By Mark A. Taylor
Young adults may lead the way in social networking, but their hours with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram don’t help all of them feel connected. In fact, among Americans today, the youngest adults are most likely to say they’re still looking for a friend.
The Barna Group reports 20 percent of Americans describe themselves as lonely, up from about 10 percent just 10 years ago, “a paradoxical reality in the full swing of the social media age.” In that same decade, the number of Americans “trying to find a few good friends” has increased from 31 to 37 percent. But almost half of millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s and the greatest users of social media) say they’re looking for friendship.
The Barna findings are supported by the experience of Randy and Julie Gariss, whom we interviewed during the North American Christian Convention in Louisville in July.
“What are the greatest needs you see in the generation coming behind you?” Paul asked them, and Julie said, “They need strong mentoring. They plead for it. They think of themselves as so connected because of social media, but face time—they long for it.”
Randy, minister with College Heights Christian Church in Joplin, Missouri, took the trend a step further. Speaking of today’s young church leaders, he said, “They long for connections with someone who’s been godly for a lot of years. They need old codgers! If I could wave a magic wand, I’d immediately put these young leaders in the hip pocket of someone from the old generation who could love on them.”
He hastened to add that “old codgers” need the young leaders too. And all of this has started me thinking.
It’s easy for older Christians to disengage from the generation taking their place. They may leave the eldership or their service as a ministry leader. They may step off the platform, making way for new music and younger worship leaders. They may feel they’re too tired or out of touch to make much of a difference in the church’s youth ministry or children’s programs.
Sometimes this is good. The church suffers without the energy and fresh ideas of young leaders. But young leaders are looking for examples, and older Christians need not self-consciously assume they no longer have something to offer.
It’s true that younger leaders may seem to push older church members aside. Rather than retreating in hurt or self-doubt, though, older leaders can respond with support.
My suggestion? Take a young leader to lunch! Find the good in what he’s doing and tell him why you appreciate it. Anticipate the family needs she may be experiencing and offer to help. Listen. Love. Offer to pray.
And wait. If Barna and the Garisses are right, the young leader may soon respond by asking your opinion and following your advice—at least some of it! And not only will they have found a friend—you’ll have one too.
Randy Gariss talks about marriage and ministry in CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s BlogTalkRadio program, “Beyond the Standard” here.