The world is changing quickly and it is natural to experience fear and discomfort as “normalcy” adapts, whether due to the pandemic or the increasingly progressive culture around us. When I speak with an older person, I commonly hear a theme of concern for their children and grandchildren, for the young people in America. Often I feel the same concerns, but as a member of Generation Z, I can recognize the strengths of my peers and perhaps offer a glimpse of hope.
According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who identify as Christians has fallen 10% in the last decade, and 4 in 10 millennials are religiously unaffiliated. While the number of those attending church or professing Christianity may be fewer in number, I would argue that some of the decrease represents obligatory or ceremonial church attendance and may not detrimentally affect the Christian mission. I believe our faith and our message is resilient, and that Christ offers hope for which the world is so desperately aching.
The next generation, including Millennials and Generation Z, might well see the end of cultural Christianity, at least in terms of how it’s looked for decades now. Future generations of Christians might face more persecution, but when has this ever stopped the church? The way my peers live out their faith inspires and motivates me, and I want to share this excitement. Young people who proclaim Christ today proclaim him counter-culturally with confidence, creativity, and curiosity.
A Generation Marked by Confidence
This generation doesn’t just talk, they act. One of my favorite things to do when talking to a peer is to ask them what they would do if they could do anything. Often, they are already scheming about ways to make their dreams happen––not just one day, but now!
Student Leadership University is a Christian leadership conference that asks students this very question: “What would you do for the glory of God if you knew you could not fail?”
My generation has access to opportunities and resources like never before, so when we see a problem, we are inclined to start a lemonade stand, a club at school, a podcast, a fun run, or a YouTube channel to act in conjunction with our newfound awareness. For example, a group of three young women discovered that there were only twelve beds for survivors of human trafficking in the entire state of Texas. These friends set out to bike down the Pacific coast spreading awareness and raising money to support a project that would house, educate, and offer a faith-based, holistic healing environment for victims. Today, a team of twelve women “Pedal the Pacific” each summer and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars “cycling for a world where people are not for sale.”
Young Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, see injustice and respond with compassion paired with action. Instead of shying away from an unsettling problem, ask your kids and young people around you if they have any ideas about how they can help, and be amazed by their willingness to act.
A Generation Marked by Creativity
The perils of technology are steep and dark, but this generation of Christians can leverage media outlets for good. Whether through online Bible resources, documentaries, awareness campaigns, or fundraisers, young people have the technological finesse that can impact the world when used for the good of others. This was proven in 2020, as the skills held by Millennials and Gen Z allowed churches to continue to minister, nonprofit organizations to continue to meet needs, and communities of believers to continue to connect.
Unprecedented access to technology has put creative dreams within reach for young adults, college students, and high school students. Thanks to YouTube tutorials and a supercomputer at my fingertips, I was able to launch The Dual Citizen Podcast as a sophomore in college and interview experts on faith and politics via Zoom.
My friends at Anchored Passion started a completely student-led platform for online resources that “exalt Christ, equip the church, and engage the culture through the proclamation of the gospel.” This organization connects college students around the world and provides them an outlet to learn about theology through the writing and editing process.
A friend and fellow student at Samford University published a book in April of 2020. Her book, which shared her testament to God’s faithfulness through a story marred by family wounds and discrimination, is simply titled, I’ll Go First. To me, she represents the courageous face of a generation of Christians whose heart cry is “I’ll go first! Send me!”
Without a publisher to say “No,” a ladder to climb, or a stage to obtain, social media gives an opportunity and audience to anyone who has a message to share. This is promising for the advancement of the gospel, as messages can be spread instantly through a photo, video, message, or podcast. If you have only heard of the crippling effects of social media, ask a 15-to-30-year-old about ways they have seen it create positive outcomes, and spread the good news of Jesus.
A Generation Marked by Curiosity
This generation asks why. We are, after all, the generation of Google! My generation is accustomed to having answers in seconds, with virtual libraries at our fingertips and an assistant named Siri or Alexa. We are obsessed with enneagram personality analysis, which offers some answers to why we are the way we are.
Millennials have taught me why mass incarceration is a problem in the US, why I should be thankful for my education when so many around the world do not have this privilege, and why racial divides still exist today. Millennials and Gen Zers want to take hard topics off of the backburner and have honest conversations. Speaking generally, we will not be appeased by, “That’s just the way things are.”
This habitual questioning can be seen as a hurdle to true faith, or, when pursued rightly an opportunity to establish a strongly supported belief system. Christian apologist Sean McDowell knows this well. A professor of theology at Biola University, McDowell also hosts a YouTube channel defending the faith and tackling questions from, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?” to “Why keep the faith?” Apologists, as well as many interrogative millennials, are, in a sense, obeying the command to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
To shepherd young people well, embrace our questions. When you don’t have answers, challenge yourself to say, “I don’t know, but let’s learn more together.”
On the surface, it may seem that the future of our world and the church is left in the hands of those who are chronically distracted, noncommittal, and entitled, but there is more to the story. Young Christians are stepping into leadership in a rapidly changing world, and the faithful are responding with compassionate action, creative evangelism, and curiosity which produces deep faith.