As mentioned in the previous post, all signs from the latest generational cohort, Generation Z (sometimes also referred to as “Plurals,” the “Homeland generation,” or “Post-Millennials”), seem to indicate that they will be wildly different than most generations in the past. These young people who were born between 1995-2010 have several uniting factors that will force churches to rethink the way they approach mission and outreach. Expanding on the points I learned from the Church and Culture Conference in Charlotte last week, five fascinating characteristics shared by Generation Z are the following:
1. They are recession marked.
This generation grew up in the most economically challenging time since the Great Depression. The economic downfall of the early 2000s and the global recession of 2008-2009 served as their backdrop.
Consider this, too: most of us who are old enough remember exactly where we were on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. The oldest members from Generation Z were around six years old at the time. To them, the attacks on the World Trade Center and its aftermath are early memories (if they remember it at all). Osama bin Laden was the boogieman who marked their childhood. Plus, the rise of radical Islamic terrorism and ISIS developed quickly in their lifetime. This is a roundabout way of saying that they’ve never known a world without the threat of widespread terror.
With this real life environment, take into account that some of the most popular fictional TV series among this age group feature young people facing the chaos and uncertainty of a dystopian future. The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent (published as a children’s book in 2011) are just a few of the popular series that have shaped this generation.
Because they have had to face the prospects of an uncertain future, Generation Z’s are very independent and entrepreneurial in nature. Some are still actively waiting for the zombie apocalypse.
2. They are Wi-Fi enabled.
Over the past few decades, consider who had access to high-speed computers:
- 1960s: National armies, governments, and large corporations
- 1970s: Small organizations
- 1980s: Hobbyists
- 1990s: Expensive personal computers
- 2000s: Civilized nations
Unlike Millennials, who still remember the age of dial-up, Z’s are true digital natives who have always had access to the breadth of the world’s knowledge in their pockets. This means that they are able to fact-check everything in real-time and can immediately tell if a lecturer or a pastor knows what they’re talking about or not.
This unparalleled access to information might lead them to think that they don’t need libraries, schools, or teachers. This is one large liability for this group because, although self-directed, they’re vulnerable to intellectual predators. They have access to lots of information, but not much access to wisdom. Just because something sounds good, doesn’t mean it’s factually true.
They may not be able to assess the credibility or validity of the information that they’re accessing. This means that there is a great need for mentorship in this group.
Although true digital natives, Z’s are less social than Millennials. Private and anonymous, they don’t do Facebook (Facebook is the site for their parents; Instagram is where it’s at). They prefer more private social media venues like Snapchat, Whisper, Burn Note, and Yik Yak that allow them to hide behind the scenes.
3. They are multiracial.
The United States is quickly approaching a day when whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. Their children are helping to expedite this. Around the time of the 2020 census, more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.
The fastest growing ethnic population projected until 2050 is those who mark themselves a belonging to “two or more races.” One caveat is that, although by 2050, when demographers tell us that there will be no racial or ethnic majority among the general population of the United States, it is projected that the Latino population will double to 30 percent.
Currently the most common last name in the U.S. is “Smith.” In a few years, that award is projected to go to the last name “Rodriguez.”
The impact of this changing sociological reality means that for Z’s, racial inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance among racial and cultural lines is a cardinal virtue. Any talk of exclusivity is seen as heinous to their basic sense of morality. As an Adventist, regardless of your view on the matter, this might indicate why many younger Adventists are generally in favor of ending the decades-old divide between state and regional conferences.
They may be the first generation for which diversity is a natural concept that will not be ruined by anything older people do or say.
4. They are sexually fluid.
Similar to the racial acceptance in the previous point, Generation Z tends to be overwhelmingly in favor of LGBT rights.
A 2014 survey by Northeastern University found that Generation Z supports equal rights for all, including universal healthcare and relaxed immigration laws. Below are the percentages they found (the percentage in parenthesis indicates the percentage of Northeastern University Generation Z students were in favor of the same question):
Everyone should have the right to marry, regardless of sexual orientation: 73% (75%)
Transgender people should have equal rights: 74% (83%)
Healthcare should be free for everyone: 64% (71%)
Everyone should have the right to become a U.S. citizen, regardless of where they were born or how they came to the country: 55% (63%)
Generation Z has also developed and are sympathetic to the concept of gender-bending or gender-fluidity:
Gen Z was born into a world where gender is increasingly more fluid and nondescript. The majority prefer non-gender-specific products and shopping in unisex stores. Gen Z considers gender to be a subjective experience and they view conventional attitudes as insulting. (Cassandra Report, Summer/Fall 2013, “What Gender Means to Generations Y & Z,” Deep Focus).
Acceptance and affirmation are synonymous for them. The greatest value in this area is individual freedom of expression. Remember, they didn’t create this world, they are simply taking what was available and are running with it.
5. They are post-Christian.
Although Millennials are already the most generally secular generation, Gen Z’s are going even further by generally abandoning belief in God altogether. A Pew Research study from 2012 found that belief in God dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.
The chart below reflects the Pew survey’s latest findings.
One source that commented on these figures went on to conclude that:
The results suggest that a new movement of atheist or agnostic thinking during the the last decade — spearheaded by high-profile authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris — is steering younger people away from traditional beliefs long held by their parents.
According to Pew, “the trend was also reflected in declining numbers of Millennials who agreed with the statements ‘Prayer is an important part of my daily life’ and ‘We all will be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.’ Answers to those questions also didn’t change much among older generations.”
You may notice that this chart does not differentiate between Millennials and Gen Z’s. Instead, they were looking at everyone under 30. Still, the same point remains.
Overall, Generation Z is highly educated, technologically savvy, and naturally creative and innovative. With this post, I’m presenting facts and trends; don’t confuse this with either condemning or condoning the facts. However, I would caution church leaders to not avoid or decry this generation. We need to see this as an opportunity to creatively present the Gospel and thoughtfully give reasons for our beliefs (e.g. Christian apologetics). The importance of this cannot be overstated because unless we address the concerns they carry, involve them in the solutions, and show our respect before asking for it, we will quickly become irrelevant.
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