A recently released report by Morning Consult titled "Understanding Gen Z" has a lot of people talking about how post-millennials are beginning to influence our nation. The report describes Gen Z as America's "largest, most diverse, best-educated, and most financially-powerful generation." That's a pretty impressive summary for a generational cohort that ranges in age from 7 to 22.
For the Morning Consult report, Gen Zers ages 18 to 21 were surveyed, comprising roughly 1,000 of the 3,022 adults questioned. The older generations represented in the sample size were millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. I found it particularly interesting that, for Gen Z, working toward a successful career and having a high income were rated as the "two most universally important life goals." Thirty-nine percent of Gen Z liberals have boycotted a brand due to their political beliefs, and many Gen Zers are less patriotic — or what Morning Consult termed as "less America-centric." They are also less trusting of religious leaders and institutions, so they are less likely than older adults to value belief in God.
The fact that many young adults do not view church leaders as trustworthy did not come as a surprise. I have been closely following their declining church attendance and wrote about it last month. What actually drew me to the Morning Consult report were commentaries by other pundits regarding their concern for what they deemed Gen Z's moral failings.
I shared the views of conservative writer Cal Thomas with my freshman English students. The majority of them are Gen Zers, and they found Thomas' claims of their lack of love for country and God extremely myopic.
My students are used to older people harping on the negative characteristics of their generation, and when I went back to review Thomas' comments, I noticed he had not provided any solutions to the problems he addressed. Thomas admitted he was making some generalizations, mainly asserting that he had lived long enough to do so. This is definitely true in his case, at 76. However, if we really take the time to examine why so many young people are abandoning their faith — which is very concerning to me as a church leader — we must begin to reflect on what we have taught them about God and the Gospel of Christ. We must bear some responsibility.
If you randomly asked some young people to describe their relationship with God, do you think their responses would be those we're familiar with? For example: He is a way-maker. He is love. He is a healer. God is all of these things but also so much more.
I believe that many Gen Zers who grew up in church received what I consider an "ideal" version of God that feels more like a paradigm than a personal relationship with Him through Christ. Author Jonathan Morrow expressed a similar viewpoint last year in a guest column for Fox News. Morrow boldly wrote that teens have been "bubbled-wrapped" in church and have no resilience when their belief in God is tested in the real world. In my personal observations, I have seen teens and young adults who are not spiritually equipped when hardships and trials come; thus, they have "no root" and are "offended," like seeds sown in stony places, as described in Matthew 13. Having "no root" results in lack of a solid foundation and understanding of a basic Christian tenet: Faith isn't passive; it's active.
Gen Z is still coming of age, so I refuse to write them off as a generation completely lost to decadence. There is still a lot of time for spiritual growth and maturity. The Morning Consult report shows that they are vibrant and passionate about their futures, which they should be at this stage of their lives. In order to get Gen Z to become more God-focused, those of us who are church leaders must be reliable examples of what it means to walk steadfastly in faith.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.