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Say hi to the American teenager, circa 2016

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students, Eastman, Facebook Teenagers still like to be together, as the youth group from First Baptist Eastman is here on a recent ski trip, but technology has dramatically changed the way they communicate. That's just one of the topics student ministry leaders in Georgia will be discussing next month at the Spring Forum held in Duluth. FB EASTMAN YOUTH/Facebook

Netflix is king.

Bernie is the man.

Thumbs down on the Kardashians.

Some perspectives of today’s teens may surprise you, others not so much. Next month student ministry leaders from around Georgia will meet at the Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth to discuss current and future methods of evangelism for teenagers, in effect to “generate curiosity about the church and God among lost teenagers in the community,” said Brian Bone, state missionary with Student Groups and Faith Development for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

John Paul Basham of LifeWay Students will lead the discussion “Captivating the Curious”, helped by Bone and fellow state missionaries Doug Couch and Cindy Fruitticher. The April 14 Spring Forum, slated for 10 a.m.-2 p.m., is free to participants and includes lunch.

“We want to create discussion points for student leaders to learn from each other and apply to their own settings,” said Bone. “Very often we stumble into successes in ministry that, we’ve found out, are highly replicable. The idea is for those successes to be shared with others and implemented in those churches.”

The None-ness of Millennials brought consternation among church leaders following a Pew Study last year that 70% of those born between 1981 and 1996 claim no affiliation with religion. The current group of students making up your church’s youth group are from Generation Z, the accepted moniker for those born after 1996. To them smartphones have always been around, 9/11 was experienced only through history, and Britney Spears is old.

Understanding the current youth culture and then applying lessons about the Gospel has always been the challenge for adult leaders no matter the decade. At no other time, though, has the connectedness offered through technology dominated that arena. Business Insider spoke with 60 American teenagers across ages, location, and demographic groups to get a picture of Generation Z.  It found:

  • They admit to spending a lot of time on their phones, but are a little embarrassed (at least this sample group was) to admit how much time they spend. Since most of them got their first smartphone at age 11, they’re pretty adept with the devices.
  • Favorite apps are Snapchat and Instagram, though more than you’d think like Twitter. Facebook? Have fun with that, mom.
  • TV as adults remember it barely registers with students. Streaming video is the norm via services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
  • Their stars are as likely to come from YouTube and Vine than TV and movies. Names like Brendon Urie, Miranda Sings, and Troye Sivan may not be familiar to adults but they likely are to the students occupying youth room couches on Wednesdays and Sundays. Side note: a Swedish guy who goes by PewDiePie made $12 million (not a misprint) last year from people watching him play video games on YouTube. Side note #2: The writer of this article was successfully harassed by his 13-year-old daughter into taking her to The Fox Theater in Atlanta next month not for a concert or play, but to watch a show by two skinny British guys who’ve become famous on YouTube apparently for playing funny games and painting cat whiskers on their faces.
  • More than half said they’d vote for Bernie Sanders for president, but Donald Trump was also a popular choice. Go figure.

Also in the Business Insider piece, teens admitted they no longer cared to keep up with the Kardashians except Kendall Jenner, who technically isn’t one. In a similar Buzzfeed article (a top news source for young people), though, Kim was still deemed acceptable.

The arrival of Generation Z comes with a fatigue over Millennials. They’ve always lived in a world of hyper-connectedness and although that brings concerns by adults, it's the only world today’s students have ever known. In their eyes, it’s an enhancement as opposed to a distraction. Of course, that constant skimming over social media comes into play for Bible study time when you consider that today’s average attention span is less than that of a goldfish.

Still, the biggest way to get a teenager’s attention is to be real. In January Georgia Baptist student ministers admitted their frustration with teaching online integrity to their students, only to see it undone by the behavior of adults. “One annoyance is when post a meme/video with profanities and they simply excuse it. …That sends a pretty clear signal,” expressed Billy Christol, youth/associate pastor at Burning Bush Baptist Church in Ringgold.

That topic will almost certainly be part of the April 14 discussion. “Students are looking for adults to be authentic,” said Fruitticher, who will be among those state missionaries assisting in small-group discussions after lunch. “To have influence in a person’s life, they have to trust you.

"How do you earn trust? By being trustworthy.”

discussion, leaders, leadership, ReachingNextGen, student ministry, students, technology

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