Spiritual State of the World's Children : Malaysia
A Qualitative Study - English Speaking Youth Report
Section I: Executive Summary
General Information for Malaysia Discovery Project (English)
From May 27 - June 2, 2010, a total of 27 focus groups were convened in Malaysia. This included groups from the Northern, Central, and Southern parts of the country. For this report (English-speaking youth) 9 student groups, 2 groups of youth pastors, 1 group of evangelical leaders, 1 group of English pastors, 1 group of parents, and 1 group of teachers met to provide data information for this project.
Strengths & Opportunities: Relative to Church & Youth Ministry
- Malaysian youth value their relationships with their friends and are predisposed to group activities
- Family relationships, while not perfect, are still seen as a key influence in the life of youth
- Youth desire to spend more time with their parents
- Youth in Malaysia are spiritually inclined and they have a desire to experience God in a real and authentic way
- Youth today are not prejudice or bias against other ethnicities
- Youth are highly involved in social networking which youth ministries can use to reach them
- Students value education and are willing to spend time and money on excelling academically
- Church leaders understand the importance of seeing the youth become a vital part of their church growth
- Some church leaders are aware of the need to be more personal, relational, and available when interacting with youth
- Technology, music, and other forms of media can be utilized by the church to generate interest in Christianity
Weaknesses & Threats: Relative to Church & Youth Ministry
- Youth today seem to make poor and hasty decisions due to lack of spiritual and parental guidance
- Malaysian youth struggle with self-identity and look to their peers for affirmation and guidance when problems arise
- Youth are so engrossed with the Internet and the virtual world, that they are having problems with interpersonal relationships
- Youth are not interested with the current methods the church is using to reach out to them and they view the church as boring and irrelevant
- Malaysian youth view the education system as weak and rigid which creates tension and frustration among students
- Malaysian youth are often misunderstood by the older generation and this contributes to the growing gap between the two
- The lack of fatherhood and mentors as role models are deterrents to finding new and emerging young leaders
- The amount of time youth spend on tuition and extracurricular activities makes it difficult for the church to be involved in meaningful discipleship-making
- Discipleship is seen as the responsibility of the church, when in fact parents should be more involved in the spiritual growth of their children
- Church leaders recognize that the church is weak in responding to the challenges that exist among Malaysian youth
- Church leaders acknowledge that the societal shift towards materialism will present potential future problems within the church
- Facilitate collaboration between parents and the church in the area of discipleship
- Conduct workshops or training seminars that equip parents to better understand and disciple their children
- Churches could begin to emphasize the importance of the father's responsibility to be a role model to their children
- Develop creative ways to utilize media
- Provide ongoing training and teaching on how youth need to manage their time on the Internet responsibly
- Encourage churches to become more current with their media tools so that non-Christian youth are drawn to Christianity
- Provide character development
- Utilize The Book of Hope (junior high and senior high school editions) as a tool to effectively teach character education to address the issues facing today's youth
- Conduct workshops and seminars that address the moral issues relevant to Malaysian youth
- Provide support for youth ministry
- Release more resources for ministry to the youth
- Encourage senior pastors to understand the importance of their role in modeling engagement with youth on a personal, friendship level. This sets the tone for the entire church's dynamic with youth.
- Church leaders could encourage their members to become adult volunteers in the youth ministry. This would provide a platform for adults to mentor youth.
- Conduct research on an ongoing basis to stay in tune with current youth culture
Provide training for youth workers and adult volunteers on subjects related to youth culture, counseling, discipleship and evangelism to non-Christian youth
- Meet community needs
- Focus on encouraging the church to become actively involved in the community in hopes of changing the perception of Christianity in Malaysia
- Sponsor events and programs that encourage youth to love their city and contribute to the transformation of the city
- Further study
- As recommended by the analysis team, further research could be done to learn more about the effects of gaming on Malaysian youth
- Consider conducting an in-depth study on the attitudes and behavior of youth towards sexuality and their relationships with the opposite sex
- To fully understand what evangelism techniques are being employed, and have been used in the past, conduct further research in this area so that churches can develop additional programs that focus on outreach
- With religion being a central part of Malaysia cultural life, further study on the spirituality of Malaysian youth and their understanding of divinity would be valuable.
- Explore the growing church culture dynamic of team leadership and this concept's impact of youth leadership development
- The use of online anonymous survey tools such as surveymonkey.com could provide helpful information (from youth about youth attitudes and behaviors; from church leaders about their leadership style; from youth about their opinion of relevancy of church practices, etc.)
Responses to Research Questions/Areas
1. What are the main interests of Malaysian youth today?
- What is the most common media that appeals to youth?
- What activities attract youth?
Generally, participants agree that Malaysian English speaking youth from urban communities are highly interested in utilizing media. Youth are on the Internet and are fond of using social networking sites such as FaceBook, MSN and YouTube. Sending SMS messages and chatting on FaceBook are popular means of communication with teenagers. While other forms of media are appealing to youth, they agree that using the Internet is the most enjoyable and one of the fastest ways to interact with their friends. Pastors, teachers and parents express that teenagers excel in their social skills via the Internet. However, adults are also concerned that this rapid expansion of Internet access will give worldwide web access without appropriate levels of guidance and oversight. Furthermore, some pastors believe that due to this lack of disciplined use of the Internet, this access will also become an avenue of misuse (vices, anger expressions regarding national issues, etc.). Nevertheless, some teachers perceive the importance and positive impact of media and technology to Malaysian youth, as these could be tools to create curiosity and interest among their students.
Some groups report that console and online gaming are other activities that youth engage in frequently. Cyber cafés are a common hang out place for boys. Online games such as DOTA and Mafia Wars are the best liked. Additionally, console games such as PSP are also very popular among youth.
Whereas youth report they enjoy watching movies and listening to music, they did not specify what types of movies and music are most appealing. On the other hand, Korean soap operas are one of the television programs that youth preferred. While not expressed extensively, some youth are interested in reading. The most popular choices include magazines such as Galaxy, Hot, and Cleo. Comics and Manga were also mentioned as popular reading options while The Twilight series was cited as the book that is commonly attractive to younger students who enjoy reading.
Some youth are also interested in fashion. Participants report that male youth tend to follow Korean trends, like wearing clothes similar to Korean boy bands, which study participants identified as being more feminine. On the other hand, female youth admired this kind of Korean male fashion because it gave them a sense of being more masculine. While youth did not look up to movie or television stars as their role models, some youth aspire to be like celebrities.
While in school, teachers find that many students are interested in sports. While not expressed by the youth themselves, teachers believe that sports activities in the school are a venue for students to vent out their emotions.
Across groups, participants report that Malaysian youth value their relationships, especially with their friends. This is evidenced by the fact that many of their free-time activities involve their peers. These activities include, hanging out together at shopping malls, mamak stalls, playing sports, talking, gossiping, and social networking. Youth desire to be understood by their peers, so they would spend more time with them. Some youth indicate that their friends understand and listen to them better than their parents or teachers do.
Youth also view education as extremely important. When faced with days off from school, many students use their time studying for exams. More often than not, students would resort to get additional help from tutors by going to the tuition centers. These tuition centers are available to students who want to learn more.
2. What influences are most important in shaping youth's values?
Across groups, participants report that friends, parents, education, secular media, and religion are key contributing factors to the development of a student's values and personal life. The amount of time youth spend with their peers indicates that friends heavily influence Malaysian youth. Gaining acceptance with their friends is very important and could explain behaviors like making hasty decisions that often lead to wrong choices and desiring to obtain things that would make them look best and popular.
While parents acknowledge the impact that friends have on the lives of their children, they still see themselves as the primary influence in their children's lives by their example and teaching. Parents identified the importance of guarding their children's relationships, including friends and other adults who can speak into their lives, especially spiritual leaders.
Many youth believe education is the key factor towards a good and successful life. Strongly affected by their parents' concept of education, youth spend a great amount of time on tutoring others or joining tuition centers. Oftentimes, parents themselves will spend a lot of money on their children's studies. While youth are concerned in maintaining the proper discipline to excel in their studies and homework, they also feel stressed out as they struggle with competition related to academics.
Secular media is another component that plays a key role in shaping the values of youth. Youth pastors believe that Internet has made it possible for young people to engage in a virtual world that is essentially separate from reality making the youth struggle in real life situations. Teachers surmise that the current generation may be good at Internet social skills, yet are becoming weaker in real life relationships. Other groups report that media is a platform for them to release their tensions and frustrations. Having said that, the groups believe that adults' guidance and mentoring are seriously needed by the youth.
While church leaders are convinced that youth's interest in more traditional religion is declining, most pastors say that youth are inclined to spiritual matters. Most youth believe that religion plays a vital role in their life especially when they have to make decisions. However, some report that religion has nothing to do with their life; it only makes things worse.
- What differences in perception exist between parents and teens regarding the role of the family?
Generally, groups report on the role of the parents more than the role of the family. Teachers believe that the idea of whose role it is to discipline the children is becoming an issue. In earlier generations, it was not uncommon for parents to carry out the role of discipline. While parents seem lax in this area nowadays, they do not want the teachers to discipline their children as well. Additionally, pastors recognize that the lack of a father image or positive role models to emulate often result in youth's hunger for love and affirmation. However, it is also reported that this condition is already improving compared to previous times. Furthermore, some leaders report that changes in society have brought about changes in family dynamics. Typically in the past, one parent focused on home and family development while the other held a job. At present, the common situation is for both parents to hold down jobs. While some youth acknowledge the amount of time they spend with their parents is not sufficient, they still desire to spend more time with them.
- Who do youth go to for answers when they have a problem?
For lack of positive role models, youth tend to seek advice and comfort from their friends when faced with problems. In addition to that, youth perceive their peers to be more understanding and willing to listen. However, youth may go to their parents when problems (such as life and family issues) are beyond their ability to handle or when they need resources (money issues). Whereas younger youth will go to a teacher they trust, the older youth would rarely go to a teacher for advice. Youth who value religion will sometimes turn to God when there is a problem. Whether they are looking for happiness, confidence or sense of identity, some Christian youth believe God can help them. They see prayer as an important part of everyday life. When youth feel like they do not have anybody to talk to when faced with challenges, they would choose to keep their problems within and vent it out in a diary. In some instances, others would resort to FaceBook to express their problems.
3. How does language and ethnicity affect today's youth?
Language and ethnicity are key components in the lives of Malaysian youth. This issue is especially the case within the classroom. Teachers notice that students tend to group together based on ethnicity. Generally, this is not a problem as long as students respect one another. The challenge arises whenever students of different ethnicities offend one another. Additionally, pastors believe that language is less an issue nowadays than it was 30 years ago in the church world. However, it is an often-discussed matter within Malaysian society.
4. What key issues and problems are Malaysian youth dealing with today?
Many of the problems identified by Malaysian youth are related to identity. Youth gain their identity from their peers and activities that preoccupy most of their time. The peer pressure associated with wanting to be understood, and viewed by their peers in the correct way is of high importance to the youth. For example, some students report that they fear being ignored and the focal point of false rumors. Furthermore, youth feel the pressure to excel academically because of the competition within the education system. As a result, students tend to get overwhelmed and stressed.
Youth pastors identify lack of role models as an area of concern facing the youth today. The lack of role models can be viewed as a contributor to the poor decisions made by some youth. Viewed as an issue resulting from lacking a good father image, youth pastors believe that there is a need for fathers to step up as role models. Pastors agree that more mentoring and parental guidance, specifically proactive parenting will lead to helping the youth improve their decision-making. Essentially, this will place more responsibility on the parents instead of relying on the church to raise their children.
Other problems confronting Malaysian youth today include materialism, gossiping, and distractions brought about by media and technology. Across groups, participants report that youth's engrossment with Internet is a growing challenge. While youth see this as a means to interact and socialize with their friends, adults perceive it in a negative way. For instance, youth are described as being less relational, weak in real-life relationships, and not able to separate the virtual world from reality. While not apparently expressed among the participants, the impact of materialism in the youth's life is also a concern. This could be due to youth's desire to create the right impression and be accepted by their friends. Gossiping, though not common among male youth, is typical among females. Believed by some to be the source of miscommunication, youth would spend more time with their friends to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to further problems.
5. How do Malaysians view the current education system?
Overall, Malaysian students are very unsatisfied with the current education system. One of the areas of concern students expressed was dissatisfaction with their teachers. Many students believe that their teachers do not listen to their needs or understand them. Thus, participants do not see teachers as a role model for them and would not even consider seeking them for advice. Additionally, some students are unhappy with the rules, believing they are too strict.
In Malaysian culture, parents still have a key role in influencing the education of their children. Oftentimes, parents will spend a lot of money on a child's studies. This is evident in the amount of time youth spend on tutoring/tuition. Ultimately, this influences youth's perception of education. Parents express strong concern over the politicizing of education. Additionally, parents are worried that the education system focuses solely on academic excellence over practical life application. Furthermore, parents see excessive homework and compulsory extra-curricular activities as hindrances to spending time together as a family.
Compared to the time when they were in school, teachers have noticed a difference in the lesson content, skills development, and discipline that is being taught to the youth. More attention was given to these areas in the past. Teachers believe that there is a need to increase the knowledge level of today's youth. Over and above that, they notice that some youth possess no creativity and cannot properly interpret problems. Furthermore, teachers acknowledge that students are unsatisfied with the education system. Sometimes students will voice their concerns to teachers about the curriculum they are forced to learn. They tend to view some classes as irrelevant and would prefer to choose the subjects they want to learn about. That being said, some teachers have recognized that school is more academic-based, and that teachers are neglecting the practical character building lessons that are needed. Moreover, teachers recognize the fast pace of technology advances and thus they concede that there is a need for them to adapt to the changes.
6. What is the current relationship between the older and younger generation in Malaysia?
There seems to be a growing gap between the older and younger generations in Malaysia. Across groups, most of the participants report that the younger generation and the older generation struggle relating to one another. This can be attributed to the fact that the interests between the two are very different. Pastors acknowledge that the older generation needs to be less critical and more accepting of the younger generation. Additionally, the younger generation needs to learn to respect and to submit to the older generation. For this to happen, some pastors report that the older generation needs to reach out to the youth at their level. While teachers attribute the increasing gap to media and technology, parents credit it to excessive homework, religious and compulsory extra-curricular activities and social networking.
7. Are Malaysian youth interested in religion and spirituality?
- What do Malaysian youth consider to be the appropriate relationship between religions?
While older youth are more open to religion and recognize the role it plays in their lives, the younger ones did not express it clearly. Generally, youth believe that for the different religions in Malaysia to co-exist in peace and harmony there is a need to practice tolerance, equal rights, understanding and respect between the major religious groups. To have greater peace and harmony, some youth are of the view that followers should merely practice their own belief and not propagate their religion to others.
- What do Malaysian youth consider to be the appropriate relationship between religions?
In Malaysia, pastors and youth pastors report that there seems to be a lack of interest towards Christianity. In a culture where young people are looking to be entertained, many perceive Christianity to be a religion that is boring and irrelevant. Inside the church, youth will often look for the same experience they get from the entertainment outside. Combine this with the fact that youth are busy with school and extracurricular activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult for church to compete for their time. Additionally, Malaysian youth are hungry for authenticity. Some youth may view some Christian leaders as impersonal, non-relational, or too busy to spend time with them. Furthermore, youth pastors believe that a mindset that does not allow "youth culture" among the pastors and congregants makes it difficult for the younger generation to engage in Christianity. Interestingly, the pastors see the gap between the older and younger generations in Malaysia as a potential cause. Moreover, in some instances parents are actually viewed as a hindrance to Christian youth being drawn to the church because they are not spiritually disciplined themselves. This addresses the issue of parents being a key role model in the lives of their children.
- What help do youth expect to receive from religion?
While some students report that religion is not relevant to their lives, across groups, most participants recognize that religion plays a valuable role in their personal growth. Specific areas where religion can help benefit their personal lives include happiness, confidence, sense of identity, and making better decisions. Furthermore, some Christian youth report that when they face a problem they turn to God because they believe He can help them.
8. What is the current state of youth evangelism and discipleship in Malaysia?
Currently, pastors recognize that ministry to the youth is of great importance. Leaders acknowledge that more is being done today than in the past. That being said, some pastors indicate that the church is still weak in responding to the challenges and opportunities that exist in youth ministry. Church leaders agree that more resources need to be allocated to youth ministry. Additionally, more needs to be done in the area of mentoring. While this is the responsibility of the parents, pastors believe that youth leaders should be entrusted with this role as well. Another current challenge for discipleship is that youth only spend a few hours a week in church. As a result, youth pastors do not have enough time to adequately disciple their youth. It is also important to note that pastors report that churches' need to continue to become more involved and visible within the community. This will allow youth workers to reach out to students.
9. What are practical ways to make Christianity and discipleship relevant to this generation?
Church leaders recognize that there are many relevant ways to disciple today's generation. Some practical areas include the use of media, establishing authentic relationships, and raising mentors as role models. While youth pastors bear some of the responsibility in mentoring youth, it is vitally important for the parents to play a role in the discipleship of their children. Essentially, parents and youth leaders need to work together in partnership. Many pastors believe that reaching the next generation at a younger age, ideally much earlier than teenage years, is important. Emphasis on the basics of faith such as prayer, reading the Bible and discipleship should be given. Additionally, youth will feel more comfortable if the entire church, including the older generation, is more accepting of them.
Youth pastors believe that there is a need for the church to provide an environment where young people can have fun and at the same time experience a genuine encounter with God. Pastors acknowledge that the church must find ways to change and adapt to today's youth and offer a viable alternative for the youth to be drawn.
Other tools that can be utilized to make Christianity more relevant and interesting include music, language and fashion. Employing these methods will generate greater interest among the youth. Pastors agree that tools and methods can be effective, but God is needed to bring about lasting results.
To read the full report download this PDF document.
The full report contains the following sections:-
- Section II: Project Overview
- Section III: Synopsis of Data and Findings
- Section IV: Secondary Information
- Section V: Raw Data from Malaysia Discovery Focus Groups