Meet Generation Z

by | Aug 1, 2017 | Vibrant Faith

“I just don’t get these Millennials!” came the exclamation from a youth worker after having a run in of some kind with a 15 year old. My eyebrows rose as the youth worker was a twenty three year old, a Millennial in fact, who was exasperated. Before I could say anything, his friend laughed and declared, “What are you talking about? We are Millennials, these teens are a whole different generation all together.”

He was right. While studies disagree on exactly when the Millennial era ended, somewhere around 1995-ish, Generation Z was born. When they first came on the scene sociologists played around with the idea of calling them “Boomlets.” While this name has not seemed to stick, the reasoning made sense. This is the largest generational group in the US and arguably the largest in history, even more than the Baby Boomers.

As a matter of fact they are so different than any other generation in history that sociologists can’t wait to study them, marketing researchers are tracking them, and the rest of us are just merely confused by them. It’s time for us to accept that the Millennials are grown ups, and if we truly want to look to the future of the church we need to take some time to get to know Generation Z.

James Emery White, author of, “Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post Christian World,“ puts it this way: “They are the youngest generational cohort on the planet — and the largest. This means that in the coming years they will not simply influence culture, but be culture.”

So What Are the First Things We Need To Know?

They Are Always On And Digitally Over Connected:

This generation has never known a day without information being easily accessible at the end of a touch screen. Surveys of teens show they consider technology in the same category as air and water. They multi-task, preferring five screens going at once. According to a report by Sparks & Honey, a New York based marketing company, Generation Z spends almost 41% of their time out of school on computers and mobile devices. They have learned to work independently, researching using social media, YouTube, and search engines. This technologically-driven world has made them highly adaptable and accustomed to rapid change.

They Have Grown Up In An Uncertain World:

This generation has lived their whole lives in a chaotic and stressful world. The oldest of the Z’s were still only about 5 or 6 when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The world they have grown up in has been filled with war, terrorism, school shootings, and global unrest. The Great Recession may officially be over but this generation sees the effect of a weak economy. For example, according to a recent article in Business Insider “the average annual increase in college tuition from 1980-2014 grew by nearly 260% compared to the nearly 120% increase in all consumer items. In 1980, the average cost of tuition, room and board, and fees at a four-year post-secondary institution was $9,438, according to the Department of Education. That number has since climbed to $23,872.”

They Are A Diverse Generation:

According to US Census data, this is the first time in history that the majority of a generation in America is non-white, and more and more identify themselves as bi-racial. In this time in history, Hispanics are the fastest growing group having an average of 3-4 children, while African- American moms have two and Asian and white moms mostly have only one or two children. They have seen huge cultural shifts with the legalization of gay marriage and while it is uncertain how many of them will enter into a same sex marriage, it is now considered normal. They consider themselves gender fluid, and the idea that you can only be a boy or a girl because your physique was born that way is a thing of the past.

They Long For Connection:

Watching their Millennial cousins share too much publicly about themselves getting them into trouble in social media circles, the Z’s are private preferring to hide behind what they perceive as closed communication like SnapChat. Their main social media outlets, like Instagram, have encouraged them to tell their stories in pictures over words. It is not uncommon for their communication with each other to be rapid fire using emoticons and emojis to share their thoughts. Yet, they continue to long for connection. While they text friends in their off hours, they prefer face-time to a phone call. This could be because they remain highly connected to family, with parents being their biggest influencers. They have become used to living in multi-generational homes as their aging grandparents move in with their parents. All of this has made them a generation that will happily put down the touch screen for one-on-one time.

They Want To Change The World:

It is estimated that in the same Sparks & Honey study that 60% of Gen Z wants to have an impact on the world. This has made them want to go to college, graduate, skip their Master’s degree and become an entrepreneur. They do not want to be employees, but instead creatively innovate ways to fix the problems of the world at large.

They are Perfectionists:

They are a conscientious generation that is marked by a hunger for success. They don’t care about the cool factor. However, they do want a clear path to meeting expectations of becoming better and reaching higher. They may appear apathetic while in reality they just are afraid to move forward until they know the exact expectations. They feel a pressure to find better ways into college, and have ceased to know how to merely be involved in activities for the sake of fun. Most of them feel they are more driven than their peers and they must keep up. For example, in an article by the New York Post, entitled, “The Epidemic That’s Ruining Youth Sports,” there are unprecedented injuries in youth sports. “The injuries are a byproduct of many factors, including hyper competitive athletes, a growing number of travel teams and tournaments, and overzealous parents pushing their children too much because they believe they have the next LeBron James on their hands.” In other words every angle of the lives of this current generation is marked by a push to be better and know more.

This generation is fascinating, different from any other, and we must stand up and take notice. We have only begun to understand them, and have not even started to take a look at the implications that they are the first Post-Christian generation in history. We have been very concerned in the Christian world at the number of Millennials leaving both the church and their faith. How do we put all of these pieces together to understand how Gen Z might look at their own faith? Next week we will take a look.

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