A note from Kelly King: Just when you think you have a better understanding of Millennials, it’s time to learn about the iGen—the youngest generation born after 1995. Now in college and completing college, this new generation of women is entering your ministry, and it’s time to be equipped to serve them. In today’s article, Ashley Chesnut gives all of us fresh insight we can use as we navigate ministry with these digital natives. Ashley will be leading a breakout on this topic at this year’s Women’s Leadership Forum, happening November 8-10 in Nashville. We hope you are planning to come, and we encourage you to bring your entire ministry team for the full experience.
This past Valentine’s Day, I learned something shocking about a group of girls in our church, and it was one of those moments that made me, as a Millennial, feel old. To my surprise, they had never seen the movie,You’ve Got Mail!
I can sense that you’re just as dumbfounded as I was upon learning that these recent college grads had never watched Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan anxiously turn on their computers and wait for their Internet to connect (remember the days of dial-up?) so they could hear those three little words: “You’ve got mail.”
Now, you can rest assured that these ladies are no longer experiencing such deprivation, but their ignorance of this classic 90s rom-com is not the only difference between this younger generation and the rest of the ladies in your church’s women’s ministry.
iGen (think iPhone, iPad, iTunes, etc.) are those born 1995+, and as of May 2017, this crew graduated college and entered our women’s ministries. At church, I lead a small group of young single ladies; currently, my group is half iGen and half Millennials. And y’all, this group of digital natives is quite distinct from Millennials. So, as you lead women both in the church and outside of the church, consider these three ways in which iGen’ers are distinct:
1. iGen functionally believes that online life is more important than offline life.
While iGen’ers would not say that online life is more important, how they live indicates that it is, for if they truly believed offline life is better, they would be willing to cut back being online or go without. In the book American Girls, the author reports how one teen girl bemoaned the fact that social media is destroying our lives, but when the author asked why she’s unwilling to get off it, the girl responded by saying, “Because then we would have no life.”
To give you an idea of how much time iGen spends online, the average iGen twelfth grader now spends 6 ¼ hours a day texting, surfing the Internet/social media, electronic gaming, and video chatting, and the average iGen eighth grader spends five hours a day doing these things. Outside of doing school or work, iGen is spending about ¼ of each day online!
It’s also important to note that iGen increasingly accesses porn, which makes sense since most of them carry the Internet in their pockets. Furthermore, we should face the reality that more and more women in our churches are viewing and are addicted to porn. In fact, PornHub, the world’s most popular porn site, reports that 25% of its audience is female. I can attest that pornography and masturbation are the most common sexual sins that I talk with girls about in our local church, and we should be addressing the women and not just the men in our churches about these topics.
2. iGen struggles with mental health issues to a greater degree than any previous generation.
In her book iGen, researcher Jean Twenge reports, “…56% more teens experienced a major depressive episode in 2015 than in 2010…and 60% more experienced severe impairment.” On college campuses, it’s not unusual for students to take a semester or a year off from school for mental health reasons, and both from what I’ve read and from what I’ve observed as I disciple and counsel ladies in our ministry, iGen increasingly struggles with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts and are overwhelmingly taking medication to address these issues.
While there are several factors that contribute to this rise in mental health struggles, a significant contributor is spending more than two hours a day online. Comparison and body image issues, FOMO (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, and not getting responses to texts or social media posts explain how smartphone use links to depression. Also, spending more time on screens and less time interacting with people in person increases loneliness. Furthermore, smartphones are stealing sleep from iGen’ers, for while they need nine hours of sleep, teens are sleeping less than seven hours a night, mostly because they are on their phones late into the night and are also sleeping with their phones. And sleep deprivation definitely affects mental health! Then there are factors such as struggles with identity, effects of past or present abuse (1 in 3 women has been abused), dealing with dysfunctional families, and not grasping how the gospel applies to every aspect of their lives.
3. iGen believes that safety is of the utmost importance.
Currently, iGen is on track to be the generation with the lowest number of singles in U.S. history, and interestingly, iGen gets their driver’s license later and is waiting longer to drink alcohol and have intercourse than Millennials and Gen X’ers. These behaviors all link to their fearfulness. What are they afraid of? The better question is, what are they not afraid of?
They’re afraid of STDs, teen pregnancy, and sexual assault. They’re afraid of getting hurt—both physically as well as relationally. They’re afraid of losing their identity in a relationship, and they’re afraid of bad experiences, uncomfortable situations, and people who have ideas different from their own. This is why there’s been an uptick in concern about “emotional safety” and “microaggressions” in schools and why schools issue “trigger warnings” about the potential offensiveness of lectures and offer “safe spaces” where students can go to protect themselves from ideas they find offensive. This leads to a lack of empathy, an unwillingness to engage in a discussion of ideas, and the avoidance of confrontation and actually dealing with conflict in person.
No longer is adolescence the beginning of adulthood; it’s the extension of childhood, and iGen is entering the workforce lacking basic knowledge in adulting. They are taking longer to grow up because of their fearfulness, and they expect their parents, their teachers, their employers, and, if churched, their churches to be safe—both physically and emotionally safe.
This is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to iGen, and because they are still so young, there is much that is to be determined about them. I encourage you to grab coffee or dinner with some recent college graduates in your church in order to get to know them and to find out what life is like for them. What is important to them? How do they spend their time? What do they consider to be important social and cultural issues? What YouTube channels do they follow? What are their go-to apps? What ideas do they have about women’s ministry? Have an open mind and hear what they have to say. And make sure they’ve seen You’ve Got Mail.
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Singles 20s/30s Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. She has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Certificate of Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While Ashley has a passion for discipling young women, she also loves her city, and when she’s not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer’s market or trying some new local restaurant.