Kids these days, amirite?
Although “millennials” may be the most studied generation so far in American history, another generation rises among us: Generation Z. Who are they?
A Profile of Gen Z
Thankfully, James Emery White seeks to answer that question in his book: Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. White desperately wants churches to reach Gen Z. Yet, before they can reach a new generation, they must understand it. So White first puts together a “profile” on Gen Z.
Since most members of Gen Z were born after 9/11, the financial collapse of 2008 imprinted itself on their minds as the most formative event so far. Consequently, big financial institutes scare them: “This helps explain the (surprising to many) embrace of socialism among young voters in the 2016 presidential election, in marked contrast to older voters” (39). Bernie Sanders had real appeal to them.
Even though many came of age in tough economic times, they remain optimistic: “Their goal is not simple economic security. They are marked by a very strong sense of wanting to make a difference–and thinking that they can” (41). They want to build things for themselves. They would rather try their hand at a startup than work for a traditional boss.
Their optimism also leads them to believe that they need to rescue the world from its past sins (41). One of those “sins” in their eyes (unfortunately for the church) is an exploitative and oppressive Christianity.
They are known as “digital natives.”
They intuitively know how to use technology because they grew up with it. iPhones filled their pockets at a young age.
As a result, these new technologies reversed the flow of information. It now flows from young to old. Whereas in previous generations, “elders” passed along wisdom to the young, in today’s climate, the young can easily bypass their elders in acquiring information through a Google search. New technology tends to bewilder older people, while the young figure out new tech quickly because they are digital natives.
Teens spend a lot of time absorbing media through technology: about 9 hours a day (42)! According to the teens themselves, their parents show concern over the content but not the amount of time they spend on their phones/tablets.
Gen Z is the most racially diverse generation to date: “The United States is currently in the midst of a changing racial demographic…The current wave [of immigration] is the largest in history, with the majority of immigrants coming to our country from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean” (45).
They are also globally connected through the internet. The sense of “place” is no longer a nation per se. They might have friends all around the world they can connect with.
Coupling the multiracial nature of Generation Z with a heightened awareness of inequality, racial issues are once again at the forefront of national conversations. Whether about white privilege or police shootings, there is an increasing racial component to these discussions.
Valuing acceptance and affirmation has led a dramatic rise in the support of same-sex marriage and other “non-traditional” sexualities among Gen Z (46). In fact, the case of gay marriage is decisively settled among them: 73% of Gen Z support it.
Other studies have shown a remarkable increase in Gen Z identifying with other sexualities than fully heterosexual. Many in Gen Z do not want to be labeled in their sexuality, as “labels are repressive” (47).
Individual freedom rules the day and informs the issue of sexuality. Gen Z, as a whole, largely sees sexuality as “free from any and all restrictions, and people should be allowed to follow their desires, moment by moment” (47). Yet, most are just children, adopting the patterns laid down by their parents and grandparents. The Sexual Revolution started in the 1960’s, not the 2000’s.
Finally, Gen Z is post-Christian. Most of Generation Z believes in God (78%) but less than half (41%) attend weekly religious services (49). They don’t know God and they don’t know the gospel. They are not influenced by the Christian faith. In fact, according to Barna Research Group, the younger someone is within Gen Z, the more post-Christian they become (49).
Meet then Reach
Although some of the statistics White uses can seem scary, the shifting generational dynamics can also be seen as an opportunity. Now is an opportunity for the church to reach more and more people in need of the gospel. But before we can reach them, let’s make sure we’re truly meeting them and understanding them.
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