Hang out around any given church on any given Sunday after any given worship service and you are likely to see small groups of people talking with each other. Those groups typically center around friends according to age. What is often lacking are intentional interactions between the generations. The younger generations, particularly teens and college-age persons, need and want to have relationships with older believers in the faith. They tend, however, to lack the confidence to go after older persons in order to be mentored or influenced by them. Instead, I believe the onus is on the older generations to go after the younger. The following is a brief exploration of the nature of relationships of younger generations so that the older generations can feel more equipped in going after them.
Maybe I’m just old, but it really seems like single persons ages 18-29 today have an incredible array of relationships, differing levels of friendship, and a complexity to their interactions that I didn’t have “back in my day.” What I mean is that relationships and friendships for twenty-somethings now seem much more gray, and less black and white. One isn’t always sure whether the relationship is dating, engaged, just friends, or what it exactly is. Because of this nebulous nature of relating, it is quite common for college students to call for the big “DTR” talk (define the relationship) with one another.
One of the reasons for this is the major activity and popularity of “hanging out.” Hanging out is typically sitting around with a group of people eating, watching movies, drinking, doing bible study, even studying. Its doing just about anything, but doing it together with others. Instead of dating, meetings between students often take place in a group, just hanging out. So, not a lot of definition takes place between two different people in the group. They aren’t always sure of whether a relationship is casual, serious, or something in between, where a friendship stands or how to relate and interact with others. Few teens, for example, seem to know when a relationship is romantic or not, or if it is an “open” relationship where two people are seeing other people. If this all seems kind of confusing, you are getting the point.
The DTR (define the relationship) talk, in an attempt to settle the status of the relationship, rarely seems to work well. So, many persons just go along and try to make the best of it by trying to figure out what is going on. Here is an opportunity for ministry, for we can help a younger person make sense of the nature of relationships. One of the things we can do is to really understand the reality of their interactions. For example, when I lived in a university town I used to often just “hang out” with college students, with no agenda other than just being with them. The local Perkins restaurant was at its busiest at midnight, filled with college students just hanging out. There are places in every town where young adults go, especially the bar scene. Bars aren’t just places to drink, but are locations of conviviality where persons have the chance to be around one another in a kind of secular church where fellowship happens, looking for a chance to relate to the opposite sex. All people desire intimacy and knowing that someone else cares about them. However illegitimately a young adult might pursue this, the inner affection is very real, and very much a need.
One of the best ways to minister to the younger generations in the church is to communicate to them that we “have their back”, that we care, love, and like them. No one can sniff out a disingenuous attitude quite like a teenager or college student, so it has to be an authentic desire to be around them. Also, this does not mean we have to pretend to be younger than we are. Instead, one of the greatest needs a young person has is to be in a mentoring relationship with someone older and wiser who can help them navigate life and bring some sort of definition to relationships that they lack. There is also, then, an equal need for adults to be trained in how to mentor others. The older generations could learn to “hang out” with younger generations and find individuals for whom they can build a solid one on one relationship with. If students, in particular, can have such relationships with adults now, it will serve them for a lifetime once they leave school.
So, how about just hanging out with a younger person sometime? Consider having your own redeemed version of the DTR talk with some of them, and lead by example in how to relate with others. Be a mentor, and walk alongside another with love, grace, and wisdom. If you were a missionary in a country of teens, college students, and single persons this is what you would do. Let’s do the work of entering into their lives!