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Reaching Students Across the Generation Gap

Sometimes it feels like students these days are so different - different than we were, and different than the students we've had before. Our latest episode of the podcast is all about specific ways to cross the generational gap, which is so big it could be considered a cultural gulf. What strategies and insights can we use to reach students who are culturally so different from us? Listen to Val O'Brien share how to reach our Gen Z and Gen Alpha students.

listen here:

The gap between millennials and Gen Z is so huge, you can think of it as a fault line. The main reason for this is the introduction of the internet because it has changed the way that people process information. How do we engage the next generation, while keeping this in mind?

Here are 3 pieces of advice from Val O'Brien, who has spent 10+ years serving in full-time student ministry:

1. Patience

If you find yourself getting frustrated because things aren't going the way that you want, temporarily suspend judgement. James 1:19-20 (ESV) says, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."

If you feel offended by something a student says, be slow to speak and quick to listen. That doesn't mean we don't have convictions, but also remember that people have reasons for the ways that they behave and we want to get to the root of it. Ask yourself:

  • Why am I so bothered by the different way they act?
  • How can I extend grace to them in this moment?
  • Lord, where does my heart need to be before I engage their hearts?

If we want to engage students' hearts, not just their minds, it starts with us looking at our own hearts first. 

2. humble yourself

Take the example of Jesus and take on the nature of a servant. It is humbling to assume that you don't know the nuances of everything. Just like if we were visiting another country, we wouldn't jump to judgement and assume that we know best.

Set aside your pre-conceived ideas. Instead of jumping to fix problems students share, take the time to hear them and ask questions to get them thinking. This leaves more room for the Holy Spirit to work instead of us as humans trying to immediately give them advice.

Look for the shared values that you have and build a bridge from there. Often students have good values, they just look different than ours. Think of what different generations wear to church. In broad generalizations, the older generations dresses very nicely, in a dress or slacks. Their value is that church is important and sacred so you bring your best self. The younger generation might dress very casually in ripped jeans and a t-shirt. Instead of thinking they have no respect, maybe they are showing the value of authenticity. The Gospel does share the message "Come as you are."

3. Compassion

Jesus viewed people with compassion. Matthew 9:36 (ESV) says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Think about all of the things that are trying to influence your students - trying to get their money, their likes, and their attention. Harnessed and helpless sounds like a good description! Jesus's reaction was compassion because they needed direction. We want to react like Jesus did.

about the guest

Val O'Brien is passionate about seeing the next generation come to know and love Jesus. She has a BA in Bible from Moody Bible Institute and an MA in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. Her love for the local church propelled her into church student ministry for over a decade, and since then she has been continuing to build up churches through training and coaching youth workers.

Val currently serves as the Director of Aspen Ministry, which seeks to engage the questions young people have about faith, Christianity, and Jesus, and equip the church to cross cultural and generational barriers to receive them.


Join us March 18th where you'll learn 6 simple strategies to respond to misbehavior so you can reduce disruptions & rebuild respect.

This training will only take an hour of your time, and you can start implementing what you've learned the very next day.

RSVP for Classroom Management Answers FREE!


The Herzog Foundation wants to help create high-quality Christian education for the next generation by partnering with leaders and parents who want to start a Christian school or Homeschool Co-op. If you've ever considered starting your own school, then check out SchoolBox where you'll get FREE access to resources, courses & even a mentor. Find out more at HFSchoolBox.com

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