Generational Differences And The Future Of American Civilization

Aug 8th, 2020 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Sociologists often organize populations according to the generational differences they observe and then create categories with labels and timeline distinctives.  Here is the most commonly accepted generational framework:

  • Builders (also The Silent Generation): Born 1928-1945
  • Boomers (also Baby Boomers): Born 1946-1964
  • GenXers (also Baby Busters): Born 1965-1980
  • Millennials (also Gen Y): Born 1981-1996
  • Gen Z: Born 1997-present.


Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton comments, “Different researchers tweak the years just a bit. Builders have moved off the scene for the most part as leaders. Boomers and GenXers are mostly in leadership among churches and evangelical institutions, but a lot of Millennials now lead. Most church planters and new missionaries today are Millennials, though some in Gen Z are joining in as well.”  Since the Millennials and GenZ generations will soon be the leaders in business, in education and in the churches and parachurches of America, what do we know about each?  What should we anticipate as they assume leadership roles?

Stetzer offers a helpful summary of each:

  • The Millennials: “The Millennials are the most studied, talked about, and dissected group in history. They’ve been praised as the next great generation and, in some evangelical circles, the missionary generation.”  The Pew Research Center asked, “How do Millennials Compare.” They answered:  “In general, they’re better educated – a factor tied to employment and financial well-being – but there is a sharp divide between the economic fortunes of those who have a college education and those who don’t.  Millennials have brought more racial and ethnic diversity to American society. And Millennial women, like Generation X women, are more likely to participate in the nation’s workforce than prior generations.  Compared with previous generations, Millennials – those ages 22 to 37 in 2018 – are delaying or foregoing marriage and have been somewhat slower in forming their own households. They are also more likely to be living at home with their parents, and for longer stretches . . . they are adults (in their 20s and 30s!), and they are starting to take over in leadership roles today.”   “. . . Here are things that helped to shape Millennials:”
  1. “Terrorism has become a defining issue. It’s worth noting that since 9/11, America’s fear of terrorism has actually manifested itself more than the domestic reality of terrorism.
  2. School shootings became more widely known in the time of Millennials.
  3. School lockdown drills of the Millennials replaced the civil defense drills of the Boomers.
  4. Ethnic and religious diversity mark their era more than previous generations.
  5. News sources have also changed. The majority of Millennials get their news (if they do even get news) from sources like comedians rather than traditional networks like ABC, NBC, or CBS.
  6. Most leaders think linear. Step 1, 2,3,4,5. Gen Z/Millennials don’t think linear.”
  • GenZ:  “This generation, born from 1997 and forward, is now entering adulthood.  They stepped into a very divided world politically. Barack Obama was elected as president—and Donald Trump followed him.”  Stetzer adds a personal note that I have often observed as well:  “I should add that it is hard to have a cross-generational conversation and not feel the angst that younger evangelicals are often feeling about older evangelical support of the current administration. It doesn’t mean that they have abandoned all that the older generations cherish, but it does mean that they are uncomfortable and wonder how things got to be the way they are.”   “There are many contributing factors that give Gen Z the unsettledness they have about our world beyond political divisions. Social media plays a big role—more than any other generation. It’s a different world, and parents of Gen Z are grappling with many issues they didn’t have to face when they were younger.  The New York Times had an article entitled ‘A Dark Consensus about Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley.’ It described parents in the tech industry who are moving away from allowing their children to engage in social media. This is partly because of what they are learning about how social media plays a role in rewiring their brains.   We ought to pay attention when those who create these things regret creating them and move away from their use. According to Athena Chavarria, former executive assistant of Facebook who is now leading Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic work, ‘I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc with our children.’”


  1. “A study published just last year showed a concerning increase (over 70 percent) in psychological distress (e.g., mood disorders like anxiety and depression and suicide risk) between Millennials and Generation Z,” a group of Wheaton College Clinical Psychology program’s doctoral candidates observed. They add, “Research suggests that the rise of social media, increase in electronic communication, and less children getting enough sleep are all likely part of the problem.”
  2. “Social media is amazing, but it’s also complex and can be challenging. It’s shaping Generation Z in new ways.  Identity has become a key watch word in emerging generations as well. Sexual identity is a large part of it. In the span of just a few short years, we have seen the revolution of same-sex marriage, which is certainly related to some of the political divisiveness noted above. Today, we are discussing sexual identity and transgenderism like never before.  Your teenagers are immersed in conversations about this. They are having questions about identity, sexual identity, personal identity, generational identity, and more.”

For those of us in leadership positions in the church, there are several strategies that must be on the forefront of preparing this next generation of leaders.

  1. The centrality of God’s Word.  God has revealed Himself in four ways:  Creation (e.g., Psalm 19, Romans 1:18-34), Human Conscience (e.g., Romans 2:14-15), His Moral Law (e.g., Exodus 20) and Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).  His revelation to humanity is therefore both nonverbal and verbal.  His verbal revelation is in the Bible, the source for both His moral Law and Jesus.  The Bible makes several important claims for itself, all of which form the basis for its claim to be the foundation for all truth.
    • It claims to be inspired:  This is the heart of Paul’s assertion in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  Scripture is “inspired by God,” literally “God-breathed.”  God not only inspired the authors; He inspired the very words of Scripture.  [2 Timothy 3:16-17 explain the what of inspiration and 1 Peter 1:21 explain the how of inspiration.]  This includes not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament books, which by mid-first century were being treated as Scripture (compare Luke 10:7 with 1 Timothy 5:18 and see 2 Peter 3:16).  Because it is inspired, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness . . . .”
    • It claims to be infallible: Scripture proclaims truth and it never deceives.  In Titus 1:2, Paul declares that God cannot lie.  Jesus affirms in John 17:17 (His high-priestly prayer to the Father) that “Thy Word is Truth.”   Since God cannot lie, it is absurd to believe that His revelation is filled with deception and misrepresentation.  It is true and reliable in all matters that it addresses.
    • It is inerrant: Because it is infallible, Scripture is free from all falsehood, fraud and deceit.
    • It is sufficient: Scripture provides enough knowledge for us to find and understand God’s truth and to live in fellowship with Him.
  2. The matter of identity, especially for GenZ:  The solution to this identity crisis is found in Jesus Christ. There are two aspects of our identity in Christ: (1) As humans, we are created in the image of God, which establishes our infinite worth and value as humans. It is the baseline for the value of humanity at every stage in development. That weighty truth establishes one aspect of our identity: We both resemble God (in His communicable attributes—intellect, emotion and will) and we represent Him as dominion stewards of His world. (2) The Bible also makes clear that when we place our faith in Christ, we are a “new creation, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our new identity is “in Christ,” a powerful and profound phrase used 242 times in the New Testament. The power of sin and the power of death have been broken (see Romans 6). When we place our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous by Almighty God (justification): Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to our account. Further, we are adopted into God’s family, with all the rights and privileges of being a joint heir with Christ (see Galatians 4 and Romans 8). God is now our heavenly Father and we are His children. We await the wondrous family gathering of all the brothers and sisters of God’s family in His coming kingdom. Finally, we are being transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 4:19, Romans 8:29). We now belong to Jesus, who bought us with the price of His shed blood and we are indwelt by His Spirit (1 Corinthian 6:19). Galatians 2:20 perhaps best summarizes our new identity in Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The struggles, tensions and confusion about personal identity are resolved in Jesus Christ. To be “in Christ” is the vital center of the new identity offered by God.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic and financial crises it has spawned, faith-based institutions of learning are struggling.  The Bible College movement, long the primary source for church and parachurch leadership, is in crisis.  Small Christian liberal arts institutions are likewise facing serious challenges.  The Postmodern, Post-Christian nature of our civilization adds additional stress for such institutions.  Thus, the local church must take leadership preparation for Millennials and GenZ seriously.  As viable options for leadership preparation decline, the local church must take on the additional burden of equipping the next generation of leaders (Ephesians 4:12).


See Ed Stetzer in (3 and 7 July 2020).

Comments Closed