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 for the young people in your congregation.
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 with your church, consider the giftings of your community and how those might address some of the real needs of the young Christians in your midst.
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 country and culture? How so, or how did it differ?
- If 25 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 need and desire 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 for the young Christians in your country? 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 in the context of your faith community. The first is that those who are anxious may be well served by finding a community to participate in. 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-yearolds navigate these difficult questions.
It makes sense that young adults who are not well connected to their peers or their surrounding societies also show significant pessimism about the future or sense high pressure to perform and make their own path toward success. If a young person 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. But the Church, regardless of country or culture, is called by God to address this disconnection. A Christian in your church ought to have immediate access to multi-generational connection and shared purpose. This won’t make anxiety disappear, but church is meant to provide connection to a larger body and a hope that perseveres despite an uncertain future. If disconnection is a root cause of young adults’ anxiety, isolation and pessimism about the future, then the relationship and connections offered in your church may be a powerful help for the young Christians you serve.
Of course, for this help 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 currently offers to young followers of Christ who come to you and where you have room to grow. Rest assured that your plan need not necessarily be driven by more activities or more programmes. With consideration of your church’s capacity, ensure that your planning process is led by objectives rather than things to do. You may find that forging deeper relationships with young adults simply requires (for example) intentional, meaningful and sustained conversations over coffee, instead of another elaborate church event.
Multi-generational wisdom: One source of connection may be the older adults in your church, who can offer wisdom and discernment to the young adults in your congregation. Avoid being either patronising or dismissive of the concerns of the young adults in your community or too timid about embracing the credibility you might have accumulated through life experiences. Instead, focus on real relationships and deep connections between people of different ages and experiences. Practise listening, understanding and cultivating a church full of compassion and empathy.
Bearing burdens, navigating milestones: Research shows that many 18–35-year-olds are hoping for career security before marrying, having children or home ownership. This might look different in different places – in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia alone, the hopes of young people might look different from country to country. But even at the lowest levels, more than a quarter of young adults says they hope to achieve major life events, like having children or starting a business, in the next 10 years. That is a significant number of people! Your church can help equip Christian young adults to find a sense of stability and discern how best to pursue their hopes (or change those hopes) while offering a safe, supportive place to do the hard work of discernment.
Common purpose: At their best, church communities provide a sense of purpose and meaning to all participants in their community, allowing members to think of each other as part of the same family. While this of course has value to everyone in your church, it may hold particular meaning for a generation in which many feel an acute lack of connection to a larger purpose or community. How can you inspire Christian young people to feel part of something bigger than themselves.
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 decicions’