A couple members of our staff asked me if I would field a few questions about my new book, Meet Generation Z, for an internal blog they disseminate through our church bookstore.
I thought I would double-dip and offer it here as well:
Quite directly, why should the average Millennial, Baby Boomer or older generations care about the spiritual life and cultural influence of Generation Z?
If you’re a Christ-follower, the answer is obvious. This generation of Christians will stand before God and give an account for this generation of non-Christians. Further, Generation Z presents a real urgency as not only the largest generation demographically, but the first that can truly be deemed “post-Christian.”
Considering that the Generation Z population falls roughly into the age bracket of 7 to 22 years old, is the best way to reach them by targeting them directly or their parents? And what’s the best way to do that?
Yes to both! And to answer the second question would simply mean restating the book, so…
You mention early on in the book that Generation Z is characterized by having shorter attention spans (8-seconds), due largely from social media and access to competing avenues of instant information. Is there a way to reclaim critical thinking and prolonged mediation, or are humans only going to continue becoming less able to think deeply or for a long time about anything?
This is a very important question, and one that no one quite knows the answer to. We know the attention span across all ages is shrinking; we know there is less reading of books; we know that while there is virtually unlimited access to information, there is little wisdom. However, I do think this trend can be reversed and deep thinking, wide reading, careful reflection and more can enter into any life. But it will take intentionality. I would recommend my little book A Mind for God as a primer on how to begin to do just that.
Many of us reading this are parents of Generation Z children. You’ve often talked about how the church, while vital in spiritual formation, cannot be the sole spiritual influence in a child’s life. How do you suggest parents talk to or engage with their elementary and middle-school aged children about such concepts as truth and counter-culture living, especially when many of us are learning about God for the first time as well, not to mention we’re up against an 8-second attention span?
The good news is that parents don’t face the 8-seconds issue I talk about in the book. That was a specific reference to the filtering process they use as they access the vast amounts of information and stimuli via such things as the internet. Parents, obviously, get more time than that and more attention. I believe parents must be much more engaged with their children in terms of the “under protective” nature of our day which I speak about in the book. I did an entire series at Meck on this called “The Under Protective Parent” which I would recommend people get through ChurchAndCulture.org. We are not helpless in the face of culture as parents. As I explore in that series, we can be informed, involved and in charge.
We know that every lost person matters to God, regardless of their age. So when dealing with a multi-generational congregation, how do you properly address the needs/characteristics of each generation? Or do you only cater to the newest generations?
While the book focuses on Generation Z, the truth is that many of the ideas and principles apply to everyone in a post-Christian, post-truth world. So in terms of content and even much of approach, there is common ground. When there are stylistic differences, I would recommend skewing young, which I give reasons for in the book. But even this does not bypass other generations – in many ways, it helps reach and retain them. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but I explain the thinking in the eighth chapter of the book where I speak to the multi-generational question.
You mention early on in the book that some are saying that Generation Z will be the last named generation. Do you agree?
I think I do. Now, to be sure, marketers and others will label away as fast and furiously as ever, but in the sociological sense I think there is truth to the idea that this will be the last true cohort due to the vastly increased speed of change. There will be shared experiences, and obviously a shared zeitgeist, that will affect us all – and some ages more than others – but it’s unclear whether we will be able to speak of true generational markings as much as markings of our culture as a whole, or of a particular class (as in high school or college graduating classes). So it will be much smaller groupings, or else very large, macro assessments.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.