Helpful Things: Spilling the Tea on Generation Z
By Erica Jacoby
If you were born in America somewhere between 1996 and 2013, you have been named "Generation Z" by sociologists. You may also be referred to as "iGen" because your generation is the first to grow up with a tablet or a smartphone in hand; you are the first generation of true digital natives. You probably could "speak" technology before you could properly speak English. It is unprecedented! Catching up with your technological prowess is totally new and very scary for those of us who are older. Just when we almost catch up with you and your virtual world, you've moved on to something new!
The A to Z of Generation Z
One out of five Americans belongs to your generation. Think about that for a minute! Generation Z represents the largest subpopulation of Americans to date. Talk about power in numbers! Companies, political research firms, and religious organizations are furiously studying and analyzing Gen Z in order to sell you products and influence your opinion and behavior. Other generations want to know how the worldview of Gen Z will affect American culture and society. Most importantly we wonder, how will this worldview affect the future of Christ's Church?
As with any American generation that has come before you, there are good defining characteristics and not-so-good characteristics of Gen Z. Maybe you are familiar with some of these trends, maybe you are not. Teen birth rates, drug and alcohol abuse, and high school failure to graduate on time numbers have all declined. Teens are waiting longer to engage in sexual activity and abortion rates have declined, too. Yet despite these positive statistical trends with Gen Z, there are some statistics that are concerning. Feelings of isolation, insecurity, depression, and incidences of suicide among teens are higher than they have ever been. Fifty-eight percent of teens polled recently in 2016 and 2017 said they agree with the statement that "Many religions can lead to eternal life; there is no ‘one true religion.'"
Facing Tough Choices
Is this the end of the world as we know it? The answer is both yes and no. We can look at the future of the world in the way the devil wants us to see it, which is to be full of despair and doubt. We can convince ourselves that the sky is falling and it's the end of the world and of Christianity in America. We can look at the data and view the fact that we are now living in a post-Christian America as evidence that God has judged this country and is taking His Gospel elsewhere. You can deny your faith, conform to the world, and adopt their secular worldview.
I admit that in my vocation as a public school high school teacher it has been difficult at times not to give in to worry and despair. My Christian conscience has been deeply troubled when confronted with the pro-LGBTQ agenda in my district which insists you are part of the problem and are even harming kids by not supporting and promoting their ideology. I have served students who identify as transitioning, gay, bisexual, atheist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and the list goes on. How am I to tell my students about the Gospel of Jesus when talking about Him could get me fired? I know that if I struggle with this as an adult in this new post-Christian reality, surely you must struggle, too!
Using the Lens of Faith
Should we perhaps look at this through Jesus-colored glasses instead? Through the lens of faith which the Lord has so graciously given to us in our Baptism? Kids in your generation may be searching for their orientation or for how they can "identify" themselves to others. But not you! You don't have to struggle with your identity. You know who you are; you know Whose you are. In your Baptism, God has given you new life. He has forgiven your sins. He has made you who you are by showing you Whose you are. You are one who has been bought by Christ the crucified. You are at peace with God. When God looks at you, He doesn't see someone who struggles with identity for whatever reason; He sees perfection. He sees His Son. Thanks be to God!
We've been reminded of our identity in Jesus, so remember this, too: you aren't in this generation by accident. When you look around your school, your friends, and your community that exist outside of your church and you start to feel alone and in the minority, recall that God has placed you in those areas for your good and for the good of others. Because of Whose you are, you can't help but be a bright beacon of light in a confused and dark world. We know the world is confused because their eyes are turned inward on themselves in their search for answers. But the only thing to be found in the human heart is darkness, sin, and death. No wonder Generation Z reports feeling isolated, insecure, and depressed. They don't know Jesus! They are in darkness and don't know that He is the Light of the world.
And you are a light to your generation. Like a city on a hill shines, so you shine to those around you (Matthew 5:14). You are a lamp that gives light to the whole house of your life. But you don't shine with your own light, you shine with the light of Christ who loved you and gave Himself for you. You also don't shine for yourself! No! Nor can you hide your light under a bushel! You shine for others with all that you do and say so that they may see Christ in you and glorify the God who made you.
God's Gifts for Gen Z
I won't lie to you. You are going to be facing tough challenges as your generation matures into adulthood. Certainly we are living in the end times. Our Lord told us we are. We live in a time where it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a follower of Christ. But you don't have to meet those challenges alone. You are in Christ and when you need to be reminded, you have somewhere to go to be fed. Go to His house and receive His Word, His forgiveness, His Body and Blood, shed for you unto life everlasting. For all things are yours--whether the world or life or death or the present or future--all are yours, and you are Christ's and Christ is God's (1 Corinthians 3:23). That is who you are.
Editor's Note: Erica originally addressed our youth readers in this fall 2019 Higher Things Magazine article, but we believe it provides a great deal of invaluable insight to youth leaders as well.
Erica Jacoby is the executive director of Higher Things.
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