Last year while attending Cru’s biennial staff conference I watched a presentation on what it takes to reach different generations, mainly millennials, with the Gospel of Jesus. Part of the presentation was sourced from a book titled, Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out” by James Choung.
In his book, Choung portrays each generation as being defined by an overarching spiritual question that helps explain each generation’s attitude toward life. I won’t dive into all of the details of his explanations, but I do want to highlight each generation then offer an observation about the generation beyond millennials.
For Baby Boomers the spiritual question that defines their generation is, “What is true?” For Generation X that question is, “What is real?” For millennials the question is, “What is good?” As for the current generation, Generation Z, but also known as Plurals, I’ll get to them in a moment.
Now, let me provide a little background. Each generation was born during the following years:
- Baby boomers: 1945-1964
- Gen X: 1965-1980
- Millennials: 1980-1999
- Plurals: 2000-now
Baby boomers were/are the generation that was concerned with straight line issues of right and wrong, true and false. For baby boomers life is black and white. Certain things are appropriate and certain things are not. This is a particularly helpful worldview where the Gospel is concerned because the Gospel cannot be fully explained without defaulting to issues of right and wrong—sin. Sin separates us from God. A person considering Christ needs to understand what sin is, why they are guilty of it, and how to repent of it when embracing Christ. Baby boomers want to know what is true, therefore their perspective is fact based.
Gen Xers are a generation whose spiritual question is, “What is real?” It was this generation that began to reject simple black and white understandings of reality. Something can’t be true if it isn’t real. By questioning the truth, Gen Xers deny its reality. This was the first postmodern generation. Their question is perception based rather than fact based.
Millennials take the Gen X perspective to a new level. Their spiritual question is, “What is good?” They may perceive the Gospel as true, but from their vantage point they may dismiss it as not good for them depending upon what they want out of life. For millennials, their question is feeling based. This may also explain why so many millennials are politically liberal as liberalism denies basic truths the previous generations grew up with.
While there is a great deal of discussion about reaching the previous generations—especially millennials—there is little talk of what it will take to reach the most current generation, know as Plurals. And this is where I’d like to spend some of my time because I believe the Plurals may be ripe for the Gospel. As I will show, I believe that the worldview of Plurals is most likely, hope based. Their issues are issues of reality. I believe that the spiritual question for Plurals is, “What is possible?” Here’s why.
Plurals have an approach to reality that is similar to baby boomers. Consider thesefacts about Plurals:
- Plurals “self-identify as being loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded, responsible, and determined” (Wikipedia).
- “A 2016 U.S. study found that church attendance during young adulthood was 41% among Plurals compared to 18 percent for Millennials at the same ages, 21 percent of Generation X, and 26 percent of Baby Boomers” (Wikipedia).
- “Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation conducted in 2016 found Plural youth had lower teen pregnancy rates, less substance abuse, and higher on-time high school graduation rates compared with Millennials. The researchers compared teens from 2008 and 2014 and found a 40% drop in teen pregnancy, a 38% drop in drug and alcohol abuse, and a 28% drop in the percentage of teens who did not graduate on time from high school” (Wikipedia).
Politically, though most Plurals are not old enough to vote yet, the generation is more conservative than their millennial and Gen X parents. Plurals are a generation that may have more in common with baby boomers than with the other previous generations. These are all positive signs for those whose ministry to Plurals include expressions of what is true and false. Plurals are also more likely to believe in the “American Dream,” and will work hard to obtain it.
These are all signs that may suggest that plurals may be more inclined to embrace spiritual things expressed in Christianity than their parents or grandparents. Consider this research on the rise of Christianity in America. While not limited to Plurals per se, combined with what we know about Plurals so far, and the history of Christianity in America, we should wonder if a new Great Awakening is ripe to take place in the near future. Consider:
Many Christians ask the question, “Why is Christianity losing ground in America but growing everywhere else?” As it turns out, this assumption about American Christianity may not be true. In fact, the Gospel is making great strides in America. Consider this report conducted by Harvard University in 2017.
The “Pew [research center] notes that ‘evangelical Protestantism and the historically black Protestant tradition have been more stable’ over the years, with even a slight uptick in the last decade because many congregants leaving the mainline churches are migrating to evangelical churches that hold fast to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.”
What is really counter-intuitive is…”The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion found when looking at U.S. church attendance numbers going back to the days of our nation’s founding. They found that the percentage of church-attending Americans relative to overall population is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776. The number of attendees has continued to rise each and every decade over our nation’s history right up until the present day.” (Published by thefederalist.com).
In terms of personal ministry, there is an interesting correlation between these previously mentioned spiritual questions and how a person makes a decision for Christ. The fall of man is a good illustration of the four generational subcultures of America. Consider this: When Satan tempted Eve he challenged her about what is true (“Did God really say?”). Eve saw that the tree of life was desirable (perception and feeling). Then she took a bite to see what was possible.
Interestingly, these four world views are also mental processes that we use to judge if our spiritual beliefs are true. We need to know what is true. Then we must ask if it’s real, that is, if our perceptions are accurate. Then we determine if the gospel is good for us. And finally, when we submit to Christ we reach the question of what is possible. Can I really be saved? We go from facts to reality, to goodness, to hope.
Asking the question, “What is possible?” Is what takes place after a person commits to Christ. Now that I have this new life, what do I do with it? What is possible?
It may seem when we look at the more recent generations that Christianity is on the downward slide in America. And there may be some truth to that. However, the trends above may also be an indicator that something different is taking place. So, perhaps we should bathe these things in fervent prayer and step out to claim this new generation for Christ. They may be the most willing to listen in the last 50 years.