10 reasons youthworkers (& the church) should avoid using Generationalisms (like ‘millenial’)

Why does Christian youthwork/ministry (in particular) like using Generationalisms? – and is this one way of distinguishing it from youth work which doesnt.

This week, Generations and Generationalisms were back in the spotlight. As if the Guardian doesnt say enough, the BBC ran a thing this week, and a few articles on Generation Z – theres a programme on iplayer which they aired. It put into the public domain the acceptance of using the derivation ‘generation’ to describe a very large group of people, and use universal descriptions to do so. Frequent readers of this blog will have encountered articles on Generational generalisations before. including this one: ‘Have Millenials Killed Youth Ministry?  and this one, based on YFCs research into Generation Z, from a sample of 1100 – On Generation Z .

I think there are a number of reasons why anyone who has a serious interest in delivering faith based, value orientated youth work that seeks to respect young people, discover their needs and gifts through attention to the community, through conversation and developing from the ground – should avoid generationalisms– and also prophetically challenge their use, that seems to exist within Christian youthwork & ministry. (Just google generation X, Y, Z and youth ministry to discover a whole load of resources/books on this)

These are 10 reasons to avoid generalising generations, and using this as a tool for working with people: 

  1. Using Generalisations for Generations (X, Y, Z) lumps people together as a whole – and so when one or two people cause division within it – the whole is tarnished. However, whilst some groups get compassion, then compassion fatigue –  I am not sure the plight of young people has ever done so ( as i said here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-15I   ) So generationalisms merely drive the wedge further. 
  2. Generationalism are based on Averages. The beauty of averages is that they never exist in reality – persons do not completely fit. There is no ‘Generation Z’ person. 
  3. I might argue that Youth Culture doesnt really exist, young people only exist in the communities that they are part of, whether digital, physical. There are barely sub cultures anymore – only specific young people in the estates we work with. And young people in churches are generally just the above average clever ones, so generationalisms are a waste of time. 
  4. Generalisations judge. To work with young people – we need to discover them for who they are, not that they conform to pre determined stereotypes. We can only impact the young people we see – it is not fair that they are being told they should be like, or conform to, certain characteristics, just because thats what society is determining. Image result for generation x
  5. Generationalisms are created by sociologists, perpetuated by the media and repeat ad finitum the continual moral fears and panics that the older group say about the younger one. All that was said about me as Gen X, is no only being repeated about millenials. Just that we might have afforded houses, and have parents with a knowledge of WW2. However, generationalisms seek to maintain control. It is a generation game that as youthworkers, churches and projects we shouldnt be playing- instead should be trying to reconcile, restore and bring community together. (on the generation game see here: http://insidestory.org.au/the-generation-game/ )
  6.  Young people are marginalised enough – due to legal status, age, autonomy, and the media – so adding this whole new level of prejudgement should be challenged – especially when they get blamed… Image result for Millennial
  7. When in the moment talking with young people – are generationalisms actually helpful? – no i didnt think so…
  8. Generationalisms (X, Y, Z, etc) are a marketers dream. Helps to discover trends and all that for creating sales and merchandising – is that who we are as youthworkers – and young people are they our consumers? Sometimes young people are only given the chance to be consumers of out activities – rather than learners, deciders, and performers. Generationalisms are to generate sales. Image result for generation z
  9. Jesus didnt do it. Nope – he had compassion on the masses. He judged the religious leaders. But he didnt coome down from the transfiguration and suggest that the disciples needed to do some research in Generation A – the generation influenced by Athens, and Abacus’s – no he said go to a village, go and connect, go and seek hospitality, travel light – with limited knowledge.  (NB maybe post generation Z, its back to generation A – the Apple generation…?)
  10. Learning from the context and its immediacy is far more beneficial. It may be good to know about schools, health, sports and activities, and housing, transport and family networks in building up a picture of the community life of young people – but in one sense even this pales into insignificance compared to what is learned about young people from them directly, and it is learning from the context, strategising in the context that we need to do. Generationalisms cause us to make distant strategies – the only strategy we should make is with young people in the space and place with them, learning and emerging as we go.

If they are useful, then it might be worth reflecting on why they are useful, and for what purpose, and what this might say about the type of work we are trying to do with young people. Is it as universalised, or sales, or general, and so generalisations are helpful. Is it about shaping universal resources. If we’re serious about meeting young people where they’re at, however slightly condescending this sounds, then we travel light and have openness to learn directly from young people with them, not about them before we get there. Seeking first to understand, to love and respect.


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