One of my favorite songs was written by Morris Chapman, a psalmist out of Las Vegas. The following is an excerpt from that song:

Get wisdom, Get wisdom, and while you’re at it get understanding to…
When we honor the Lord, that’s when we get wisdom.
When we praise Him we get understanding to.
Well, I’d really like to get to know Him better.
So I can be a drink of water to a thirsty man.
Get wisdom…

So, after reading a recent Business Week article about the shrinking boomer economy, this song came to mind. As a not-for-profit organization our heart is focused on filling the needs of Christians in the workplace. Not just filling the needs but actually being that drink of water to a thirsty man. According to the Word we do that by seeking God’s wisdom and understanding concerning circumstances that include our markets, the economy, global commerce, government…

A few months ago I had the privilege of sitting down with some amazing young people of whom I believe are a sampling of the Next Generation of Christian leaders in the Seven Mountains of Culture. The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm with them about how to reach their generation – these young entrepreneurs and future leaders.

As a marketing major my questions revolved around what we needed to implement in order to fill the needs of their generation. What questions was this emerging market asking? How could we find answers to those questions? What did we need to change? What concerns did they have about their future? What challenges were they facing? How could we address their needs, their wants, their desires? And could we?

Their core concerns and consistent answers to these basic questions surprised me. Though too numerous to count, they understood the importance of their generation in establishing Kingdom principles on this earth. With a unique and all consuming passion for change and they are passionate about spheres of influence, biblical concepts and principles, truth and life. And with wisdom and understanding beyond their years, they know that they are already agents of change. They also know that they cannot do it alone.

If we, Boomers and Xers found it difficult to stay on track, our next generations have an even greater challenge ahead. With 69% of boomers financially unprepared for retirement, many of the entry level jobs normally filled by a younger generation, are being taken by boomers who have lost much of their expected retirement (Welch, 2009, pg. 30). This leaves our future generations having to carve their dreams out in unique and creative ways.

The Boomers, nearly 79 million people or a third of Americans, are spending less and saving more. This in itself is no surprise, history has shown that when a recession occurs Americans tend to tighten the purse strings, but for the first time in a very long time major companies are scrambling to realign with the changing and emerging markets. For example, in 2009 Mercedes “the quintessential boomer brand” expected to sell a third fewer cars in America (Welch, 2009, pg. 27). The reason? Boomers, once the free-spending generation, continue to curb their appetites as they move further into retirement. “Not so long ago, boomers were never going to die. Filled with a self-confidence born of unprecedented prosperity, many thought rising markets would assure their future. If the economy faltered, well, it would rebound more strongly than ever, as it had so many times before. And so boomers spent – and borrowed – as if there were no tomorrow” (Welch, 2009, pgs 27-28).

As boomers adjust, a mere 2.4% GDP is forecast over the next three decades. This is in comparison to the 3.2% growth – a year – since 1965 (Welch, 2009). The smart companies are addressing these future expectations now. “Cheap chic” is a new term in retail companies like Mercedes, Starwood Hotel and Resorts, Nordstrom’s and Vera Wang. It really is not anything new, “after the crash of 1929 few people could afford a Cadillac, so General Motors created a budget model to keep its luxury sales going” however at that time America was on the verge of the greatest boom in history which is very unlikely to happen this time around (Welch, 2009, pg. 30).

So, while the Boomers, are adjusting their spending habits in their own fight for survival. Xers, born between 1964 and 1980, are expected to take much longer to move into their prime earning and spending years. Generation X, skeptical and saddled with recessions, has a tendency to be more cynical than their predecessors. Forced to take menial jobs in the early 90s due to recession they are experiencing “déjà vu” all over again; little more than a decade later.

With many of them now back in unemployment lines, Xers never really had the pleasure of embracing the shameless consumerism of Boomers and Nexters. Yet Xers are smart and have more information at their fingertips, resulting in a careful evaluation of their choices and, in making their own purchasing decisions. “This discriminating pattern often discourages brand loyalty, keeping managers and advertisers on their toes” (Manning-Schaffel, 2002, para 2).

Our next generation of movers and shakers are just beginning to embark upon embracing their own dreams for a future. Generation Next (sometimes referred to as Y) is 81 million strong and facing their own holes to claw out of when the economy revives (Welch, 2009, pg. 28). It is not surprising that an entrepreneurial spirit is rising in their midst that will have a significant impact on all Seven Mountains of Culture. This Next Generation is basically paving a new way for themselves, because they have to, and it is important to realize that our future markets are swiftly changing along with them.

While Boomers made purchases out of need, and Xers simply because they wanted it, Nexters are much less rooted in traditional social mores and ethics (Manning, 2002). Thus, they are considered easier targets because of a culture bred out of pure consumerism. They buy as a part of life, they are tuned into all aspects of media, and where there is more media there is more opportunity for advertisers (Manning, 2002).

However, this does not mean a blanket approach is the best strategy in reaching this savvy, confident, and culturally diverse group of young people. On the contrary, the sheer diversity, sub cultures and originality of this generation make it impossible to put them in a box. They literally have been described as jumping through hoops to ensure “no names fit” (Manning, 2002, para 3). So, what works? How do we reach this generation of future leaders?  What are they facing and how can we, today’s Christian leaders, help?  What concerns do they have about their futures? What challenges are they facing? How can we address their needs, their wants, their desires?

Again, while their core concerns and consistent answers to these basic questions surprised me it was clear that they were most passionate about addressing the fatherlessness of our society. We could have millions of products and services to offer but what they truly need are mentors with the heart of a father to teach them, to guide them, to propel them into their destiny. Fathers: with a heart to take the time to listen, to teach them, to guide them in fulfilling the vision that God has given them for their lives. Fathers: who are invested in them, who understand their passionate nature, who consistently impart the heart of God into them. Mentors willing to impart the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise gleaned from years of experience into a generation facing greater uncertainties than any generation before.

Yes, they are facing rising education costs, an unstable economy, a waning (or lack of) disposable income and continual ethical issues stemming from all seven spheres of influence. So, how can we help them? How can we understand their needs, their wants and desires? Here are some pointers: 1) they want to be treated with respect, in fact – they demand it, 2) they are turned off by condescending attitudes, 3) they want (and need) to be heard, to be listened to, to be taken seriously, 4) they want (and need) to have their needs and expectations addressed (Manning, 2002).

Teddy Roosevelt said, “It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly… who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory or defeat.”

For me, this describes this next generation of leaders. They are willing to do what it takes. They are willing to step out in unique and creative ways. They are willing to be agents of change and to bravely enter the arena raring to fight for those things precious and valuable to them. They are intelligent, creative, fearless, strong and courageous. They are the future leaders waiting for today’s leaders to passionately invest in their ideas, hopes and dreams. They hold a new vision for a new tomorrow, a fresh hope for a different world. They are our future. Are we ready to embrace it?