Digital Babylon Sara Thomas

“What is happening in Qatar right now?” I ask.

“Google it,” she says.

Within seconds, a full page of information, ideas, and insights explode on to the scene. Making sense of the information is a whole different matter.

I asked a question. She had an answer.

…Or did she?

Welcome to the World of Generation Z

Born between 1999-2015, Gen Z is made up of over 69 million people, smaller than Boomers at 76 million, but larger than Millennials at 66 million people. Gen Z is the most diverse generation on record in the United States.They are:

  • 63% White
  • 21% Latinos
  • 17% Black
  • 9 % Asian
  • 3 % Other

They grew up with the first African American President in the United States.

They are screenagers (no, that’s not a typo), career-driven, and their context is post-Christian. Those words may leave you scratching your head. And that’s ok. They don’t have the answers either.

More than any other generation, Gen Z responds “I don’t know” or “I’m confused” or “I’m not sure.” Confusion and anxiety about decision-making are commonplace among their peers.

digital babylon sara thomas

Relativistic

Their culture is relativistic. Truth? What Truth? There may be facts, but people can believe what they want to believe. And sure, what is right and what is wrong can change over time. While 34% of Gen Z said lying is wrong, there is a reason to pause. Do you realize what that means? Two-thirds of them say it is ok to lie.

Wondering why you’re not syncing with this generation? The Silent Generation, among the oldest living generation in the US, turned that statistic on its head: 61% say lying is wrong. In what may startle many, Gen Z was more offended by people not recycling than by people engaging in pornography. One third say gender is how a person feels.

Together, you guessed it, like many young generations they lack a true north. Their lives are a blank slate of ideas. They’ve grown up with trigger warnings. What’s a trigger warning? “If you’re uncomfortable with what we’re about to discuss, you can leave.” That’s a trigger warning.

Many are afraid to share and challenge what is true and right. Wait, what is right? Or is it left?

Interestingly, education takes the lead as the primary influence shaping their identity, displacing family and faith as the primary influences of previous generations. Six out of ten church-going teens say they have to choose between faith and science. If they see faith and science in conflict, they will often favor science. But, half of church-going teens reject science.

Post-Christian

The Gen Z Report notes, “When researchers segment Gen Z by faith, we find that, while a majority of teens still self-identifies as “Christian” (58%), only 43 percent have recently attended church, and just one in 11 is an “engaged Christian,” with beliefs and practices that put faith front-and-center in their lives.”¹

What is an engaged Christian? They have attended church in the past six months and strongly agree with the following statements:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God and contains truth about the world.
  • I have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today.
  • I engage with my church in more ways than just attending services.
  • I believe that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death.²

Gen Z is the largest generation on record to say they are agnostic, atheist, or have no religion (34%). Many do not think faith is relevant. Thirteen percent say they are atheists – doubling the percentage of atheists in the Millennial generation.

Let’s unpack that a bit. It’s about irrelevance, not hostility. While you may have feelings associated with faith – they don’t. Faith is irrelevant. It is also often polarizing.

And they don’t want to be polarizing.

Not wanting to have an opinion that polarizes one group of people, alienates another, and leaves them alone, they opt for a more neutralizing response, one that takes them out of the cross-hairs of extremist and irrelevant faith.Gen Z Post Christian Sara THomas

Economic Success

As I reflect on those in Gen Z I know and love, I once again find myself saying, “I wouldn’t want to be growing up today.” Their world is complex, riddled with change, and lacking a clear center point. The defining event of their young lives has been the economic recession of 2008-2009. Their neighbors lost jobs, their friends moved out of houses, their neighborhoods had houses foreclosed, aunts and uncles moved in with them, and/or their Mom and Dad shifted work to lesser paying jobs.

Researchers propose this is why success is a huge priority for them. Their focus on career training and financial success is unmistakable. They define adulthood by financial independence, not an age. At the same time, technology not only influences them, it is influencing their parents.

Interpersonal Relationships

One youth leader described having to teach teens how to have a conversation, specifically about making eye contact. There were no smartphones on the table and still the student assumed a posture with his head bowed staring into his hands. No, this wasn’t a posture of prayer or timidity.

It was the normal posture of holding a cell phone. Unaware of the conditioning holding a smartphone had on his life, a caring adult came alongside a student to help him develop the confidence and self-awareness to engage in conversation that included eye contact. (In the back of my mind, I’m wondering, Didn’t they have an adult in their life ever say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Maybe that was just me?!? 😉

While part of me wants to rant about the impacts of technology on our relationships, it wouldn’t help. Suffice it to say, there is mounting evidence that spending over four hours every day staring at a screen is negatively impacting interpersonal relationships and social interaction. Their desires for community and relationships are undeveloped. They also have very little understanding of what it means simply to “hang out.”

Additionally, as I heard stories of young people feeling pressure from school not to embrace their faith, I wondered where our ability to reason and think has gone? The profile of this generation speaks to this. They have a heart for suffering and evil, especially the marginalized. But they don’t believe there is truth. As a result, they appear inconsistent. With a high value of justice and no absolute truth, some have said they are not prepared for the world they are going to live in.

Anyone else remember researchers saying this about their generation? ‘Cause I do.  Continue Reading Part Two

 

Notes

Data is from the 2018 Barna Group and Impact 360 Institute Report, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation 

  1. Barna Group and Impact 360 Institute Report, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, 26.
  2. Ibid, p. 112
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  1. […] Many of them had been a part of the congregation for decades. But they were lamenting the fact that there were very few young people and young families in the church. (If you’re experiencing something similar, it is worth exploring info about Generation Z, the youngest generation in the United States here.) […]

  2. […] How does your understanding of Jesus, the incarnation, and humanity shape how you embrace others? As Jesus followers, how do you articulate what you believe? Clarifying “why” you believe in Jesus and how Jesus shapes your worldview not only important, it is necessary. Your testimony to who God is and how Jesus has transformed your life is being viewed through the lens of integrity. If there is no alignment between the words you speak, the actions you take, and how you interact with people on a daily basis, you’ll likely not be taken seriously. While this should be true for any generation, remember, Gen Z is living in Digital Babylon. This is a mission field, not Christendom. Read more: “Post-Christian” – the statistics of Gen Z who have attended worship in… […]

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