Gen Z And Revival

Mar 16th, 2024 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

In 2023, Jean M Twenge, Psychology professor at San Diego University, published an important book entitled Generation: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silent—And What They Mean For America’s Future.  She offers profiles of the living generations in the midst of a century of social change:

  • Silents (1925-1945)
  • Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Gen X (1965-1979)
  • Millennials (1980-1994)
  • Gen Z (1995-2012)
  • Polars (2013-2029): Her name for this generation, which references climate issues and political polarization.

I am interested in exploring the Gen Z generation, its characteristics and its future in terms of spirituality and faith.

First, according to Twenge, what are the basic characteristics of the Gen Z generation?  She identifies the following:

  1. The trait of gender fluidity.  There is openness to transgenderism and the fluidity of gender as an identifying trait.
  2. An accommodation to the LGBQITA+ lifestyle and choice.  Non-binary, bisexual, as well as lesbian and gay sexual characteristics are defined by personal autonomy, not any religious or parental authority.
  3. This generation is surpassingly less sexually active. Amazingly, Gen Z is having markedly less sex that Gen Xers and Millennials.  The pervasive availability of pornography on the internet and the reality of masturbation seem to explain some of this characteristic.  It fits with personal autonomy and the creation of one’s own reality via social media.
  4. What Twenge calls “growing up slowly.”  Gen Zers “wait to take part in every activity associated with independence and adulthood.”  They are extending childhood, taking longer to step into the activities of adults.
  5. Corresponding to trait #4 is “delayed adulthood.”  This “slow-life strategy” is marked by postponing marriage and children.
  6. Gen Zers are comfortable with restricting speech.  There is no longer tolerance of free speech for everyone, regardless of the view being advocated.  There is in this generation little tolerance for those with opposing viewpoints.  They are, therefore, enemies which cannot be tolerated.
  7. There is an interest in physical and emotional safety, even safety from discomfort.  This is a generation that insists on “trigger warnings” because classrooms and other public facilities should be a safe space for students and others.
  8. Racial consciousness is very important to this generation.  Racial issues are now part of the political identities of Gen Z.
  9. This is a generation that is “dissatisfied and depressed.”  Mental health issues are not ignored and are openly discussed among Gen Zers.  Loneliness is rampant among Gen Z, as are feelings of dissatisfaction with their lives and with themselves.  There are glaring signs of depression and self-doubt.
  10. More online communication.  “Smartphones and widespread social media use have meant Gen Z conducts more of their social interactions online and less in the ‘metaworld’ of in-person interaction.”
  11. This generation is less likely to be physically healthy.  Due to lack of exercise and other unhealthy habits, the number of Gen Z teens who are overweight increased sharply between 2012 and 2019.  By 2016, more than half of American young adults were overweight.
  12. Because of trait #9, it is reasonable that pessimism is another Gen Z trait.
  13. Gen Zers also perceive discrimination and having “an external locus of control.”   Gender discrimination and discrimination based on sexual identity is perceived as real among Gen Zers.
  14. There is unwillingness to compromise among Gen Zers and therefore an enhanced political polarization.

Kevin Brown, president of Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, offers another perspective on Gen Z.  He writes, “On February 8, 2023, a routine 50-minute chapel at Asbury University turned into a 16-day event that captured attention around the world.  I streamed the service from my office that morning. After a message from the speaker, a student gospel choir closed in song. I left my computer and proceeded to my next meeting. Later, as I was preparing for lunch, my wife texted me that some students were still praying and worshiping in Hughes Auditorium.  More students came. Then more.  Over the next few weeks, what the university’s leadership described as an ‘outpouring’ grew exponentially to an estimated 50,000 visitors who descended upon our two-stoplight town in central Kentucky. They overflowed into simulcast sites hosted at the neighboring seminary and local churches. They knelt and prayed and sang on the cold ground of our wide campus green.”

“Asbury archivist Charlotte Staudt has identified over 250 podcasts, 1,000 articles, and dozens of sermons and conference sessions addressing what happened. More than 100 local, national, and international media outlets visited our campus. There have been approximately 250 million social media posts related to #AsburyRevival or #AsburyRevival2023. I have never seen such a collection of men and women from all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities stirred, seeking, repentant, and unified.”

Dr. Brown makes the following observations about the revival on his campus and gives some balance spiritually to what Twenge has concluded about Gen Z:

  • “There is one thing, however, that I have come to see very clearly in the wake of those 16 days: Gen Z is emerging as a corrective to the casual Christianity that has marked our religious landscape and characterized our dechurching movement.  To understand why that is, you have to first understand some of what Gen Z has been through. In media interviews last year, I often suggested that the social, economic, and emotional burdens of our country—and the moral failures within the church itself—have been acutely felt by younger generations. ‘There is a hunger for something more,’ I told one journalist.  I have asked students what they thought of my comments. While agreeing in spirit, one student told me he would state it differently. ‘We don’t want something more,’ he said. ‘We want something less.’ He was speaking to his generation’s desire for something distilled and real—an anchor amid the disorientation and dynamism of this moment.  Students are less interested in ‘beliefs’ than in a faith that works. There is a trenchant meaning vacuum in our country fostering a sweeping spiritual hunger.”
  • “The existence of spiritual hunger in America is perhaps obvious. But what struck me about our students was how they met that hunger. Those lines of visitors reflected an orderliness that marked the entire event. Its leaders sought order but not orchestration—and some of the most visible leaders were students, who could be found testifying, serving, and leading worship.  We have documented student visitors from 285 colleges or universities who came over the 16 days. An estimated 100 worship teams took the stage. Without being directed, they played from the side of the stage, outside the spotlight. This was consistent with a broader and unspoken sensibility to get out of the way. Prior to leading worship, teams would spend an hour in a ‘consecration room’ that we had set aside, to pray and be prayed over. While this nonvisible space has been given scant attention, one person described it as the ‘nuclear reactor’ of the outpouring.
  • “This radical selflessness, together with Gen Z’s evident hunger for something unvarnished and genuine, is a sign of hope for the future of Christianity, its institutions, and the church.  Commentators have been abuzz with data from Jim Davis and Michael Graham’s 2023 book, The Great Dechurching. In the past quarter century, approximately 40 million Americans have gone from attending church regularly to attending less than once a year—a number greater than all conversions from the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and every Billy Graham crusade combined.  Of those who have dechurched, approximately 10 million have done so under the banner of ‘church hurt,’ departing due to things like spiritual abuse or loss of trust. Michael Graham calls these ‘casualty’ exits. But the remaining three-quarters are ‘casual’ exits. These are men and women who stopped attending because they moved and did not find a new congregation or because busy schedules or lifestyle changes crowded out weekly worship.”
  • “A casual exit from church is a function of a casual faith. As theologian and author Stanley Hauerwas has suggested, pockets of contemporary Christianity have become domesticated into a set of propositions that we mentally carry but that have little bearing on our day-to-day life. Casual faith produces a belief system that demands little and utters pale statements like ‘I believe Jesus is Lord, but that is just my personal opinion.’  I believe Gen Z is different.  There is a seriousness to Gen Z Christians, and they are dissatisfied with the institutional status quo.  Research from the Barna Group shows that Gen Z sees spiritual growth as a top priority. In general, they reject hollow words and hypocrisy and want values embodied in action. They prioritize behavior over words as a strategy for sharing faith.  This is little surprise for a generation that elevates authenticity as a core value.”
  • “There is ample evidence to suggest Gen Z is producing precisely these kinds of believers. Our students shaped the outpouring in small but radically countercultural ways for today’s church. They had no interest in platforming celebrity entertainers or media personalities on campus. They did not offer bios when they testified or worshiped. During prayer, many students placed their phones upon the altar. They prayed over faculty, staff, and administration—including me” . . . “Revival,” said one Asbury student, Charlie Cox, “is when dead things come to life.”

See Jean M. Twenge, Generation, pp. 345-450; Kevin Brown, “What the Asbury Revival Taught Me About Gen Z” in (12 February 2024).

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