170308young-people-pointingI never expected of my ministry journey to take me into working with college students. I’ve found, however, that I really enjoy them!

One of the unexpected blessings has been the privilege of working closely with several folks who were well read on Millennials, education and the church’s response. As a result, I’ve become pretty well-read on the subject. It doesn’t hurt that I don’t mind trying new things, failing miserably, saying, “Welp, that didn’t go how I had hoped,” dusting myself off and moving on.

If you’ve ever worked with college students or young adults, one thing quickly becomes clear: They don’t learn like you do. A caffeinated squirrel in the spring probably has a longer attention span. Millennials seem awfully contrarian. They ask a lot of questions. One of their well-placed questions can blow up an entire Bible study, small group and, occasionally, a worship service – when someone doesn’t know the congregation stays silent when the preacher is preaching.

Yes, teaching college students and young adults is a completely different ballgame that requires a new skill set and some adapted methodology in order to effectively accomplish the task.

Christy Price, a psychology professor at Dalton (Ga.) State University, has developed what she terms “The five Rs of engaging Millennial students,” which currently is making its way around universities. A helpful summation of the article can be found here. In short, the 5 Rs are:

— Research-based methods
— Relevance
— Rationale
— Relaxed
— Rapport

Is Price’s work helpful in a church setting? After reflecting on Dr. Price’s work as well as the tremendous resources published in the last few years on Millennials by The Pew Research Center and by The Barna Group, I propose eight principles for engaging Millennials in a faith setting. I will briefly outline these principles here and elaborate on them in future posts. The eight principles are:

— Be online: It’s more than just having a website.
— Be social media savvy: It may be news to you, but Facebook is “for old people” now.
— Be educated: Their professors and people they respect know why they disagree with you. Are you familiar with why skeptics disagree with you?
— Be application-minded: Help them connect the dots between truth and real life.
— Be personally available: Spend time with them with no set agenda.
— Be “big picture”: Avoid an approach that will make them unable to see the forest for the trees.
— Be connecting: Help them make real-life relationships, not just digital ones.
— Be interesting: Refine your craft, try new approaches and get Millennials involved in active learning environments.

Benjie Shaw is the campus minister at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Connect with him by e-mail at bshaw@tnbaptist.org and follow him on Twitter @benjie_shaw.

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