3 surprising reasons youth are rising up right now - and what it means for you and me
America just woke up to a phenomenon that has been sweeping the rest of the world for the last few years.
Young people are rising up and asking for change.
But America is late to the party.
In the non-Western world we've actually been experiencing this on a massive scale for at least five years. I know because I lead a grassroots youth movement of thousands of young change-makers across 16 countries in Asia and Africa, called Alongsiders.
Right here in Asia, we've seen almost every country impacted by youth-led activism (from the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, to the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan, as well as student-led movements in Myanmar, Thailand, India and beyond.)
Similar things are happening in Africa and the Middle East - both for good and for bad.
Even ISIS uses young people and children to front many of their atrocities, because they know that if they can capture the hearts and minds of the younger generation, they will have all they need to achieve their horrific goals.
One thing is certain, if there is to be change, it will very likely be led by the generation that gave us Snapchat, sexting, and selfie sticks.
And change is definitely coming.
Three trends have converged to make this one of the most significant times in history for those of us who want to disrupt the status quo and see more of God's Kingdom come on earth.
1. Hashtag activism is finally having its moment
As online hashtag movements like #NeverAgain and #MeToo spill out onto the streets, we are finally seeing the promise of social media, to rally millions of people, being fulfilled.
With new technology, not just the hashtag, we're witnessing a revolution in communication that hasn't been seen since the invention of the printing press. It's hard to believe it's been less than a decade in the making.
For all its downsides, there's no denying that social media allows us to get the word out quickly and easily. And young people are on the forefront of using technology for organizing themselves. This is UNprecedented. Folks, this is important.
2. We have "Youth Bulges" across the Non-Western world
One of the reasons America is so late to the party, is that the population distribution in the West is simply different. The Baby Boomer generation still dominates. (And they have their own battles with the bulge).
But the population distribution looks remarkably different in the rest of the world. Just look at this crazy map.
The Non-Western world is overwhelmingly young - characterized by what sociologists call a Youth Bulge.
And we now know that countries with a Youth Bulge are FOUR TIMES more likely to experience civil unrest and uprisings. (Not to mention four times more likely to experience heavy internet traffic to Buzzfeed).
This is one of the reasons we are seeing so much unrest around the world. Not Buzzfeed. The Youth Bulge in Non-Western countries. Though Buzzfeed doesn't help, I'm sure.
3. This age group is uniquely wired for change
The ages between about 15 and 25 are not just an arbitrary grouping. Developmentally, it is during this window of time that our primary focus ceases to be our family, and for a few short years we become primarily oriented towards our peers.
After that, the focus returns again to family, babies and a white picket fence.
Energy for change, (and frankly, just energy to walk down the street without puffing) are at their peak. Idealism and hopefulness soar high.
Young people have less responsibilities. Without a family to feed, they are freed up to make more radical, sacrificial commitments. Youth have less to lose and everything to gain. Also, hormones and a sense of invincibility allow young people to risk more (Tide pods anyone?).
So it's no wonder this the age where people are most likely to lay their lives down for a cause. If you want change - look to the 16 year-olds, not the 60 year-olds
When you lay it out like this, it's kind of obvious that there is something unique about the potential of youth to lead change.
But what does that have to do with you and me? What does that even mean for the church?
It seems to me that the world is descending into a crisis like never before. Violence and terrorism are on the uptick. Tribalism and isolationism are peaking.
Tinpot tyrants like Trump, Duterte, Putin and Erdogan are amassing power, as people look for strong defenders in the midst of the chaos. These despots provide scapegoats and then promise to fight them for us.
It's a worldwide dumpster fire unfolding before our eyes.
But as followers of Jesus, we don't look to a strongman for comfort. We look to the non-violent way of Jesus.
We don't look to military might or guns for protection, we look to the Prince of Peace.
We're not about fear, but courage. We're not about hate, but love.
And in this day and age these things are so deeply counter-cultural, they are actually revolutionary.
Francis Schaeffer once said:
One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservation means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us…If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.
This is our most urgent task - to nurture in our youth a vision for revolutionary change in the way of Christ. To guide them towards the radical ways of Jesus when they look for answers. And to stand with them when they speak for change - even when it threatens our status quo.
The wave is coming.
It is rising up all around the world.
And the most urgent question facing the church today is this - are we going stand on the beach and watch it go past? Are we going to be drowned by the wave of change?
Or, are we going to have the courage to get up and ride the wave?