Gen Y: Red or Blue?
Youth pastors have always taken care of young people because they realize that one day those young people will pick their nursing homes. However, well before that day, they just might pick our president, too.
If you are in youth ministry, you have no doubt heard the terms “Gen Y” or “Generation Y.” This group of 13-29 year olds, also known as Millennials, makes up 20% of the American population with 68 million members. This HUGE voting bloc, made up of the 43 million eligible voters (18 and older), plans on making their voice heard on November 4th. The political frontrunners are already listening to their roar, with many of them making concerted efforts to win this huge portion of the vote. Their strategies include appearing on television shows like Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and tapping into the hordes of Internet-based young voters on Facebook and MySpace.
Their “outreach” is intentional and expensive, but appears to be working. In the Iowa caucus, 22% of the total voters were under 30! In the New Hampshire primary, eligible Gen Y voters composed 43% of the total voters!
So, who is Gen Y and what makes them tick? The generational gap separating them from the preceding Gen X is more distinct than any other. Their DNA is easily recognizable. Gen Y is more racially and ethnically diverse than any other generation, and they are incredibly independent because of factors on their family structures such as high divorce rates, and the prevalence of single parenting and child care. In spite of the challenges, they feel overwhelmingly optimistic about the future of their world. And instant gratification is all they have ever known. (For a phenomenal resource on understanding and leading Gen Y, check out THE NEW BREED, by Jonathan and Tom McKee.)
On November 4th, Gen Y will get a chance to weigh in on their top 5 concerns in the voting booth.
- Education – Rising tuition rates have soared over the past few years, leaving the average college grad with $20,000 in student loan debts plus exorbitant credit card debt.
- Economy – Risks of growing unemployment, workplace instability, and frequent job turnovers are the plaques this generation will hang on the walls of their cubicles.
- Iraq – Anti-war activism is high in this group as total American deaths approach 3,000 since the invasion, with most of them being between the ages of 18-29 years old.
- Health Care – One in three of young Americans do not have health insurance compared to one in six total Americans. Most Y’ers are aware of the financial doom that could accompany an uninsured medical emergency.
- Energy – Gen Y leads the rant on the high costs of energy because of the cramp it causes their lifestyles. When polled, it’s found that they are more concerned with developing new energy sources than protecting the environment.
Relevant Magazine recently ran an online poll asking their Gen Y readers about the 2008 presidential election. Here’s what they found:
Do you support the war in Iraq? 65% said no
Is it ever OK for the president to lie to the people? 55% said no
Who is most likely to become the next president? 31% said Hillary Clinton
Who is the least “Christian” candidate? 46% said Hillary Clinton
Of the following, George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Angelina Jolie, Joel Osteen, Bono, or Oprah, who would make a better president? 52% said Bono
And most importantly, who would Jesus vote for? 28% said Barack Obama
So, what do we as youth pastors do with Gen Y? To ignore them would be foolish, because they ARE the populous of youth ministries today. But, though they might have a very different worldview than you and me, there are some aspects of their DNA that can propel the Gospel.
- They put their money, and themselves, where their mouth is. Gen Y is the most civic-minded group in 30 years. Part of high school graduation requirements in many states includes completion of 75 hours of community service. This is not a habit they shake as they go on to college. They get involved in what interests/motivates them. Further, they dump about $160 billion into the economy each year! (No wonder politicians are listening.)
- They are interested in conversation. Granted, that conversation may be online and text-based, but it is an exchange nonetheless. The millions and millions of blogs, chats, instant messages, and Facebook and MySpace groups are evidence of this. You can probably weigh in on their thinking; you just might have to strategically choose how to do so.
- They are looking for a leader. It has been a half century-JFK’s campaign to be exact-since America has witnessed this kind of thrill from interested young people. “Apathy is no longer cool,” says Marc Morgenstern, director of Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan organization that chases after 18 year olds in the hopes of getting them registered to vote. Over a quarter million have done so this year.
There are lots of conversations that we can engage our students in during this particular season. “What makes a good leader?” “How will this election affect me?” “Are the candidates really what they claim to be?” “How will each candidate align with Jesus’ mission?” This election year is an exciting time for our students. Let’s make sure we capitalize on their interest.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.