Here’s something you may not realize… officially speaking, the emerging generation are not “the millennials.” Anyone born after 1997 is part of the generation that has been dubbed, for reasons I’m not completely sure about, “Generation Z.”
The distinction is more than just one of different names. Millennials and Gen Z have been shaped by different experiences and ideas. Most Millennials can remember a time when the new sexual orthodoxy wasn’t orthodox, and people who opposed—or at least were ambivalent about it—weren’t called “bigots.”
This is much less true of “Generation Z,” who even before Obergefell, were being catechized in the new sexual orthodoxy at school and by mass culture.
Even more important—and distressing—is that members of “Generation Z” are leaving the church at an unprecedentedly high rate. Now, I confess that I feel a bit like the boy who cried “wolf” even saying that, given the overblown and often unsupported claims of the rates of young people from previous generations leaving the faith. It’s always been “bad”—not as bad as you’ve heard—but let me be clear: it’s worse for Gen Z.
And, I’d add, I have significant anecdotal evidence that older generations feel a greater generation gap between them and their Gen Z kids and grandkids.
All of this to say, we’ve got some serious thinking to do about how we can transmit the truths of the Gospel and the worldview that flows from it to Generation Z. To start with: What has worked for previous generations may not work for them.
Thankfully, two of the best thinkers and communicators I know have jump started the conversation. Sean McDowell and Colson Center Senior Fellow J. Warner Wallace have just published a book, “So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World.”
Both writers are already well-known for their ability to make the case for the reasonableness of Christian truth and morality. And while there is some of this in their new book, it isn’t the primary focus. The focus is on what they call a “biblical way forward” to confronting the challenges posed by GenZ’s lack and/or loss of faith.
This “way forward” starts with taking into account the interplay between truth and relationships. As they put it, “doing a better job of teaching truth and making the case for Christianity” is “only part of the answer.”
To the “reasonable explanations” that we must offer young people, we also have to add “authentic relationships.” And that can be harder than we think.
First, there’s a strong temptation to emphasize the relationship part over the truth part. We can be so desperate to preserve the relationship that we’ll hesitate to speak the truth in love for risk of offending the person. For example, I do not know of a single biblical or theological authority who has changed their mind on any of the contemporary sexual issues of our day, who didn’t have a son, daughter, or close family member struggling with one of those letters of the acronym.
On the other hand, these kinds of authentic relationships take work, time, and patience. We can’t pre-empt the relationship part and think our job is done. McDowell’s and Wallace’s “way forward” requires taking this to heart. We must be willing to invest the time necessary and build the trust necessary to get at what the next generation is really thinking and feeling. That’s why this book about transmitting a Christian worldview to the next generation includes a section on something as important—and yet as simple as—eating together.
This book is a necessary read for parents, grandparents, pastors, educators—anyone invested in the faith of Gen Z.
We have “So the Next Generation Will Know” available for you here, when you make your next donation to BreakPoint and the Colson Center.