“Don’t Languish, Flourish” & Enable Gen Next to Flourish As Well!

The welcomed ending of the pandemic for many of us is not only an opportunity to restart our lives. It is also an opportunity to join those who are creating their best lives.

It is an opportunity for people of faith to discover a new vision of flourishing that will not only enrich their own life but also make a difference in the lives of Gen Next, many of whom are struggling to restart their lives from the deadly grip of the pandemic recession than many of us, who are older, recognize.

I have enjoyed working with and learning from leaders in mainline, evangelical, and Catholic Churches in the US for over 30 years. One of the consistent qualities I have found in all those churches that I celebrate is that they consistently loved their your people and wanted to see them flourish.

What I offer these churches as we race into the turbulent 2020s is what I, and my friend, Dwight Friesen, offer in our new book: 2020s Foresight: Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change.

For three decades, I offered Foresight Creativity Workshops. In these workshops, I showed pastors and lay leaders how to:

  1. Anticipate incoming waves of change so they have lead time to respond;
  2. Research and create innovative ways to respond;
  3. Select those innovative responses that most fully reflects the ways of Jesus.

However, while I helped church leaders anticipate waves of change that were likely to impact their churches, their congregations, and their neighbors in the next three to five years, we rarely focused on challenges that were likely to confront gen next.

For example, I wrote an article, “Are You Recession Ready?” in the January 2009 issue of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal . In 2007, a number of economists were predicting the possibility of a major recession in 2008 to 2009.

In response, I invited 40 Christian leaders in Seattle to join me in brainstorming how to enable those in their churches to prepare for a possible recession. I pointed out that while most corporations had a plan for the next recession I had never seen a church that had that kind of a plan.

These leaders became very invested in creating new ways to enable their members to prepare for a possible 2008 to2009 recession. For example, a Lutheran and a Presbyterian church jointly created courses to enable members of their congregations to enable members to take immediate steps to get their personal finances in order… which proved very helpful for those that took the courses. Other congregations offered courses in food processing that also proved timely. Still other churches posted on their websites those that also had rooms in their homes or cars in their driveways they could share.

In spite of these examples of creative responses, in looking back, we all totally forgot to enable Gen Y, the Millennial Generation, now ages 25 to 40, to also help them to prep for the 2008- 2009 recession. As a consequence, many millennials could not find jobs as they launched their lives. Others could not afford to go to college. Many of them got stuck in their parent’s basement, postponing getting married and starting families. Economists tell us that millennials are still further behind economically that other generations.

As we slowly emerge from the Covid-19 Pandemic and we slowly return to our church buildings, I find that church members still love their young people. However, they are now discovering there are very few of them in most of our churches. Church leaders are discovering Pew Research’s projections over the past decade were right. Growing numbers of Gen Y (ages 25-40) & Z (ages 9-24) are choosing not to affiliate with churches.

However, I find few church leaders that seem to know what Gen Y & Z have to offer. They are the good news generations! Since they are the first digital generations, they are not only much more aware of the issues of environmental, racial, and economic justice but a higher percentage of these two generations want to invest their lives in serious change-making!

I urge pastors and lay leaders to move from loving whatever young people you still have in your churches. I encourage church leaders to take time to get to know members of the “good news generations” in your community.

I encourage you to join business innovators in enabling young people to:

  1. Anticipate the opportunities and challenges that are likely to await them in the next three to five years so they can identify new ways to shape their lives and join those who are flourishing;
  2. Create new ways to join those launching new social innovations to empower the unemployed that are still being hammered by the pandemic recession.
    • For example, Justin Beene, a young millennial innovator living in an inter-racial neighborhood in Grand Rapids with high levels of unemployment among the young, secured help from local churches to start the Center for Community Transformation. Essentially, the Center trains unemployed young so they can become self-reliant. The two innovative programs he created in a community with high unemployment is: “Youth Builds” that trains young people in the construction trades and “Rising Grinds”, which trains young people to work in the coffee shops in Grand Rapids as things are opening up again.

Pastors and lay leaders, as you begin to open your church buildings again to resume worshiping in person, I urge you to not only reach out to young people that are still in your congregation, I urge you to also reach out to young people in your community like Justin and his team are doing.

Instead of focusing on getting young people into your church building, I urge you to find out what their concerns are for the daunting needs of others in the community. Find out the creative ways that Gen Y and Z want to enable others to move from languishing to flourishing too.

For example, for 10 years the Colonial Church in the Twin Cities ran a city-wide social enterprise contest called Innove . Essentially, Colonial Church ran an annual Social Innovation Contest for anyone under 40 in the Twin Cities. Hundreds of young people submitted their creative ideas for ways to make a difference in the Twin Cities. The Colonial congregation didn’t even require applicants to attend their church.

The winner the first year was Leah Driscol, a grad student at a local university. In her research, she discovered that Twin Cities had an unusual problem. Large portions of the city contained under-served neighborhoods where there were no grocery stores. As a consequence, many people paid exorbitant amounts, that they couldn’t afford, having to shop in high priced, small neighborhood shops.

Leah and her team won that first year with a proposal entitled Mobile Market. The church not only gave Leah and her team a cash gift to get started. They also had a team of business leaders in the congregation that served as the launch team every year to help the winner get started. Reportedly, they loved the opportunity to enable young innovators to launch new ways to make a difference in their community.

Leah and her team used the prize money to purchase a used school bus and they transformed it into a Mobile Market that took their reasonably priced food and produce to different under-served neighborhoods everyday. The last time I heard, Leah and her team were operating four remodeled school buses in Mobile Market to make a real difference among seniors and those with limited incomes.

As you and your church enable your members to travel from languishing to flourishing, could you consider inviting young people in both your church and larger community to launch innovative ways to enable struggling neighbors to experiencing a little flourishing as well?

We urge you to identify new challenges facing Gen Y and Gen Z, also identify new innovative ideas they have for community changemaking, and see the new ways that they and some of your struggling neighbors join these new opportunities for flourishing in the turbulent 2020s!


Check out my book on how to launch social innovations with a rude title: Live Like You Give a Damn! Join the Changemaking Celebration.

We welcome comments or questions.