Noticing Gen Z and the Tweens of Gen Alpha, Part 4

They are not like previous generations.

This generation is different. Says someone who has been there with teens since the 1980s. I as a youth pastor have worked with teens in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and now the 2020s. (Read about these different decades here.) So I say confidently that this Gen Z and the new tweens of Gen Alpha are very different. This Information Age and the smart devices have changed adolescence. This is a good and bad thing. Join me in this series at the odd wonder of what is going on. Your heart will break and you will find inspiration.  I believe in teens.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

I have long said I never want to do another lock-in again. I’m much older now. Plus nothing good happens after midnight. That is mostly true for lock-ins. The day-after a lock-in comes at a great cost to parents. Grumpy teens are returned to them and I’m a big supporter of parents of teens.

While the nostalgia may be there for a ‘90s-style lock-in, I wonder if today’s teens would give up the sleep one requires. Gen Zers are getting more sleep than any other generation, with an average of 9 hours and 12 minutes per night. Source. The science of what good sleep can do for you overall is sinking in. I bet they learned about that science on TikTok videos.

Would they attend a lock-in on a Friday night? Probably not. Friday nights have become an okay night to stay home. Because the end of the week simply brings exhaustion. Because of budgeting decisions, and this generation is all about budgeting. Because socializing can happen still at home. Because FOMO isn’t strong enough to sacrifice money or sleep. This is one reason why we meet as a church on Friday nights. The slowness of church is a good way for the soul to end the week. (A lock-in is anything but slow.)

Whoever thought that staying home on a Friday night or going to church on a Friday night would be in the realm of possibility? This generation is different and I’m okay with that.

They are the first generation who defines themselves by their personal achievements (43%) and and hobbies and pastimes (42%). Source. Previous generations chose family or religion as top identifiers. One is something you are born into and one is something you achieve. This generation is trying to achieve their identity. I am a lot worried about this.

Parents, you really matter. You always have, says the youth pastor from all of the decades. The Barna Group study also found this: “A sizable majority of Gen Z says their parents or another family member is their role model. But why? On an open-ended question, top answers say that the role model is hard-working and responsible, that he or she provides for their family, that they have a good career, that they have an education, that they are successful and that he or she is independent. To be clear: Six out of the top 10 reasons teens look up to their role model are related to career or financial success.” Source. (There is is that achieving their identity again.)

One way teens and young adults are trying to level the field on achievement is self-diagnosing a psychiatric need so they don’t have to live up to the expectations. Something else they’ve learned on TikTok. Read more about this. It’s okay to have Tourette’s Syndrome?

A diagnosis gives you a community to belong to, though not a binding community. A diagnosis gives you belongingness too.

What is a binding community? A church is a good example of one. Jonathan Haidt can’t stop shouting from his mountaintop that the one institution that can help today’s teens is a church that has expectations for teens. This is a binding community. Some may call this type of church judgey. From the social scientist mind of Jonathan Haidt this institution provides the best place to help teen’s navigate this complicated world they were born into. Haidt is not a Christian, he claims to be an atheist. He sure believes in the Church though. (Read more graphs about the better health of religious teens.)

Parents, the arguments you have with your teen because you believe in the rhythm of boring church is worth it.

Teens are more curious about Jesus. So many don’t have the baggage of a hand-me down faith because they haven’t been raised in the church. The social obligation to go to church was so 1990s. So many parents in the 2000s and 2010s chose their child’s achievements over a rhythm of church. (I was there.)

The question then becomes, how will today’s teens theologically define their own search for their own faith?

Will it be biblical or part of a smorgasbord of beliefs? Part Jesus and part horoscopes. Part Jesus and part manifestation. Part Jesus and part universalism. This concerns this pastor’s heart a lot.

Read about this religion professor’s study from 2008 on his findings that college freshmen were choosing a religion with few demands morally or intellectually but still wanted to be called Christian. This is from 2008. There might be a reason that the book from Christian mystic John Mark Comer, Practicing the Way, is #1 in 2024. The high call of the Way of Jesus is laid out loud and clear.

Maybe this curiosity in Jesus is in response to today’s teens realizing that they are growing worse.

From Freya India again, “Here’s a post about Palestine where I’m posing! I’m standing up for conservative values—with a hot selfie of me at a protest! People on all sides pretend their platforms are about political causes and activism when really they just provide perfect opportunities to constantly talk about themselves. And to be rewarded for doing nothing! Now you can be showered with praise for that heartfelt tweet you typed about your mum on Mother’s Day when you didn’t bother to call her or write her a card. You can be applauded by strangers for that Instagram post about how much you love the daughter you don’t spend any time with and never really listen to. And even if we mean it, I think sharing these things shreds them of sincerity. Now we feel a flicker of integrity and immediately publicise and monetise it until it’s dead. We enjoy validation from the fakest displays of virtue and then at the same time revel in the downfall of others; reserve so little faith and forgiveness for anyone else.

And actually, paradoxically, I think all this is a major part of the mental health crisis. This feeling that we are all becoming worse. Our loss of empathy, our lack of regard for others, our neurotic obsession with our own image—it’s taking a toll.” (Read the entire alarming and insightful article.) (Bold is my addition, I’m alarmed.)

Once again, the teens’ souls are feeling the toll. This has been a through line throughout this series. Hence the curiosity about Jesus and the hope that Jesus is someone to aspire to.

I believe whole of Ecclesiastes is the word to this generation, beginning with v. 2:

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

Yet the antiquity and history of the way of Jesus—as well as the Way of Jesus–speaks into this meaninglessness.

We are claimed and spoken for. We belong somewhere and to someone. We are people of a place. We are people of a person, not a notion or algorithm or belief system or philosophy but the person of Jesus Christ. This has placement and is not fluid.

This is what I believe and what I teach still. I’ve got no plans to retire yet. A revival is coming.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.


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