Into Thy Word -
"CRUISE CATASTROPHE: 38 PASSENGERS MYSTERIOUSLY LOST IN BERMUDA TRIANGLE!" sounds like a headline from the grocery tabloid rack. But if there was any credibility to the story, no doubt the coast guard would be out in full force and the TV networks would have their crews giving us daily updates. All kinds of efforts and resources would be expended to find the lost and prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.
"CHURCH CATASTROPHE: 38% OF ADVENTIST YOUTH HAVE JUMPED SHIP!" Some SDA youth/young adult culture experts cite as high as a 50% attrition rate among our youth in the last three decades(1). Nicknamed Generation X by their baby booming predecessors(2), these Xers are doing a mass exodus from church life. So now that the research is in and a simple scan of church attendance on any Sabbath verifies these facts, what is our reaction? Unless some action is taken, we could very well see an entire generation vanish before our eyes, like an X-Adventist "Bermuda Triangle."
Over the past several years, the North American Division Youth Department (NADYD) has kept its ear close to the ground trying to sense the pulse of Adventist youth culture, listening to youth, young adults, and their leaders as they articulate what needs to be done to stop the "X-flow" out of the church. Admirable steps have been taken to articulate NADYD imperatives and some division leadership see this "X-odus" as a priority concern. January 1995, NADYD convened with its youth/young adult ministry directors from throughout the division, confirming and committing to "empower those in each local setting who minister directly to youth and young adults(3)." Unprecedented efforts are being made by the NADYD to implement an evangelistic process where Xers may discover the grace and acceptance of Jesus, but furthermore be empowered to worship and serve Him in inclusive Christian community. So it appears the Adventist Church, as an organization, sees the X-odus as a crisis point, and is making efforts to address it from the top.
But there is a fear that looms over our church, especially locally on the front lines of youth and young adult ministry: Help may arrive too late for the Baby Busters. Given the track record of most church bureaucracies (any bureaucracy for that matter), Generations Y and Z will be headed out the backdoor by the time "the organized church" is set to impact Xers. We dare not wait for "someone else" to minister. In this time of spiritual crisis the call to action goes out to all who are Christian disciples. The real question here is what am I, personally, going to do in the effort to impact the lives of young people for Christ? Reacting to the crisis point for Xers and becoming a proactive agent for Generations Y and Z, I am called to change the X-tide from going out, to coming in.
With spiritual discernment and Christian compassion, I can be a catalyst for change if I begin with ABC: (A) Activate Xer Assets, (B) Build Relational Bridges and (C) Cultivating Communities of Character.
Activate Xer Assets
In A Generation Alone: Xers Making a Place in the World, Janet Bernardi articulates the plight of this labeled and snubbed group of young people:
"My generation has been called various things by our elders, not many of them positive. We have been described as lazy, useless, ill-educated and shallow. We are considered a Peter Pan generation, unwilling to grow up, slow to start careers and launch families. We are defined in contrast to the generation that immediately preceded us--and that likes us least--the Baby Boomers. In their eyes they are the world's boom and we its bust. Thus we are called the "Baby Busters." We have also been called "Generation X" because it was thought that we stand for nothing and believe in nothing(4)."
Xers, from the onset, have found themselves in the spotlight for negative attributes which earlier generations are quick to identify. Especially with the generational rivalry between Boomers and Busters, the latter seems to lack the numbers to refute Boomer views of Xers as "impertinent, manipulative, aloof, passionless, and lacking in marketable skills and insights(5)."
But underneath the mud-slung stereotypes, Xers perceive themselves as being full of limitless possibilities, like the x variable in those algebra equations. They are not content to be observers, but seek to be active participants. Raised on video games with joystick in hand, Xers are not satisfied with merely watching life images go by, they are looking to be "active participators rather than passive recipients(6)." They have an activitist-type feel, but unlike the '60s activistic idealism of the Boomers, Xers are pragmatic activists looking to be involved in solving practical, immediate problems. With skills in negotiation, autonomy from authority figures, and ability in interacting with adults on an equitable basis, Xers are capable of using their social, interpersonal know-how to get done what needs to get done(7).
Turning the X-tide back into the church requires us, on the organizational and personal level, to activate Xers by involving their assets in church life. Xers are not content to be the church of tomorrow. Given the environmental, societal, and moral devastation inflicted by past generations, Xers understand that tomorrow may never come. If I make authentic efforts today to identify and implement Xer talents, skills, and, most importantly, their passions, our church will not only find itself retaining a generation, but moreover mending the spiritual leaks that have crippled our ability to live and share the gospel in the contemporary youth setting. If I would take a Christocentric view of Xers, I would find a positive and present resource underneath the smear of stigmas.
Like Peter in Acts 2:14-21, I can and must assert God's intention to pour God's Spirit out on "on all people." This includes calling Xers to give our church Divine counsel and acknowledge their role to "envision the visions." But I must do more than talk about young people as empowered servant-leaders and active participants in church life. Well acquainted with the shallow rhetoric of the fallen leaders and flawed role-models of our world, Xers are looking for me to go beyond words. They are challenging me to take personal action, investing myself, hand in hand with them, to make a change; Together.
Build Relational Bridges
Recently we took a serious look at the needs of Xers in our community through surveys and dialogue with our youth and young adults. It surprised me that the primary need they expressed was the desire to have significant adults more relationally involved in their lives. Being the first generation of "latch-key kids," Xers understand growing up alone(8). Given the abandonment, abuse, and alienation they have experienced being raised by the "Me Generation," Xers have opted for aloneness as a basic survival technique. Bernardi asserts that aloneness differs from loneliness in that the former is much more a function of basic distrust of people and fear of being hurt. It is not that they don't desire authentic relationships with adults they can look up to, for Xers it's just that the risk of being hurt or disappointed is too high.
George Barna, in The Invisible Generation: "Baby Busters, notes that Boomers value a network of relationships and find the transient, utilitarian nature of their associations as completely acceptable." Barna goes further to say:
"Busters have outright rejected the impersonal, short-term, fluid relational character of their parents. They have veered more toward traditional, longer-term relationships. However, given their cynicism and pessimism, they have lowered their expectations vis-a-vis relationships: their potential duration, the number of significant bonds, and their fervor to create a wide pool of contacts. Boomers sought relational breadth; Busters seek relational depth...What emerges are two generations bonded by blood, but separated by emotion and expectation [emphasis added]."
For both Boomers and Busters, the thought of authentic intergenerational relationships is risky. Beyond the differences in expectations, these generations are in the midst of a culturally diverse nation with shrinking resources. As the American dream continues to fade and the opportunities become more limited, a regression towards self-segregation is emerging. There is a contemporary rise in ageism, sexism, racism, elitism, and a host of new "-isms" that are burning relational bridges, leaving the hopes of integration smoldering in the ruins. Xers see the flames and know all to well that "fire burns." Barna notes, "Deep down, a majority of Busters struggle with feelings of alienation. They feel estranged from family, from community, from God, and often from self(9)."
The first century Christian church was very aware of alienation through "-isms," and were inspired by Christ to transform their culture. Christians followed His lead and sought deep, authentic relationships of integrity, irrespective of age, sex, race, class, or language. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female..." First century Christians sought to hold Galatians 3:26-29 as a value. I, as a 20th century Christian, must also follow Christ's lead, building relational bridges, especially to Xers who are seeking relationships of depth.
In order to keep our youth/young adults in and welcome new Xers to the church, the relational environment of the church must change. The Valuegenesis research clearly indicates a problem Xers see in the church is the perceived lack of warmth, acceptance, and grace(10). At the very least, lack of relationships is partially responsible for this perception. I must develop authentic relationships with Xers to generate warmth, acceptance, and grace between the church and Xers. Christ calls me, as His disciple, to relationship with Xers, bonding us together as His body.
Cultivate Communities of Character
Xers live in a world that lacks character. Xer skepticism and pessimism are fueled by the reality they see in their communities. They have been deceived by so-called community role-models and cringe at the superficiality that surrounds them. They feel forgotten by their parents and older generations. They know the gluttonous lifestyles of previous generations will leave them with very little resources, wealth, and security. The bumper sticker: "I am spending my children's inheritance!" depicts the insult added to injury. Xers struggle to escape the pejorative labels given by the community of elders. Xers want to believe they have purpose and meaning. The unfortunate reality for Xers is that the communities they have experienced, including family, church, and school, perpetuate their feelings of alienation and fail to provide a sense of Christ's community.
Stanley Hauerwas, author of A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, makes powerful comment on Christ's community:
"To be a disciple is to be part of a new community, a new polity, which is formed on Jesus' obedience to the cross. The constitutions of this new polity are the Gospels. The Gospels are not just the depiction of a man, but they are manuals for the training necessary to be part of the new community. To be a disciple means to share Christ's story, to participate in the reality of God's rule...Because of a community formed by the story of Christ the world can know what it means to be a society committed to the growth of individual gifts and differences. In a community that has no fear of the truth, the otherness of the other can be welcomed as a gift rather than a threat...The most striking social ethical fact about the church is that the story of Jesus provides the basis to break down arbitrary and false boundaries between people...The universality of the church is based on the particularity of Jesus' story and on the fact that His story trains us to see one another as God's people. Because we have been so trained we can see and condemn the narrow loyalties that create "the world(11).""
As part of the church, I have a responsibility to restore character in Christian community by calling myself and my church back to the story of Christ. For too long we have been a community of behavior instead of belief. We worship structure and standards, overlooking the Savior. In a recent Group magazine survey, Xers noted their dislike of the church stems from their distaste for hypocrites, limited thinking, conformity, lack of realism, and cliques(12). The survey captured some revealing comments: "I know there is a God, but I don't feel I belong in church. The idea is very good, but the church is too political. The actual outcome in today's society isn't practical." "Sometimes people worship the form of a religion--this is not God!"
Hauerwas captured the imperative for a Christian community wanting to have Xers at the core of church life:
"The social ethical task of the church, therefore, is to be the kind of community that tells rightly the story of Jesus...We, no less than the first Christians, are the continuation of the truth made possible by God's rule. We continue this truth when we see that the struggle of each to be faithful to the Gospel is essential to our own lives. I understand my own story through seeing the different ways in which others are called to be His disciples. If we so help one another, perhaps, like the early Christians when challenged about the viability of their faith, we can say, "But see how we love one another(13).""
Creating communities of character in the church, the home, and the school, where we tell rightly the story of Jesus, will draw an alienated generation of Xers into the very core Christian community. Christ, who valued people more than power, relationship more than regulations, and sinners more than self, must be personified not only in individual piety, but also in communal piety(14). Each of us must live with responsibility and regard for each other, only then will community be safe enough for Xers. Only then will it make sense for them to stay and not leave. Communities of character living out the story of Jesus, bring Xers in from the cold, letting them know the spiritual reality that they "need not be alone."
The Hope for Generations X, Y, & Z
"CHURCH CELEBRATES: GENERATION X BACK ON BOARD!" By personal action to do the ABC's of ministry to Xers, I could see a vanishing generation come back home. I have opportunity to draw Xers back into the core of Christian community and empower Xers to "set an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity (1Timothy 4:12b, NIV)." That's good news! The greater news is the potential impact that my efforts will have on generations to come.
Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, authors of 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, have already labeled the next generation of youth, the "Millennial Kids," since they will be graduating from high school as we enter the 21st century(15). Howe and Strauss predict that parents of Millennial Kids will "raise their children protectively and encourage cooperative behavior, lest America splinter further into narcissism and special-interest chaos." They forecast that millennials will get better grades, use positive peer pressure, be less cynical, and be praised for their positive contributions to society.
Although it is delightful to see such an optimistic secular prediction, what Howe and Strauss fail to see, is the hope that is intrinsic to our all-out Christian effort to reach Xers and proclaim the Good News. ALL BELIEVERS ARE MILLENNIAL KIDS! Christ has promised to honor all who serve Him as, "Millennial Kids of Christ's Kingdom," taking all believers for an extended cruise on the Gospel-ship. My personal and our corporate Christian actions to empower, endear, and encircle Generation X expresses clearly that "We don't want them to miss the boat!" My actions convey that Xers belong, not only to the Christian community, but most importantly to Jesus Christ. By living out value, respect, and love to Xers through relationship, we as a church send a clear compelling message for Xers and the generations to come, "We will not leave you behind!"
Will Generation X be a generation lost? Will the spiritual headlines denote the tragedy of young hearts neglected, abandoned, and alienated? Will the current continue to carry Xers into the abyss? How will the headline read for Generation X?
May you and I resolve to have the headline read celebration not catastrophe for Xers. May you and I act now in personal and corporate ways to turn the tide. May our actions reflect our resolve, and one day soon we will celebrate with Christ because the lost have been found (Luke 15)!
(1)Steve Case cites an estimate of 38% attrition from active church participation in Case, S. (1993, Spring). Where have all the youth gone? Giraffe news, 2(2), pp. 12-13. Adventist youth attrition rate of 50% noted in Daily, S. (1993). Adventism for a new generation (p. 3). Portland, OR: Better Living Publishers.
(2)Generation X are those born from 1965 to 1983, also known as Baby Busters representing the generation following the Baby Boomers. Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964 the years following World War II and the Korean War where there was a "boom" in births compared to other periods. This information as well as more extensive demographic data found in Barna, G. (1992). The invisible generation: Baby busters. Glendale, CA: Barna Research Group, Ltd. Also see Cray, D., Curry, T., & McWhirter, W. (1990, July 16). Proceed with caution. Time, 136(3), pp. 56-62. More specific information on Baby Boomers and their relationship to the church can be found in Murren, D. (1990). The baby boomerang: Catching baby boomers as they return to church. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
(3)See Rojas, J. V. (1995, January 22). Moving forward: Enabling a locally-based structure for North American youth leadership. Unpublished report. (Available from Jose V. Rojas, North American Division, Department of Youth Ministries, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904). The compelling emphasis of this document is calling for a locally-based structure. This call places a rediscovered responsibility on the "grass-roots" Christian to be part of the ministry team to youth and young adults. See also Habada, P. A. (1993). General Conference Commission on Youth report: A summary report of division sub-commissions on youth to the annual council 1993. (Available from Department of Church Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904).
(4)In Mahedy, W., & Bernardi, J. (1994). A generation alone: Xers making a place in the world (p. 4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. It is important to note that, to whatever degree, our Adventist youth and young adults are experiencing these labels from outside and inside the church. Although our own Adventist denial would have us believe otherwise, this is not solely a secular society phenomenon! See also Cray, D., Curry, T., & McWhirter, W. (1990, July 16). Proceed with caution. Time, 136(3), pp. 56-62.
(5)In Barna, G. (1992). The invisible generation: Baby busters (p. 48). Glendale, CA: Barna Research Group, Ltd. Perspectives from the workplace give live examples of the tension between the Boomers and the Busters as articulated in Solomon, C. M. (1992, March). Managing the baby busters. Personnel Journal, 71(3), pp. 52-59. See also Zinn, L., Power, C., Yang, D. J., Cuneo, A. Z., & Ross, D. (1992, December 14). Move over, boomers: The busters are here--and they're angry. Business Week, (3297), pp. 74-82.
(6)From an interview with Doug Rushkoff in Lawrence, R. (1994, October). Inside the head of generation X. Group, 21(1), pp. 28-30. See also Schultze, Q. J., Anker, R. M., Bratt, J. D., Romanowski, W. D., Worst, J. W., & Zuidervaart, L. (1991). Dancing in the dark: Youth, popular culture, and the electronic media. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
(7)Comments of Neil Howe co-author of 13th gen: Abort, retry, ignore, fail? excerpted from Lawrence, R. (1993, September). The new activists. Group, 19(8), pp. 17-19. Further discussion of Xer political perspectives is found in Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1993). 13th gen: Abort, retry, ignore, fail? (pp. 166-174). New York: Vintage Books. An insightful sociological view is offered by Campolo, A. (1989). Growing up in America: A sociology of youth ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. See also Smith, R. M. (Ed.). (1990, June). The new teens: What makes them different [Special Edition]. Newsweek, 115(27).
(8)See chapter one in Mahedy, W., & Bernardi, J. (1994). A generation alone: Xers making a place in the world. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. See also Gergen, K. J. (1991). The saturated self: Dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. Basic Books.
(9)In Barna, G. (1992). The invisible generation: Baby busters (p. 85-89). Glendale, CA: Barna Research Group, Ltd. See also Mahedy, W., & Bernardi, J. (1994). A generation alone: Xers making a place in the world. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
(10)Cited by Daily, S. (1993). Adventism for a new generation (p. 7). Portland, OR: Better Living Publishers. See also Dudley, R. L. (1992). Valuegenesis: Faith in the balance. Riverside, CA: La Sierra University Press. It is important to realize that this is not a phenomenon unique to Adventistism, Xers have a generally cynical view of church irrespective of denominational affiliation. See Barna, G. (1992). The invisible generation: Baby busters (pp. 151-168). Glendale, CA: Barna Research Group, Ltd.
(11)In Hauerwas, S. (1981). A community of character: Toward a constructive Christian social ethic (p. 48-52). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. See also Barna, G. (1991). User friendly churches: What Christians need to know about the churches people love to go to. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
(12)From What kids don't like about church. (1995, January). Group, 21(3), p. 9. For a more Adventist-specific perspective see Daily, S. (1993). Adventism for a new generation. Portland, OR: Better Living Publishers.
(13)In Hauerwas, S. (1981). A community of character: Toward a constructive Christian social ethic (p. 52). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. See also Anderson, L. (1990). Dying for change. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
(14)An excellent primer for personal and communal spirituality is found in Foster, R. J. (1978). Celebration of discipline. New York: Harper & Row. See also Foster, R. J. (1985). Money, sex, & power: The challenge of the disciplined life. New York: Harper & Row.
(15)Here come the 'Millennial Kids.' (1995, January). Group, 21(3), p. 9. See also Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1993). 13th gen: Abort, retry, ignore, fail? New York: Vintage Books. And see Barna, G., & McKay, W. P. (1991). Vital signs: Emerging social trends and the future of American Christianity. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books. For a futuristic view of youth ministry specifically see Rice, W. (Ed.). (1994, Summer). The future. Youthworker, 11(1).
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHIC RESOURCES ON GENERATION X
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Anderson, L. (1990). Dying for change. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
Baby Boomer Ministries Resource Center. (1993). Reaching a new generation: A strategy for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Pacific states. (Report One: What We Know and What We Don't Know--A Summary of Research). (Available from Baby Boomer Ministries Resource Center, 465 NE 181st Avenue, Suite 402, Portland, OR 97230-6660).
Baby busters enter the work force: Fun-loving "twentysomethings" challenge managers. (1992, May-June). The Futurist, 26(3), 52-53.
Barna, G. (1990). The frog in the kettle: What Christians need to know about life in the year 2000. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
Barna, G. (1991). User friendly churches: What Christians need to know about the churches people love to go to. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
Barna, G. (1992). The invisible generation: Baby busters. Glendale, CA: Barna Research Group, Ltd.
Barna, G., & McKay, W. P. (1991). Vital signs: Emerging social trends and the future of American Christianity. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Bella, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1985). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Benson, P. L., & Donahue, M. J. (1990, October 1). Valuegenesis: Report 1 a study of the influence of family, church, and school on the faith, values and commitment of Adventist youth. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.
Bernstein, A., Woodruff, D., Buell, B., Peacock, N., & Thurston, K. (1991, August 19). What happened to the American dream? Business Week, (3227), 80-85.
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Bradford, L. J., Raines, C., & Martin, J. L. (1992). Twentysomething: Managing and motivating today's new workforce. New York: MasterMedia Ltd.
Bruggemann, S., Martin, A. A., Martin, D., & Wisbey, R. (1993, November). Proposal of the North American Division Youth Evangelism Taskforce sub-committee on seeker sensitivity. Unpublished report. (Available from dre·am VISION ministries, P.O. Box 2345, Pasadena, CA 91102-2345).
Campolo, A. (1989). Growing up in America: A sociology of youth ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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Church leadership conference notebook. (1991, February). (Available from Willow Creek Community Church, 67 East Algonquin Road, South Barrington, IL 60010).
Coupland, D. (1991). Generation X: Tales for an accelerated culture. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.
Coupland, D. (1994). Life after God. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Cray, D., Curry, T., & McWhirter, W. (1990, July 16). Proceed with caution. Time, 136(3), 56-62.
Daily, S. (1993). Adventism for a new generation. Portland, OR: Better Living Publishers.
Deutschman, A. (1990, August 27). What 25-year-olds want. Fortune, 122(5), 42-50.
DeMott, J. S. (1987, February 23). Welcome, America, to the baby bust. Time, 129(8), 28-29.
Dudley, R. L. (1992). Valuegenesis: Faith in the balance. Riverside, CA: La Sierra University Press.
Dudley, R. L., & Kangas, J. L. (1990). The world of the Adventist teenager. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Dunn, W. (1992, February). Hanging out with American youth. American Demographics, 14(2), 24-35.
Dunn, W. (1993). The baby bust: A generation comes of age. Ithaca, NY: American Demographic Books.
Gelman, D. (1991). A much riskier passage. In R. Atwan (Ed.), Our times/2. Boston, MA: St. Martin's Press.
Gergen, K. J. (1991). The saturated self: Dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. Basic Books.
Gibb, S. (1992). Twentysomething, floundering, and off the yuppie track. Chicago, IL: Noble Press.
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Habada, P. A. (1993). General Conference Commission on Youth report: A summary report of division sub-commissions on youth to the annual council 1993. (Available from Department of Church Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904).
Hauerwas, S. (1981). A community of character: Toward a constructive Christian social ethic. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Here come the "millennial kids." (1995, January). Group, 21(3), 9.
Hershey, T. (1986). Young adult ministry. Loveland, CO: Group Books.
Koons, C. A., & Anthony, M. J. (1991). Single adult passage. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
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Lawrence, R. (1993, September). The new activists. Group, 19(8), 17-19.
Lewis, D. K., Dodd, C. H., & Tippens, D. L. (1995). The gospel according to generation X: The culture of adolescent faith. Abilene, TX: ACU Press.
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Maital, S. (1991, May). Here come the twentysomethings. Across the Board, 28(5), 5-7.
Martin, A. A. (1994, Winter). Young adult ministry essentials. Giraffe News, 3(1), 14.
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Murren, D. (1990). The baby boomerang: Catching baby boomers as they return to church. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
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We at dre.am VISION ministries (dVm) admire your efforts to positively impact young lives. Whether a parent, educator, lay leader, or ministry professional, you are a vital resource to our young people. We hope this paper stimulates your theology and praxis with Generation X. We welcome your comments and dialogue via e-mail:
Call dream VISION ministries and let us know if we can be of further service to you or your young people.
Where There is Vision, The Young People Flourish...
Deirdre & Allan Martin
dre.am VISION ministries