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Reaching the Students of Today

Understanding the EPIC Generation

By December 12, 2017 No Comments

Jesus invited his disciples into experiences, He let them make decisions and take ownership in ministry, He constantly used imagery to convey Kingdom realities, and He allowed even frustrating connection and dialogue between the disciples.

Dr. Leonard Sweet coined the phrase “EPIC” generation when referring to millennials and generation Z.  It isn’t just a sweet nickname, it’s actually an acronym for the ideal ways to engage the students of today.  Detailed research and equipping is happening nationally to prepare schools, universities, and employers to adapt to this wave of young people entering the work-force and educational systems.  I particularly enjoy an organization called Growing Leaders and had a conversation recently with one of their authors, Andrew McPeak.  Andrew and I discussed some content that they are generating, as well as some keys to “reaching” the students of today.  In this article, I hope to explain what this EPIC generation is and how it can help you grow your church family in discipleship and mission.

In order to understand the EPIC generation of today, it’s important to understand the greater landscape of generational impact we face in our churches, workplaces, etc.   This chart below from BigArrowGroup does a great job contrasting the landscape of generations alive today.   


If you’re serious about building a church family that represents all age groups, you’d be well-advised to consider the significant differences and expectations each of these generations have when entering relationships and how the gospel is applied to each of them (that may be another article). 

When discussing the EPIC generation, we’re mainly alluding the Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z.  Depending on what study you look at, I’m essentially describing anyone born after about 1982 or so.  EPIC stands for:

E – Experiential

Students today need to be invited into something.  They long to experience learning, not just hear about it or be lectured about it.  In fact, when lectured, they’re more likely to miss most of what is said.  Students need mentors where it’s “caught more than it’s taught.”  The more we can create environments or opportunities to experience a value or concept being taught, the more likely they will be to absorb the learning.  Sports are naturally experiential learning.

Implementation Example: Teaching listening skills by utilizing a “talking stick” or “the conch” from Lord of the Flies.  Or putting a student on the hot seat and they tell their story but other students can only ask questions until the student sharing feels heard and understood.

P – Participatory

This is different from just partaking in activity.  This is specifically alluding to participation in decision-making.  Students today have had a say in almost all family decisions as far back as they can remember – vacation, restaurants, which movies to watch, you name it!  All the TV shows they’ve grown up on also illicit online or text to vote processes so they’ve participated in electing a winner of “The Voice”, “American Idol,” and even rated or commented on every YouTube video they’ve watched.  Student’s today expect to be involved in the process and the positive of this is that they support what they help create, so we must invite them in at appropriate levels.

Implementation Example:  Invite feedback into decisions, but also ask for commitments to what they’ve requested.  Accountability is key so if the student wants to eat at a specific restaurant use the opportunity after dinner is over to explain if it was a good call or not and why they gave the review they gave.  Also invite students into the mundane family affairs to broaden their appreciation for “behind the scenes” of family matters like paying bills (watching you log in online) and give them a fuller appreciation for what their “votes” impact. 

I – Image Rich

These generations are saturated with phones in hand and TV’s in every room.  We grew up on MTV, YouTube and graphic design galore.  “Images are the language of the 21st century, not words.” If you’re trying to teach something without an associated picture, movie clip, mental image (story), or tangible item, you’re likely not engaging them.  For teachers/preachers, wise up here!  Growing Leaders uses a content called HABITUDES (images that form leadership habits), I highly recommend picking up a copy on Amazon to give you some good ideas on how to create your own and/or use theirs.  Amazing stuff.

Implementation Example: Find images/pictures that represent the lesson you’re trying to teach or value you’re trying to convey.  Scripture is loaded with these – shepherds/sheep, trees/fruit, etc.

C – Connected

The Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat generation.  Students learn best when they have the opportunity to dialogue with each other and you.  This is an opportunity to ask them questions and let them explain what they’re thinking. 

Implementation Example: Split students into groups and let them take a stance on a popular issue and present it to the broader group.  Never allow lecture time with no response or reflection time, even if it means creating a social media page where they can respond later. 

In case you didn’t already think of this… Jesus was an amazing EPIC teacher!  He invited his disciples into experiences, He let them make decisions and take ownership in ministry, He constantly used imagery to convey Kingdom realities, and He allowed even frustrating connection and dialogue between the disciples.  He was and is the master teacher and I hope He leads you to be an EPIC leader to an EPIC generation.

If you work with students often, you’ll love the conversation I had with author Andrew McPeak from Growing Leaders.  You can listen HERE.


How are you taking generations into account as you approach discipleship in your community?

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Tim Parlier

Author Tim Parlier

Tim serves as an Elder/Pastor with Surfside Church (formerly Groundswell Communities) where he and his wife Allison lead a Missional Community in Encinitas, California. Tim also serves as the San Diego Coastal Area Director with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) where he works with students, athletes, & coaches. Additionally, Tim coaches defensive line at a local high school and serves as the football program Chaplain.

More posts by Tim Parlier

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