I have worked off and on with students in my local church since I was in my mid-twenties. From leading a small group on Sunday mornings to serving on a student ministry staff, I’ve seen the transition of Millennial students to Generation Z.
The conversations I now have with women who are leaders in student ministry are much different than they were with the previous generation, but their passion to reach the next generation is the same. As I spoke with three girls ministry leaders yesterday, I realized the importance of six little words, which haven’t changed over time, when one of them said, “What you are doing is important.”
Maybe you’re the mom of a teenager. Maybe you’re a grandmother. Maybe you’re leading a small group of young women. Or maybe you’re leading a ministry to women and have a heart to see the next generation follow God. If that’s you, how can you lead?
First, begin to understand the differences in today’s teen girls. Of course there are definitely some common struggles that haven’t changed over time—relationships, education, growing in their faith. But today’s teens often struggle with many deeper hurts and fears. They live with the constant barrage of social media, filters that enhance their appearance on social media, the confusion of gender identity, and the anxieties of life that manifest itself in anger, depression, and isolation.
To lead them is to know them. Generation Z is characterized by several cultural markers—they were born in the midst of the recession in the early 2000s. They have never known life without the internet, so they are constantly connected to their phones. They are the most diverse generation in history, consider gender as “fluid,” and have a post-Christian worldview. Throw in the pandemic of 2020, and it’s not surprising that this generation needs Jesus more than ever.
Second, today’s teen girls need women who are willing to be transparent and available. You don’t have to have a large social media following or a platform. You just need to show up, week after week. Today’s teen girl is looking for older women in her life who will share life with her. When you look at the Gospels, isn’t this what Jesus did? While you might have a picture in your head of the disciples being older men, the reality is that most of them were probably teenagers. Young men followed rabbis, and Jesus lived and taught with them for three years. When James and John left their father’s business of fishing, picture a couple of teenagers with raging hormones. This will give you a completely different perspective on some of their behaviors—including wanting to call fire from heaven!
So show up and show her the way. Point young women to God’s Word and teach them to depend on the Lord and not the things of the world. Encourage them with words of affirmation. Words carry weight and the things you say to them may stick with them the rest of their lives. Last year on a Friday night, I got a call from a young woman who was in my group. She asked if I could meet her at a coffee shop. When I showed up that night, she began sharing her problem with addiction and bluntly said, “If you hadn’t shown up, I knew where I could find drugs, and I probably would have gone there.” After listening for more than an hour, I followed her home, made sure she was safely inside her house, and checked on her the next day. Because I showed up and listened, I developed a new trust with this young woman, and I often check on her and hold her accountable to the temptations she faces.
On the flip side, share your own problems with teen girls and be transparent with your life. Last year I taught a small group of high school girls. For whatever reason, the topic gave me an opportunity to share some struggles our family had when our son was a teen. Sharing my own story wasn’t easy, but after class, one of the girls approached me and said, “You may not know this, but I really struggle with that as well.” Because I was willing to say the hard things, she opened up her life, and I knew better how to pray for her and be the leader she needed in that moment.
Third, include teen girls in your plans for ministry and discipleship. You may not have a dedicated girls ministry in your church, but if you are ministering to women, broaden your perspective to include teen girls. Are you considering various types of Bible studies that can be offered? Are you including teen girls in events? Do you ask their opinion about ways they can be involved?
If you’re looking for some study options, LifeWay Girls offers a variety of studies that are companion studies to some of the women’s Bible studies. Two of the more recent ones include Matchless for Teen Girls by Angie Smith and Jude for Teen Girls by Jackie Hill Perry. In addition, there are specific studies for teen girls, including a new one by Caroline Saunders called Better Than Life. And if you’re looking for a great guide on discipleship for girls, check out Mary Margaret West’s book Show Her The Way. All of these and more can be found at LifeWay.com.
If you’re the parent of a teen girl, recognize the need for your own spiritual growth and the impact you have on your child. Most Christian teens say they can talk to their parents about their questions, struggles, and doubts. If teens feel safe with their families, then leaders must invest in parents. Provide resources to parents, offer support groups for moms, and encourage them in their journey.
The next generation needs you. If you’re investing in teen girls, thank you. What you’re doing is important.
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for LifeWay Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at LifeWay’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.