When you first arrived at your Youth With A Mission (YWAM) location, who was the first person to meet you? Was it one of your Discipleship Training School (DTS) staff, or a transport manager, your team leader or base leader? Good chances it was someone in their twenties – and whatever their age, ready to welcome you with open arms!
As you think of your own story, soon you met others in the YWAM community where you live and work and discovered the variety of personalities, cultures, nations and generations of people around you. Perhaps that was a small group mostly the same age with a couple of leaders slightly older than the others. Or maybe a larger University of the Nations (U of N) campus with a broad range of ages with babies and toddlers to staff in their eighties!
Whatever your exact situation, as you look around YWAM, you’ll see different generations – and whether your location is mostly the same age – or with a wide variety of ages, it’s crucial that we understand generations, just like understanding personalities, cultures or nations.
5 Generations in YWAM (and a 6th coming soon!)
Generalizing about generations is fraught with broad sweeping statements and can truly vary broadly from one nation to another – and even from one family to another. I know in our family it does! While there are a variety of dates and characteristics given to these generational cohorts, this isn’t an exact science, but a tool for understanding broad trends that are taking place in society.
Even so, see if you can identify with the characteristics of specific generations that we have in YWAM – whether in your own life or what you see in others. YWAM staff generally will span one of these 5 generations – and there’s a 6th generation already on its way. Here’s a couple of significant events that shaped these generations and an iconic ‘means of music’ for each:
|Means of Music
|Great Depression / World War II
|LP Record player
|Vietnam War / Moon landing
|Stock Market Crash / Berlin Wall
|New Millennium / September 11
|Global Financial Crisis / Arab Spring
|Covid-19 / Ukraine War
Marked in their youth by the Great Depression and World War II, they saw the effects of these devasting events, and provided the force to (re)build their nations after the tragedies they had gone through as children. Consider that their parents were generally born in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The transitions they made from their parents’ world to the one we now live in as they enter into their 80s or 90s are huge. Sometimes called the Silent Generation (first coined in the ‘50s), in YWAM many of those who are part of this generation have been anything but silent. Just think of YWAM’s founders, Loren and Darlene Cunningham!
After the Second World War, the baby boom lasted through the early 1960s, which led to a different parenting style and to both the free-wheeling hippie years for many of the youth of that generation and like a reflex to the young urban professionals (yuppies) of the early ‘80s. Not only did the massive shift in social and sexual norms impact this generation, but also the Jesus Movement touched thousands of dissatisfied young people of that age. In YWAM many of those who first pioneered new locations and new countries came from this generation. Across Europe new YWAM ministry locations were started by young people from this generation, as they were entrusted to hear God’s voice and obey what He said. Now in their late 50s to early 70s, many with decades of life experience in YWAM or elsewhere, they are in a great position for ‘lighting the torch’ of others as Al Akimoff challenges everyone from each generation to do.
YWAM started doing DTSes in the early 1980s. Many of the DTS students of the late ‘80s and the ‘90s were from this generation. Now in their 40s and 50s, those who started in YWAM right out of high school have been serving over 20 years. Many others first worked in the marketplace before coming into YWAM. As young people they saw the Berlin Wall come down and the fall of Communism, as well as the beginning of Microsoft and Apple, personal computers and email. The Gen Xers in YWAM now often have ministry leadership roles that reflect their approaches to learning and leadership – participative and coordinating with an ideal leader being one who is a doer. Two challenges Gen Xers in YWAM face are 1) finding their place if they have passed on leadership roles to the next generation or 2) holding on to their leadership roles because they have not. That Gen Xers tend to be very entrepreneurial could play a part in their discovering with God and the generations they serve alongside of how to navigate those challenges.
Millennials now make up most of the workforce globally. Within YWAM this means making up the majority of YWAM’s DTS leaders and ministry and location leaders under 40. The youngest of Millennials are now over 25 and are rapidly shaping the future of YWAM at the grassroots level fulfilling multiple leadership roles as they have been championed by the generations that have gone before them. Certainly not everyone may always feel like that – and studies have pointed to job satisfaction for Millennials being related to strong relationships with their supervisors, open and free-flowing communication, and working in collaborative teams. As they move into their 30s and 40s, with a focus on healthy work boundaries, and many Millennials who get married and start families later, there will continue to be a need for depth of relationship with multiple generations and healthy communication with all involved around shared vision, which more and more will be developed by Millennials in the decades to come.
Most of the students in our DTSes worldwide are now from Generation Z and will be for the rest of the 2020s, which holds true for new staff coming from those DTSes. Likewise, most DTS staff and DTS leaders will be Gen Zers by the end of this decade. So, it’s a good idea to get to know them! They’re the first generation to grow up with both internet access and mobile phones all their lives. Jean Twenge unpacks this in iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. While the title paints a mixed picture, there are great opportunities for Gen Z. They’re highly educated, very diverse, sensitive to exclusion and discrimination, realistic about themselves, hard workers, creative and entrepreneurial. They don’t want to just consume; they want to contribute – they want to make a difference.
There’s one more generation on the horizon – Gen Alpha. Born since the early 2010s as Gen Z cusps into the next generation, this will be the first generation entirely born in the 21st century. They will be impacted as children by the first major global pandemic in over a century, as well as the shift in the more than 70 years of relative peace in Europe after the war in Ukraine. There are many factors that are already shaping their worldview prior to them coming to DTSes in the 2030s and early 2040s. Some have said that throughout history, the most receptive age group for the Gospel are 4–14-year-olds. Gen Alpha is exactly in that age range right now.
One key that is going to be essential for impacting one generation to another is mentoring. In addition to the amazing resources that are coming out this month in the European Leadership Learning Community (ELLC), in May 2022, Carolyn Ros is publishing a new book on mentoring in both English: Passing the Baton: Linking the Generations – A Biblical Look at Mentoring and in Dutch: De verbinding tussen generaties – een bijbelse visie op mentorschap. Don’t miss this – or the great resources that are available on ELLC
1 Adapted from Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins | Pew Research Center (2019), Generations defined: 50 years of change over 5 generations – McCrindle (2018), and Understanding-Generation-Alpha-McCrindle.pdf (generationalpha.com) (2020) [accessed 31 March 2022]
Steve and Rhonda Ashworth live and work in Amsterdam, Netherlands and have three children born (one Millenial and two Gen Zers) – all raised up in Amsterdam with occasional jaunts outside the Netherlands along the way. Steve was born just on the cusp between Baby boomer and Generation X. He’s currently serving as a co-convener for YWAM Netherlands and with Rhonda leads Urban Frontiers in YWAM Amsterdam, a team serving refugees, engaging people with Jesus through the Bible and helping incubate ministry visions to become reality.