New Generations Change Things
Most of today’s youth workers are probably Millennials – the generation we were told would change everything. With the recent surge of immigration, this age group became America’s largest generation – and has certainly emerged as the most influential population segment in this country’s history.
In generational sequence, the Millennials were followed by Generation Z – which includes today’s teenagers and college age students. Gen. Z’ers have become the most diverse, progressive, and financially-minded generation in recent US history. Older youth workers and other church leaders were told by some experts to “quit doing Millennial ministry” because this new generation would look, act, think, and behave much differently than then their adolescent predecessors.
Now a new generation is looming on our youth ministry horizons. It is almost time for “Generation Alpha” to emerge. This moniker, coined by Australian marketer, Mark McCrindle, nicknamed the globe’s newest generation with the first letter in Greek alphabet. While there is no real consensus yet about what will become the name that sticks for this emerging generation, there is no doubt that like their generational forefathers, this new age group is about to change everything – including the way we do local church youth ministry.
So, it will soon be time to quit doing “Generation Z” ministry and concentrate on reaching and ministering to Generation Alpha instead.
Introducing Generation Alpha
Alphas are the kids born between 2010 and 2025 and will be the first generation to live entirely in the twenty-first century. Ironically, based upon current life expectancy rates, they will also be the first generation to see the twenty-second century. They are also likely to be the generation most affected by the lasting impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
The members of Generation Alpha have been featured on the internet their entire lives – from the “gender-reveal parties” thrown by their parents, to their own personal YouTube channels, and the TikTok videos they made during the pandemic. Because most Alpha’s are the offspring of Millennials, they are also more likely to be from non-traditional households – with older parents and fewer sibling than the recent previous generations before them.
The leading edge of Generation Alpha are today’s 11-year-olds. In only two or three short years, they will be members of our church youth groups – and in ten years they will be the generation of young adults that everyone is talking about.
Alphas also have the potential to change everything we know to true about youth ministry – which means that it is essential for today’s youth workers and other church leaders to do all that we can right now to learn about this new generation and to anticipate the likelihood of sweeping changes we will need to make in our church youth ministries to reach this new generation.
Changes Alphas Will Make in Youth Ministry
- Generation Alpha will be the age group most impacted by COVID – and that means that church and ministry leaders will need to change the way they do ministry to truly impact this new generation.
The recent coronavirus situation will predictably be the defining moment for the members of Generation Alpha. Each recent generation in US history has been characterized by one seminal event or set of circumstances: for the “Greatest Generation”, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor; for Baby Boomers, it was the assassination of President Kennedy, for Millennials is was the attacks of 9/11; and for Alphas it will no doubt be the global COVID-19 crisis.
Generational defining moments tend to be cultural “game changers” in that these events have lasting emotional or social effects on the age groups that go through these life-altering circumstances during the same stage of their lives. Church and ministry leaders must recognize that the structures of their ministries will need to change in response to a new generation having experienced this global pandemic together.
It is no wonder that we are hearing so much about the mental health issues that today’s children and young people are experiencing. Alphas are a generation that will need to learn how to cope with emotional responses such as fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. They have been told to be “socially distant” from their peers and from other adults. They have also seen their parents and grandparents react to significant financial struggles.
Church leaders cannot expect this new generation and their parents or other caregivers to come back to church programs that feature a “let’s get back to normal” approach. Their “new normal” will look quite different than what things used to be.
The COVID crisis, and this new generation’s reaction to the experiences surrounding it, will be one reason why church and ministry leaders will need to change their methodologies to reach and impact this new generation.
- The majority of Generation Alpha in America are from non-traditional or hurting and dysfunctional households – and that means the way churches organize their ministries to households and families must change.
The stay-at-home culture that developed surrounding the coronavirus situation was not a positive thing for most members of Generation Alpha. Being at home for extended periods of time was not always healthy or even safe for some members of Generation Alpha.
Demographics reveal that Alphas are much more likely to be raised in non-traditional households than members of any previous American generation. The number of single-parent, co-habiting, same-sex, and multi-generational homes is growing significantly. The number of kids not living with both of their biological parents is also increasing rapidly. Plus, household violence and abuse are rampant. One writer put it this way, “When you look at a child in this generation, you never know what kind of family life they have experienced.”
Churches can no longer expect that the majority of kids who attend their “kids’ ministry” will do so with supportive parents who are on the same page as the church leaders. That is most likely not the case anymore. In fact, many youth workers have told me that their experience is that many of today’s families do not even attend church or church functions regularly due to other commitments and priorities in their lives.
Youth workers who want to effectively reach Generation Alpha will need to understand that the days when most Christian parents are committed to being the primary spiritual influence on their own kids is probably over.
- Members of Generation Alpha are likely to be “tech creators” more than they are “tech consumers” – which means that churches and ministries must give this new generation space to create and connect online.
Generation Z was perhaps the first generation to truly deserve the label as “digital natives”. As the offspring of Generation X (the first generation to fully utilize computers and tablets as tools in their own work environment), most Gen. Z’ers literally grew up with their own iPads and iPhones.
This phenomenon is even more ubiquitous with Alphas. As Mark McCrindle puts it, “They are the most technologically literate generation to ever grace the planet!” Most of today’s children already grew up with their own technology – and then COVID hit and forced almost every elementary school in this country to utilize virtual or hybrid education.
Using technological tools is not foreign to Alphas, but staying at home for school will perhaps prove to be another game changer for this generation. They didn’t have personal interaction with teachers or peers for several months – which is a long time in the life of a child.
There are likely to be lasting ramifications resulting from virtual or hybrid education, including the thwarting of children’s social skills and the increased development of kids’ use of technology. This new generation were already accomplished tech users, but the move to virtual and hybrid education will probably motivate them toward becoming tech creators more than just tech consumers. One writer says, “…kids especially—should be able to create technology. If you can create the technology you want, you can create the future you want, too.”
In fact, it is estimated that 65 percent of today’s children will end up working in a job as adults that doesn’t even exist yet.
- Generation Alpha is growing up in a culture where the church is much less of a priority than it was for previous generations. This reality will mean that church leaders will be forced to demonstrate that church and church functions are vitally important for all generations.
The most pressing distinction of Generation Alpha is that the majority of that cohort will have had no connection with church at all. As already mentioned, the members of this generation are generally the children of Millennials, the first generation who left “religion, and is not coming back.”
Alphas are not a generation who will make church a priority. Their parents aren’t making a commitment to church, and neither will they. This will force church leaders to take new and different strategies to reach and effectively minister to them.
- There’s no doubt that most Alphas are growing up with a “post-Christian” and “post-church” mindset – which means that it will be essential for churches and ministries to act like cross-cultural missionaries to reach and impact this new generation.
Pastor James White, in his groundbreaking book Meet Generation Z, notes “the most defining mark of members of Generation Z, in terms of their spiritual lives, is their spiritual illiteracy…They do not know what the Bible says. They do not know the basics of Christian belief or theology.” This knowledge gap is the result of a massive cultural value shift from the sacred to the secular, and it has led to increasing numbers of students abandoning their faith and losing interest in the church.
If White’s observations are true with the previous generation, one wonders how the next generation will act about church and organized religion. Alphas are definitely growing up in a post-Christian and post-church culture.
It is true once again that this emerging generation is likely to change everything – which means that wise youth pastors and other church leaders should prayerfully strategize now how to change the look, structure, and focus of our ministries to students to effectively impact Generation Alpha.
 Personal note: I am assuming that the average age of a youth pastor in the United States at this present moment is approximately 25 to 35 years old. If this statistic is true, it means that most of today’s youth pastors would be Millennials.
 “The of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations”, by Mark McCrindle, published by the University of New South Wales Press, 2010.
 Here is a link to a Zoom webinar I did, “Why Learning About Generation Alpha is Essential for Church Leaders?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Torgru5cOTY&t=5s, and here are the notes for that webinar: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youthministryquestions.com%2Fs%2Falpha-notes_booklet_final.pdf