Anticipating Gen Z
Millennials, the generation born between 1984 and 2002, are a very significant force in American culture. Let’s consider the tail end of the Millennial generation, those aged 18 to 24. That segment represents the latter third of the generation, comprising roughly 30 million individuals.
Based on historical tracking, this segment represents a bridge between their generation and the succeeding generation (widely known as Gen Z). Such a bridge group is often a hybrid, torn between the norms of their own generation and the new thoughts and ways of the upcoming group. As such, they give us both a helpful guide to what is coming as well as hints as to how to have a positive impact on their development.
Data from the American Worldview Inventory, conducted annually by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, shows that this “bridge” segment is shockingly distant from biblical orthodoxy in its beliefs and practices. Almost six out of 10 of them describe their faith as Christian (58 percent — alarmingly low in itself), yet less than two percent of bridgers have a biblical worldview. Bridgers who qualify as Don’ts (i.e., don’t know, don’t care, or don’t believe that God exists) outnumber born-again Christians by a two-to-one margin (31 to 16 percent).
We might consider what it will take to draw bridgers — and Gen Z — closer to a worldview that is consistent with Scripture. To do so, let’s consider three types of measures: basic Christianity, applied biblical principles, and life metrics.
Basic Biblical Truths
People are unlikely to develop a biblical understanding of life until they can piece together some of the foundational principles God has provided to us. As you consider how to dialogue with young adults and teenagers about life, keep in mind that most of them do not have a grasp of some of the most basic biblical principles and teachings.
The Definition of God. Less than four out of 10 bridgers believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect, and just Creator of the universe who rules that universe today. Nearly as many of them doubt or reject His existence. Without belief in a holy, omniscient, and omnipotent creator, life is a free-for-all, and the world revolves around our personal thoughts and feelings.
Creation Narrative. Bridgers are more likely to believe in chance and randomness than in the authority and creative yet orderly power of God. Only about four out of 10 embrace the biblical account of creation as valid. If it is not God’s universe, and He does not have control of it, then mankind has no obligation to believe in, much less obey Him.
Basis of Truth. Just three out of 10 bridgers contend that God Himself is the foundation of truth. Six out of every 10 don’t believe in absolute moral truth. Bridgers are most likely to believe that they have the capacity and responsibility to determine truth, which has become the basis of the growing levels of current conflict and confusion in our nation.
The Bible. Less than three out of 10 bridgers accept the Bible as the true and accurate words of God and therefore authoritative and relevant to how we live. Without Scripture as our touchstone for understanding, truth, purpose, and morality, we have no reliable guidance and boundaries for life.
Purpose of Life. Most bridgers contend that the ultimate purpose of life is happiness and pleasure. Only one out of every six believes we exist to know, love, and serve God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul. The result is selfishness and pride. Any type of community, be it a nation, family, church, or government, cannot be sustained when everyone only looks out for themselves.
Applied Biblical Truths
A benefit of God’s truths and principles is that they are practical and designed to be implemented in our lives. Conversely, rejecting those norms results in accepting and applying deficient and detrimental alternatives, resulting in an unsatisfying and unfulfilled life.
Commitment. Humans are spiritual beings made for spiritual purposes. Yet, a minority of bridgers claim to be deeply committed to practicing their faith — and a significant share of the religious beliefs and practices they embrace are not drawn from biblical Christianity. The insight is that they devote little, if any, time and energy to the Christian faith.
Marriage. A mere one out of every five bridgers believes the marriage of one man to one woman is God’s creation design for all cultures. In essence, bridgers argue that love is a feeling, and marriage is an option whose contours we may define. They have little understanding and appreciation of the nature and role of the family or human sexuality in God’s universe, or the implications of substituting human concepts of human roles for God’s perfect and purposeful design.
Morality. Most bridgers accept as morally legitimate behaviors God defines as unacceptable (e.g., lying, cheating, stealing, sexual experiences outside of marriage, divorce, abortion, drunkenness). Again, they calculate morality based on a fluid formula incorporating circumstances, personal feelings, and outcomes. Instead, God’s righteousness is based upon known and unchanging standards that reflect His character and our best interests.
Salvation. Only one-sixth of the 18-to-24s believe that they will experience eternity in the presence of God solely as a result of confessing their sins and asking Jesus Christ to save them. Almost none of the bridgers believe they will experience Hell. Most of them either believe they will simply cease to exist, be reincarnated, or experience Heaven for any of a variety of reasons other than being forgiven and born again through Christ. American Christians and churches have done a sub-par job of leading sinners to Christ and applying an effective discipleship process.
In my business (social research), we live by the expression “you get what you measure.” What do bridgers measure to evaluate their life? As reflected in the minuscule two percent who have a biblical worldview, they do not embrace the measures indicated by Scripture.
Defining success. Less than one out of every 10 bridgers defines success in life as “consistent obedience to God.” Instead, they rely on measures such as wealth, happiness, accomplishments, fame, and comfort level. Shifting their metrics to be based upon God’s expectations rather than their feelings and reputation will make all the difference.
Avoiding sin. Less than half of bridgers say that they make a conscious effort to avoid sinning because they know it breaks God’s heart. In fact, millions of these young adults do not believe that “sin” exists. Changing their yardstick of righteousness from how they feel about themselves to how robustly they honor God and adhere to His guidelines would not only change their lives but also help to transform the world.
Intentional Christianity. About six out of 10 bridgers believe that all faiths are of equal value, so one’s faith of choice doesn’t matter. This corresponds with their widespread belief that there is no absolute moral or spiritual truth. Helping bridgers to understand that God’s way is the only way is offensive to this niche of young people who argue for inclusiveness and tolerance of all points of view. Effectively explaining that there are many roads that lead to destruction but just one path that leads to real life is an insight that millions of Americans desperately need to adopt.
Bless the Bridgers
God’s plan for us is like a complex puzzle in which every piece has just one proper location and brings beauty and greater clarity to the ultimate puzzle. Rejecting or replacing any piece ruins the perfection of the puzzle and robs us of the joy of experiencing it in its fullness.
As you have opportunities to question the choices bridgers make and discuss biblical alternatives to their choices, you have the privilege of blessing them with insights God has given to you and from which you and others have benefitted. Exchanges with young adults can be frustrating, confusing, and even produce self-doubt, but stay the course of God’s ways and allow the Holy Spirit to lead the way.
George Barna is a Senior Research Fellow at FRC's Center for Biblical Worldview.