Millennials, we hardly knew thee. Step aside for Generation Z, those born from 1995 on. They’re steamrolling into adulthood. Businesses and churches better start noticing.

Gen-Z’s are distinctly different from the Millennials, says a Millennial writer feeling the push. The early reports are in, and it would appear that the following trends seem be be sticking:

  • They’re realistic, not idealistic. Growing up in economic uncertainty, most don’t want a job that gives them meaning, most want a job that gives them stability.
  • Most Gen-Z’s didn’t grow up with parents who coddled them, but with parents who called life as it is – tough and challenging so you better suck it up.
  • They’re racially diverse, and still trying to figure out what gender means.
  • It appears that they are dedicated to sorting life out with a commitment to learning, which they do regularly by searching on their own for online teaching resources.

It’s easy to feel frustrated and confused by the dizzying pace of change in today’s world. Just when we get used to doing things one way, a new thing comes along. We look back nostalgically at times past and pretend that everything was slower and saner back then, and nothing ever changed. Maybe with technology, that might be true. But having just re-read 1st and 2nd Kings again for the guzillionth time, one thing is clear – society changes generationally. A “good” king can be followed by a “bad” king and just like that, all the rules and trends change.

What is it that sets apart one generation from another? Scripture is clear: It’s the experiences that are shared by those who grow up in those particular times. We’re all shaped by the great events that we live through when we’re young. “The child is the father of the man,” wrote the poet William Wordsworth.

Why did the Egyptian people suddenly turn on the Hebrews in their midst and enslave them. Because “there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex.2:8). Why did the Hebrews that Moses brought out from Egypt find it impossible to live as free people? Because that generation only knew slavery, and it was all-but-impossible for them to overcome that generational imprint. (God finally had to let them die out so a new generation could arise with whom he could work.)

Even in the 20th century, we can look back and observe very distinct differences between each of the generations. Why were my grandparents so frugal, resourceful and trusted government? They experienced the Great Depression and World War II. Meanwhile the Boomers lived through Vietnam and Watergate and could never escape their cynicism of government, and mistrust of authority. The Millennials have the shadow of 9-11 over them. Now Gen-Z (or whatever name sticks) will have a unique imprint on their hearts and character for what they have lived through.

We can be forgiven for feeling frustration as the whirlwind of change whips us about, but it’s better to just make our peace with it as followers of Christ, and do our best to stay in tune with how culture bobs and weaves. For if we cannot connect with the great themes that define a particular generation, then we will be unable to connect them to the one thing in all of existence that does not change – the love and truth of God in Christ.

1 Chronicles 12:32 parcels out rare praise for the tribe of Issachar, “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” That’s a good target for us to shoot for. If these early trends that define Generation Z are true, then a man or woman of Issachar in the church would perhaps:

  • Recognize that since most of of the Z’ers won’t be finding meaning and significance from their jobs, then they’ll be looking for a place that offers it – hello! Anyone listening?
  • Recognize that pursuing racial reconciliation might be a good commitment to make. Homogeneous churches in a world likes ours will stand out more than ever as inauthentic.
  • Recognize that we have a great opportunity to present hope, clarity and boundaries with our sexual ethic to a generation that’s tried the “everything goes” sexual experiment and found it empty.
  • Double-down on efforts to keep the dinosaur out of our technology. We need to make sure the technological containers we use to share the gospel with the world are cutting edge and attractive.

Any other thoughts or observations that come to mind here as we think of sharing Christ in 2017 and beyond?


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