"You were never their age!" This advice was given to me when I first started in university ministry. It was a reminder that the students I was working with came from a whole different set of experiences than mine, and were faced with a very different world. I couldn't assume to understand them or their environment based on my own experience in college. Here are some excerpts from a letter written by Rev. Ron De Young, Campus Pastor at Western Michigan University. In a recent conversation with Ron, I could sense his enthusiasm as he described his journey in getting to know and appreciate this new generation and what matters to them. Take a look at what Ron has written and jump in with your own thoughts, experience, and ideas!
"For several years we have been hearing that here is a new generation of students at the university. We have been told that they are very relational and friendly. This does not mean, however, that they have been easy to reach with either the gospel or to engage in discipleship.
Size also matters to this generation. In the past we would seek to have small groups of 6 to10 students. The new generation seeks a size of 3 to 6 students. Recently I asked some students why they prefer to belong to a small group? Along with agreeing with my assumption, they made some interesting comments. I learned that the way they desire to process information and learn is not by being told what to think or believe. They would rather sit down in a small group where each person can give their insights and thoughts and then learn from each other. The small group is very relational based. One girl felt that if she said something in a larger group, people might pull faces at her or not take her serious. She also said they she may not feel comfortable to express her opinion. Relationships and a sense of belonging is essential.
What does this mean with ministry, discipleship, and leadership training? Obviously, our emphasis needs to be on small groups. We also need to come back to the concept of friendships. A small group leader needs to know how to reach out, listen and relate more deeply with a few students rather than many. We may be moving more to the idea that just a few students, with our encouragement, journey together in their faith and spiritual development and then as they reach out to others, they multiply their small groups. There may still be a larger group setting in which many small groups can come together. We are on a journey of learning and discovering. The goal of reaching unbelievers and discipling believers has not changed. It just appears that the way we go about it has changed."