Field Guide 1: Life in an Anxious Age
REFLECTIONS AND NEXT STEPS INSPIRED BY THE RESEARCH
In this connected generation, pessimism about the future runs rampant; fears and worries drive decisions; and isolation and loneliness are creating a significant population of people who feel they have to make it on their own. This field guide will help you and your team think through how some of these concerns might be answered by your specific community. In other words, this guide is designed to help your church better discern how it might be the Church in your specific context.
This guide will be best read through as a team or presented to a team — no individual church leader ought to try to answer generational problems on their own! As you read through these questions and begin to form a plan for your church, consider the giftings of your community and how those might address some of the real needs that young adults have.
As you begin, answer the following questions:
- What are your thoughts and feelings after reading this section? Does it reflect the reality you’ve seen and experienced in your own context? How so, or how did it differ?
- If 30 percent of young people in your surrounding culture often feel a range of anxious emotions, what might be some reasons for this anxiety? How does that mirror or stand in contrast to fears expressed by other generations in your community or congregation? Where might the wisdom of the past have something to offer to young adults, and where might new strategies be needed?
- Connection to others is a clear felt need for many people in the 18–35-year-old age range. In what ways do you think your church or gathering is equipped to address this need? What are some other ways you might be able to more intentionally answer this need?
Forming a plan
The data in this report show two clear trends that you and your team can address through the context of your faith community. The first is that those who are anxious may be predisposed to seek out community. And the second is that connectivity for young adults is a key factor in their optimism about the world, and in feeling cared for. These two factors are intimately related, and your expression of the local church is uniquely suited to help 18–35-year-olds navigate these difficult questions.
If a young adult feels they’re facing an uncertain reality with no support and a limited amount of opportunity, it’s no wonder they feel anxious about the future. The Church is called by God to address this disconnection. A participant in your community ought to have immediate access to multi-generational connection and shared purpose. This is not to say anxiety will disappear, but the call of Christ is one that provides connection to a larger body and a hope that perseveres in spite of an uncertain future. If disconnection may be a root cause of young adults’ anxiety and pessimism about the future, than the relationship and connections offered by church communities may be a potent antidote.
For this antidote to work, you’ll need to ensure connection can flourish within your context. And here, it’s best to take a hard look at what your church is offering to young adults and where you have room to grow.
Multi-generational wisdom: One source of connection may be the older adults in your church, who can offer wisdom and discernment to the Millennials and Gen Z in your midst. Avoid being patronising or dismissive to the concerns of the young adults in your context – inside or outside of your church community – and instead focus on real relationships and deep connections between people of different ages and experiences. Practise listening, understanding and cultivating a community of compassion and empathy.
Bearing burdens, navigating milestones: Research shows that many 18–35-year-olds are hoping for vocational security before marrying, having children or home ownership. While these markers are of course not necessary for any person – much less any Christian – they are still fraught for people trying to navigate them alone. Your community can help equip young adults find a sense of stability and discern how best to pursue their hopes (or discern to change those hopes!), while offering a safe, helpful place to do the hard work of discernment. For instance, if someone in your context is burning out or fearful about making a marriage commitment or having children because of financial stressors, provided those desires are not counter to God’s call, your church could help bear financial burdens or bless young adults with marital guidance, childcare or other practical aid.
Common purpose: At their best, church communities provide a sense of purpose and meaning to all participants in their community and invite outsiders into a shared sense of mission. While this has value to everyone, it may hold particular meaning for a generation where many feel an acute lack of connection to a larger purpose or community. Discern how your church’s mission is invitational and aspirational, and how you can disciple people in your church context into a welcoming community that fosters connection and hope.
How Can Your Church Community be an Answer for the Following Feelings Reported by Many Young Adults?
‘I’m uncertain about the future’
‘I feel pressure to be successful’
‘I feel sad or depressed’
‘I’m afraid to fail’
‘I feel anxious about important decisions’