth.
  • When you communicate be as multisensory as possible.

If you would like a copy of their presentation, please email Jennifer at jennifer516@msn.com.