Looking Back On 2019 – Trends, Stories, And Ideas

Jeff Harding
December 26th, 2019

All month long has been the season of anticipation, and as ministry workers, we are certainly anticipating what is to come in the New Year. When looking ahead, we must start with taking inventory of where we have been. Our culture is shifting at a rapid pace, but recent trends and events still help us minister to the next generation. 

Here are some trends, stories and ideas for us to reflect on from 2019.

Identity is More Fluid Than Ever

Merriam-Webster recently announced that “they” is the 2019 Word of the Year. The word saw an increase in online searches by 313% compared to 2018. Wherever you stand theologically on the issues of gender, sex and LGBTQ+, the cultural permeation of fluidity in our concept of identity is undeniable. This permeation has been a steady process, highlighted by Facebook announcing a list of options for gender identification with at least 52 options back in 2014. I have seen and heard more requests than I can count regarding how to minister to LGBTQ+ students from ministry workers this year than my last 14 years in ministry combined. How are you handling the reality of these students in your ministry? If you’re not sure, start with this question: “Would these students feel welcome and safe here?”

Games Aren’t the Only Thing Going Virtual

A recent YouGov poll concluded that more than 20% of millennials claim to not have a friend. The most revealing insight might be that among the 31% of Americans who say that making friends is difficult, more than a quarter of them say they “don’t feel like they need friends.” Imagine how much these figures will climb with our current Gen Z youth groups! The alternative of having a friend, however, isn’t necessarily what you might think. The Wall Street Journal published an article this past summer about the upward trend of online relationships, primarily romantic ones (that go way beyond dating websites). Online platonic relationships aren’t automatically bad, but the amount and perceived depth of them can be signs of extreme social anxiety and/or ineptitude. Notice the word perceived, as the depth of an online relationship has a shallow limit (romantic ones even more so). Healthy relationships require in-person interaction to flourish, which is hard and messy. Therefore, avoiding them by relegating one’s community to a primarily online context is more comfortable, but also more isolating. Communication and presence are not synonymous. Personally, I have experienced a few students in recent years involved in these relationships. This gives us an opportunity to talk with our students about how God has placed them where they are with purpose, and how those around them benefit from their presence and learning about God’s love for them. How are you helping students see the value of who God has placed around them?

If You’re Not Completely For Me, “Go Home.”

Polarization in the United States is at all-time high, and Christian leaders in 2019 not only participated in it, but even led the way at times. If the 2016 presidential election was the cultural stirring spoon for what we experience today, the issues of women in ministry and theological purity have been Christian ones. You probably recognize the “go home” reference from what John MacArthur said when asked about Beth Moore a few months ago. What culture and unfortunately some Christian leaders project is that absolute alignment is necessary for relationships to exist. To put it in terms that fans of The Mandalorian would understand, this is not the way. What would it be like if those outside our faith recognized Christians equally or more for what we are for rather than against? Moreover, can we unite with brothers and sisters in Christ on salvific issues while offering an ear instead of a sword on other issues? There are important hills to die on; however, you shouldn’t die on every hill…or even most hills. Are you teaching your students to listen and love on middle ground, or to throw rocks from deeply divided sides? Better yet, are you modeling it for them? 

Priorities and Perspectives 

Gen Z in 2019 has taken millennial trends to all new heights. They care even less about getting a driver’s license. Suicide and pornography have moved from taboo to the norm. Jobs are not a priority (2019 had the lowest youth employment rate since 1966.) Anxiety and depression are rampant and still rising. Their skulls are growing horns from looking down at phones. Topping it off, regardless of actual age, anything can be dismissed with “Ok, Boomer.”  

This post may seem pessimistic, but ministry requires us to examine how our world and sinful nature is affecting those in our care. Undoubtedly, we have teenagers who are generous, kind, receptive, and living changed lives because of the gospel. Let’s make sure we help them find their identity in Christ, traverse mountains and valleys to build relationships, learn to reach out without lashing out, and know how to care for the temple of the Spirit. 

Here’s to a new decade of being in the trenches with the resurrection hope that surpasses all obstacles.

Jeff Harding

Jeff is a 17-year youth ministry veteran. He’s a Phoenix native, ASU Sun Devil, Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, and Chipotle fanatic. He currently serves as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries, as well as the youth minister at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, TX. You can also hear him on his weekly podcast, Youth Ministry Maverick, at youthministrymaverick.com or wherever you stream podcasts.

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