Meet Gen Z

Gen Z 1If you are in collegiate ministry you need to stop reading about Millennials and start reading about Gen Z.  And that is part of the problem.  Gen Z is so young (scholars are still arguing about when it began) that in some ways we don’t know much about them.  Of course as with any generation there are some “hard” facts that can’t be overlooked.  A few examples are the diversity of Gen Z, the size of Gen Z, and the context of Gen Z in an every more secular United States.

If you want to start somewhere with Gen Z you may want to read Meet Generation Z:  Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World  by James E. White.  The subtitle helps one understand his objectives for writing the book: description and prescription.  Dr. White sets the generational years for Gen Z from 1995 to 2010.  Of course, these generational brackets are much debated.  However, I think he is about right give or take a year.  Gen Z is in college, either as freshmen or sophomores.  If you haven’t wrapped your mind around that fact, you need to start.

Dr. White does a good job laying out several characteristics of Gen Z.  They are the most diverse generation, they will be the largest generation, they are recession marked, sexually fluid, Wi-Fi enabled, and post-Christian.  From a Christian perspective these are great places to begin thinking about the importance of Gen Z, and how we as Christians need to reach them with the Gospel.

Meet Generation Z is not a comprehensive book, so there is only so much attention Dr. White can give to these characteristics.  He gives most attention to the impact of technology and living in a post-Christian culture.  I think that is justified.

In part two of the book, “A New Approach”, Dr. White turns to the prescription for the lostness of Gen Z.  In such chapters as “The Countercultural Church”, “Rethinking Evangelism”, and “A New Apologetic”, Dr. White focuses on reaching a generation that is post-Christian, Biblically illiterate, yet spiritually open.  These chapters give one glimpses of pathways in reaching Gen Z.  Much of what he discusses in these chapters are dealt with in more detail in the work of Rod Dreher, James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor.  If you are wanting more in-depth analysis of these topics, I suggest you also read their books.  But for a primer on Gen Z, Dr. White’s material is still useful.

On a practical level, Dr. White includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter.  These are great for a group reading this book  as a way to get people talking and thinking together.  There are also several sermons by Dr. White in the appendixes.  These are included as examples of how he has attempted to address the problems discussed in the book about reaching Gen Z.

Even if you don’t have time to read Meet Generation Z now, I hope you will do some research into Gen Z and stop talking about those old folks, the Millennials.

To read my reviews of Rod Dreher, James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor, see below:

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

How Not to be Secular by James K. A. Smith

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

To read my take on Gen Z at the Collegiate Collective click here

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The Benedict Option Part 2

Here is the second part of my interview with Rod Dreher on his book The Benedict Option.  In this second part, we talk about what the Benedict Option might look like on a college campus, and what Christians face in the modern academy.

For part two of the No Campus Left Podcast click here

For my review of his book click here

Why You Should Read The Benedict Option

Ship

Rod Dreher is not an academic.  He has no Ph.D. and does not teach at a university.  Yet, he is able to take complex concepts of philosophy, sociology, history, etc. and explain them in ways that most people can grasp.  He is also not a priest, pastor, or leader of a parachurch organization.  Yet he writes and speaks as a layman with true spiritual depth.  He shares his own struggles, faith, faults, and victories with a transparency and sincerity that we can resonate with.  You would actually like to sit down with him and talk about life.  And this is one of the great things about The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, it is not coming from an academic or denominational leader:  it is coming from the ground up.  And for the Benedict Option to work, that is exactly what is needed to get it going.

Of course, the success of the Benedict Option is also due to its timing.  Though Rod alluded to the Benedict Option ten years ago in his book Crunchy Cons, I don’t know if most Christians would have been ready.  Anyone who read Lesslie Newbingin 40 years ago, or Missional Church almost 20 years go will know the diagnosis of the decline of Christianity in the United States, but during these ten years since Rod mentioned the need for a new Benedict, so much has happened.  The Millennial generation has shifted to the left on social norms and politics, marginal issues like same-sex marriage and transgender rights have become new norms, businesses have become arbiters of family values, sports is a tool for cultural enforcement, and what was once considered out-of-control political correctness on our campuses is now ubiquitous.  I don’t need an academic to explain it to me, I see it everyday.

But there are other forces at work too. Technology like the internet and cell phones have brought us amazing amounts of information, but the ability to literally spend our whole lives on pointless trivia.  The “authentic self” that philosopher Charles Taylor wrote of in his masterpiece The Secular Age, reached its apogee in Caitlyn and Bruce Jenner.  Bruce Jenner, a Cold War hero to us in Generation X, became a cause celeb to Generation Z as Caitlyn Jenner.  Transpose that Wheaties picture of Bruce in 1976, winner of the Olympic decathlon and “world’s greatest athlete” with Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, and you see trajectory of where we are headed as a nation.

As Christians we did not want to believe the academics.  Developing as a nation under the canopy of our country as a “city on a hill” from John Winthrop’s sermon A Model of Christian Charity, we always told ourselves we could “go back” to ideal times.  Revivals did help, and many truly believed that with the right focus on the right segments of society, we could still transform the culture.   But we finally find ourselves “strangers in a strange land” to steal a line from Robert Heinlein.  Continue reading

What Season is the American church in today?

FallWe often hear about a post-Christian America and what that means for the church today.  I think we can get bogged down in definitions, and at times even struggle for a way to explain it.  Sometimes a graphic or image can help make things more clear.  For describing the situation, I really like what Tim Keller says in his book  Center Church.  In that book he uses the concepts of seasons to explain where we are today.  Here are the seasons and what they mean in the relationship of culture and church.

Winter describes a church that is not only in a hostile relationship to a pre-Christian culture but is gaining little traction; is seeing little distinctive, vital Christian life and community; and is seeing no evangelistic fruit.  In many cultures today, the church is embattled and spiritually weak.

Spring is a situation in which the church is embattled, even persecuted by a pre-Christian culture, but it is growing (e.g. as in China).

Summer is what Niebuhr described as an “allied church,” where the church is highly regarded by the public and where we find so many Christians in the center of cultural production that Christians feel at home in the culture.

Autumn is where we find ourselves in the West today, becoming increasingly marginalized in a post-Christian culture and looking for new ways to both strengthen our distinctiveness and reach out winsomely.

According to Keller we are in the Autumn period in the West, though various regions can be a different levels within a season, or perhaps in another season.  Keller’s point in the book is that we can use different methods of engagement depending on the season.  According to Keller it would seem the Relevance and Countercultural positions (the other two are Two Kingdoms and Transformationist) would be the best for an Autumn period.  Of course, one may have theological or other objections to these two positions.  Regardless of where one lands on what position to use, I think that Keller’s imagery is a good one, and a great starting place to think about how the church responds to a culture that is “increasingly marginalized.”

 

 

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

benedict-optionWith the rapid realization by Christians that American culture is more like an adversary than an ally, church leaders, writers, pastors, and lay people within orthodox Christianity have begun to ask where does the American church go from here.  Though some like Russel Moore are more optimistic about “keeping Christianity strange”, others are more skeptical about the church’s days ahead.  One of those who remains skeptical is lay person, writer, and blogger Rod Dreher.  Known for his blog at The American Conservative, and his book How Dante Saved Can Save Your Life, Mr. Dreher believes that the church will face a continuing hostile culture which will force her to entrench for decades to survive the coming battle.  He takes the title for his book, as well as the concept for the church’s health, from St. Benedict of Nursia (480 AD-547 AD). In creating a rule to help the Church, Benedict also set in motion systems that would create institutions to preserve Western civilization during the coming Dark Ages. Thus the title of the book:  Mr. Dreher sees a coming Dark Age for the American church.

According to Mr. Dreher, he is not advocating “running to the hills to hide,” but a focus on ingraining a Christ-centered mentality in the church.  To do this, he contends that there must be some withdrawal from mainstream culture which is quickly moving away, if not against, the Church.  By withdrawing, yet being a faith presence within culture, he contends that the Church will reemerge at some future time to lead the culture back to Christ.  He is talking  a long view of the cycles of Christianity.  I personally think he is on to something that we Christians need to really ponder.

In a year when many evangelicals seemed to think that a Trump presidency would roll back the hands of the cultural clock, The Benedict Option will be an interesting, and perhaps, needed tonic to purge an overly confident evangelical church. Though I respect Mr. Dreher and appreciate his writings, I don’t know if I will agree with everything that he will say in  his book.  But I  do know that it will be one of the books that every serious-thinking Christian should be familiar with going forward.  I have already pre-ordered my copy.

 

The Benedict Option is due to be out March 14, 2017.

Five Disruptions That Could Shake UP College Ministry

IMG_3099In his 2011 book, College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture,  author Stephen Lutz listed five trends that could shake up college ministry as we know it.  I love looking forward at coming trends, but also backwards later to see where predictions were correct or off point.  Lutz’s book is about half way through the ten year span that he forecast from, so now is a great time to look back.  By the way, he did a great job in picking out these five topics.  If you have not read his book.  You should.  Here are the five possible disruptions in no particular order of importance.

The Higher Education Bubble Will Burst

The rapid growth of Higher Ed was built on the largest cohort of college students ever, plus years of low-interest rate student loans.  But that was before the Great Recession.  With tuition costs at an all-time high, and loan obligations stretching out  longer, people are increasingly wondering if college is worth it.  Institutions themselves are overextended and making cuts.  The system as we know it may not be sustainable for much longer  p. 172

 Five year laters there seems to be no large-scale drop in enrollment of students.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 20.2 million students expected to attend college in the fall of 2015.  This is up 4.9 million from 2000.  Though the 20.2 million is slightly down from its 2010 high, it does not seem crippling.  See the data here.  But we still have five years to go.  Can cost still go higher?  Will a flight to community colleges cripple some colleges?  We will see.

Technology Will Distance, Disperse, and Depersonalize Connection to Students

The rise of online learning is a profitable boon for Higher Ed, but it’s not an unmixed blessing.  The lower cost and easy accessibility of online higher education make gaining a college degree easier for older students with families or those who can’t afford living and learning on campus.  But among other things, online students miss out on gathering as a group in a classroom, learning not only from their professors but from their peers.  p. 173

Since students will not be spending as much time on campus, it will be harder to meet them, round them up and expect to minister to them in large groups.  Instead Lutz sees campus ministry having to go outward and smaller to reach people.

More

The future of all campus ministry may look like what’s happening at community colleges around the country–large but disjointed student bodies, moving targets that are exceedingly difficult to reach.  p. 174

This is, perhaps, the hardest to verify in numbers, but we know it is happening.  More and more campuses are integrating distance learning with online classes and online tests and homework.  Students are able to have a more flexible schedule, but it also shows the fractured lifestyles that we all live now.

Non-Traditional Student Will Become More Traditional

I can say with certainty that on this one Lutz was right on.  In researching for Generation Z and North American trends, I can see the non-traditional student becoming more traditional.  Lutz sees more of these types of students:  older, part-time, more females than males, and a huge change in the demographics of students.

In addition to non-traditional students, we’ll also need to adapt our methodologies to appeal to students of differing ethnic and racial backgrounds and cultures.  Many college settings remain overwhelmingly white, but as the demographics of North American continue to shift toward a majority of minorities, Higher Ed is following suit.  p.175

In July of 2015 a U.S. and World Report article came out declaring the younger than five demographic to be more than 50 percent minority.  It also pointed out the huge growth in multi-racial marriages and the children that are being born to this age group.  See the article here.  Generation Z is now entering college, and will be the most diverse generation in US history.

Combining with technology, transferable credit, and huge cost increases, more and more students will look at crafting their own academic learning paths that may pull from multiple campuses, and learning venues.

The elephant in the room for many ministries will be reaching an ever-growing minority demographic.  Churches, campus ministries, and para-church groups will have to reach minority groups, and transition leadership to those groups to make any lasting impact.  It’s going to be disrupting to many groups, but for those who get it, it will lead to more students reached on the campus.  It didn’t take ten years to prove him right on this one.

College Ministers May Face Diminished Access to Secular Campuses

In 2010 the campus ministry community was reeling from the Hastings case, the Supreme Court case that allowed the Hastings Law School to restrict clubs on campus from excluding members, even those who disagreed with the club on matters of religion and policy.  What followed the ruling was the decision by the California state university system to not recognize numerous Christian clubs for excluding those who did not hold to their doctrinal beliefs.  Later, the California university system walked back from that policy.  However, in many ways, that drama was overshadowed by the Obergefell case which finally legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.  That case was quickly followed by lawsuits, issues relating to transgender rights, and a recent bill in the California senate which would allow homosexual students to sue religious colleges and universities for discrimination.

From Bilola University

The provisions of the proposed bill represent a dramatic narrowing of religious freedom in California. It would mean faith-based institutions would no longer be able to determine for themselves the scope of their religious convictions as applied in student conduct policies, housing and restroom/locker facilities, and other matters of religious expression and practical campus life. Though the free exercise of religion is guaranteed by both the U.S. and California Constitutions, SB 1146 would make religious institutions like Biola vulnerable to anti-discrimination lawsuits and unprecedented government policing.

Even though the state senator who introduced SB 1146, decided to pull the bill, we should still be concerned that the bill got as far as it did.  In fact, he has hinted that he could possibly reintroduce the bill at a future time.

In looking at these situations and the general trend, Lutz’s speculation seems entirely possible.

Eventually, many more campus ministries may have to figure out how to function without full university recognition or legal sanction. . . . We ought to be working on navigating the coming challenges with grace and humility, adding value and generally seek to bless our campuses, and planning the future model of our ministry in the event that we have to go “underground.” p.176

He is right on this point, but the question is do enough churches, campus ministries, and Christians grasp this point?  Looking forward, it seems that the fallout of Obergefell and a tendency to restrict religious liberty will continue, and will affecting Christians on campus tremendously.

What is your ministry doing to prepare in case it cannot retain its RSO status?

Financial Sustainability Will Be Challenged

The next ten years will likely mark a significant decrease in the North American base of ministry funding, as approximately 100,000 churches will disappear.  The world War II generation will be gone, and the Baby Boomers (now at the peak of their earning power) will transition from giving to organizations like ours to receiving Social Security, Medicare, and the like on reduced incomes.  p. 176

He hit it right on.  Though we are only five years from the book’s publication, we have seen the International Mission Board of the largest Protestant denomination pull back hundreds of missionaries from the field, and other data that tends to show a demographic tsunami which will affect church patterns shortly.

In his book, The Great Evangelical Recession (published in 2013, two years after Lutz’s book) John Dickerson echoes Lutz in his concern over future giving in a chapter entitled “Bankrupt.”  Looking at stats from the SBC, there were mixed results in the 2015 report.  Numbers for members and baptisms were down slightly, but giving was up slightly.  But we still have five more years to go. Of course these are stats from just one denomination. What exactly will happen?  We do not know,  but those doing collegiate ministry would be wise to start thinking out of the box to figure out how to grow staff who can generate income through support raising, or bivocational ministry.

I hope after reading about these five possible disruptions you will be encouraged to pick up a copy of College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, and think about how you do college ministry, and what you need to do to get ready for the next five years.  You will be challenged.

Hear Steve talk about these five disruptions as he talks with me in the No Campus Left Podcast