An EPIC Strategy: Ministering to Millennials

Despite living in the 21st century, our greatest example of a teacher is from the first century. He is, of course, the Lord, Jesus Christ! He showed us how to actually relate to people, engage them and guide them to being the best they could be. He wasn’t a directive type of teacher who monologued people to death but rather encouraged dialogue. He did so by drawing His disciples into experiential learning. He empowered His disciples to participate and create solutions. He spoke in narratives and metaphors to articulate truth and He painted pictures with words that enlivened the mind and heart. Jesus made room for His disciples to connect through conversation even when there was disagreement and debate.
This is the kind of teacher and leader that is needed today, especially when dealing with the Millennials and Generation X. Every generation has had unique characteristics that required certain leadership methods. Of course, there are similarities in every generation as well. But it is crucial to understand those unique issues in order to apply the right relational patterns for breakthrough.
Dr. Leonard Sweet, an American theologian, church historian, pastor and author has written and spoken extensively on the ways this current generation responds based upon cultural and family factors. It is Dr. Sweet that describes the way that Millennials and Generation X should be engaged. He defines this way as EPIC. EPIC is an acrostic that stands for - Experiential, Participatory, Imagery and Connection. I will take time to briefly outline these things in an effort to help us reach this generation and to be effective at discipleship and mission through the local church.
First, let’s understand the unique characteristics of the current living generations and the factors that have contributed to the way they are. If we want to be effective with the gospel, we need to know what makes people tick. We need to understand our audience - not to change the gospel or cater it to the current culture, but rather to simply understand why they respond the way they do. While the message never changes, our methods of communication and connection should be evaluated so that we are clear with the message. At the end of the day, everyone has a personal responsibility with what they hear. There is a chart below that can assist us in understanding the generations.
Leonard Sweet has done a great job giving us some valuable keys to reaching the Millennials (Generation Y) and (Generation Z). EPIC stands for:
E – Experiential
Young people in our day and time are experiential in nature. They are more prone to learn through experience as opposed to sermons and lectures. They are in need of environments that are interactive and inclusive. The more they experience an issue the greater the absorption rate of said issue. They need experiential guides more than they need verbal instructors only. Of course, the best case scenario is both, but they will miss most of what is taught if they are not empowered through engagement.
P – Participatory
Young people need to be included in the process of making decisions. They do not respond well to being token participants. Rather, when included they become passionate for what it is they have part in. Generations Y and Z have grown up in situations where they have had a voice, more specifically in the home. The extreme of this is that parents allowed decisions to be made perhaps too soon and now there is an aspect of spoiling that carries over. The social media age has pulled these young people in to participate in making decisions via apps, texts, internet, etc. However, the characteristic of needing to participate remains. So how do we now develop that characteristic to function in a mature, positive way for the betterment of the young person and those that will be served? Young people need to be included at a rate that keeps their interest level high while helping them to understand the process of growing influence. A renewed understanding of responsibility and accountability is needed. The key is that older generations identify how we can better connect with the youth and communicate in ways that draw them in believing that they are value to the process.
I – Imagery
We are living in a highly visual age. With TV, internet, billboards, mall displays, etc., we are bombarded on every side with imagery aimed to influence. Words are not as important as they once were - a picture is indeed worth a thousand or more words. The younger generations are motivated more by what they see than what they hear. The media and business understands this far more than the church and the church is hurt by this. We are so afraid that learning anything from anthropology, sociology and social sciences is to compromise the Scriptures and our religious tradition. Yet, it is unwise not be aware of the complexities of human nature and the human psyche.
Jesus, Himself, used imagery to communicate the truths of the Kingdom. Yes, He spoke and used words, but prior to technology, there was an art in painting pictures with words that touched the heart. Jesus did this well! We need to understand the tools that we have at our disposal to make a connection with the generations that are moved by imagery.
C – Connection
Dialogue is the desire of the day! Young people are hungry for community, conversation and real connection. They find this, unfortunately, in places like Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. While these things can be positive tools for good, it would be far better for real, human, personal connection. Young people rise up and are at their best when they are able to discuss even debate with one another as well as those that are older. While this certainly can and has created division, if facilitated properly without judgement, it can create a greater connection than what we might imagine.
Connection happens best when there is a forum for process. In the process, there should be freedom to share ideas and thoughts, reflect on these ideas and thoughts, revisit these ideas and thoughts and even think out loud without criticism.
We are living in challenging times and there is a great need for the church to rethink it’s methodology for reaching the younger generations. This type of comment could invoke criticism from those who think that I am promoting compromise but again, it is not about changing the message of the gospel. It is about removing the hindrances (as best we can) that can cause young people to not hear the gospel and learn how the gospel not only saves but sanctifies. Jesus was criticized for a new method of dealing with people. He conversed with people, touched people, loved people, and listened to people. He gave people experiences not just words. He led His own disciples to participate in His ministry and of course, they eventually led the gospel movement. He taught with imagery and visuals that gave people real perspective and understanding. And He led people as well as His own leaders to connect at deep levels through dialogue, disagreement and debate.
Christ is our example of how we today can be effective at reaching the NOW generation as well as the NEXT. Our hope that together, the NOW and the NEXT will become NEW
through and EPIC ministry to all!

No Comments