Matt Wells, Assistant for Media
Just when you finally started to understand millennials, there’s a new generation rising up.
Some are calling them Generation Z.
We had Generation X (born from 1960-80, give or take). After them came Generation Y (1980-1995) – but that’s too mainstream, and so that generation became known as the “Millennials.” We’ve already written plenty about them and their role in missions. We want to end our series on “Millennials in Missions” this month by looking beyond to the next generation.
Do you remember 9/11? A day most of us could never forget if we tried. If you remembered 9/11 vividly, then you are a Millennial or older.
If you don’t really remember much of the details of that day, you are likely part of Generation Z, born from roughly 1996 until the current day. Instead of 9/11 being the pivotal moment of your young life, you are more likely to talk about the “Great Recession” of 2008 – the day your dad might have lost his job or your family started a very hard financial path that they have still not recovered from.
This generation is just beginning their college and adult years. And researchers and marketers are just starting to figure them out. Are they like millennials? Are they going to vote more conservative or liberal? Are they going to be as global as millennials or more “home-focused”?
Well, no one quite knows yet. Your best bet is to just get to know a Gen Z-er. Perhaps you have one living in your house or you work in a youth group full of them. I was born on the tail end of millennials and have many younger friends of the more Z-stripe, including the middle-schoolers I teach at church. Through these experiences and research, I have been trying to figure out my younger brothers and sisters in Christ.
How will God use this generation? I’ve seen how God is starting to use those of my generation to reach the 10-40 window, to plunge into nations that were traditionally closed to missionaries, to bring glory to Christ by the spreading of His name in very dark places. It’s been exciting to watch.
But when I’m older (and hopefully wiser) and observing the next generation engage in missions, will I be excited? Or disappointed?
Here’s a few very tentative observations about this new generation and how missions might continue with them:
1. They could be more home-focused.
Millennials are notoriously global, as the Internet grew up with us, connecting us to people all over the world via social media. It’s natural that we wanted to go visit the people and places we discovered on the Internet. This interest in foreign traveling has of course been helpful for missions (although time will tell if our global perspective keeps us on a hard field for the long haul).
But Gen Z grew up in the era of the Great Recession. Even if they desire to spend money, they had to go through their parents (likely Gen X) who are a lot more frugal and “safety-conscious.” They grew up in the heyday of “helicopter-parenting.” Go read your typical thirty-something mother’s blog, and you will find a great concern for safety. Gen Z has been raised to wear seat belts, sit in the right car seat, not drink out of BPA-filled water bottles, etc.
The question is – will this safety-trained generation be willing to get outside their comfort zones to share the good news in dangerous places? Perhaps a better question is – will their parents let them go? Only time will tell, but I am confident God will continue raising up missionaries to carry the Gospel to faraway lands.
But there is a reason many are calling this the “Homeland Generation.” In the post-9/11 world, perhaps this new generation will be more focused on the close-by than the far-away. Some would see this as a negative for missions, but it could also be a positive development, because…
2. They will grow up in the most diverse America.
Even if they are more home-focused, perhaps it won’t matter as much. Like no time in history, global is becoming local. And I’m not just talking about the Internet.
America is perhaps more diverse than ever. We are certainly becoming more ethnically diverse with the Hispanic and African-American populations increasing. This is great news for the cause of missions in our homeland, as Gen Z reaches out cross-culturally within their own city.
But at the same time, America is becoming more diverse ethically. Same-sex marriage is barely even questioned by the younger generations, and the transgender movement is gaining traction. Simultaneously, the tumultuous 2016 election cycle proved that America is still a country full of diverse opinions on any number of issues.
Gen Z will come of age in both a divided and diverse country.
What an opportunity for missions and evangelism! We will still need members of Gen Z to leave America for foreign fields where people have never heard of Jesus. But we also have a unique opportunity for Gen Z to step up here in the “homeland” and evangelize an increasingly un-Christian America.
3. They appear to be more individualistic.
One of the reasons demographers are having such a hard time nailing down this generation is because they are so individual. They refuse to be stereotyped.
And they refuse to be like millennials. It’s amazing – when I ask my church’s middle-schoolers if they have Facebook, I get blank looks. Gen Z has either fled Facebook or never gotten on at all. It’s too public. It’s too “old.” Same thing with Twitter. Then what platforms are they using? Well, YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram are all on the rise. Those forms of social media are much more individualistic. You don’t have as many followers and have the chance to send media directly to your close friends.
This is troubling for parents who want to keep their children out of the garbage that can be found on these social media sites. And it may also be troubling for missions. Individualism and self-reliance are great attributes in areas like economics and education, where hard work pays off. Indeed, Gen Z are “early-starters” and are interested in starting their own businesses to raise funds necessary for the increasingly-debt-ridden college experience.
But Christianity does not lend itself well to individualism. Christ saved us to place us in a community of believers for accountability and growth (Heb. 10:24-25). And relationships are necessary for spiritual growth and evangelism – relationships beyond an Instagram “follow.”
Still, time will have to tell whether this generation will be individualistic in a way that cuts off other relationships. Or if they will follow a path closer to millennials where their individualism may drive them to build fewer but deeper relationships. Perhaps all the shallow interaction online will drive them to seek out deeper relationships in-person – like the kind they can experience with Jesus and with His church.
In the interactions I’ve had with Gen Z, I am confident that the latter will be the case.
In a world that is changing as a new generation arises, let’s remind ourselves that nothing really changes for us as believers. The Great Commission is still before us – as Boomers, Xers, Millennials, or Generation Z.
We are still called to make disciples of every nation (Matt. 28:19). Christ is still firmly in control – He has the authority (vs. 18).
And who knows what generation will come after Gen Z moves on! We’re at the end of the alphabet – does that mean the end of the world? They’re going to have a hard time coming up with a new letter for the next generation!
Regardless of what happens or what name they’re given, we know one thing will not change – Christ will be with us, even to the end of an age.
 Some would disagree with me on this. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-beall/8-key-differences-between_b_12814200.html
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.