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Non-Rebels with Causes

Despite the stereotypes of Gen Z, a close look at today’s young people shows a generation that is actually pretty grounded and sure of itself.

Older people have complained about younger people since the beginning of history. Socrates once wrote about how young people no longer respected their elders and were running amok in Athens. The 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause showed teens as emotionally confused, angry and disrespectful – a theme that has woven its way through lots of films in the decades since.

Despite the stereotype, though, a close look at today’s young people shows a generation that is actually pretty grounded and sure of itself.

Kids born between 1997 and 2012 are members of what sociologists call Generation Z or – more informally – “Zoomers.” The experiences, culture and technology they shared growing up made them different from preceding generations.

For example, Zoomers didn’t have to be introduced to technology; they grew up with it. Because they have experienced a global pandemic, recessions and the undeniable effects of climate change, they crave stability and security. They do their own research very quickly and accurately. They don’t like confrontation. They are deeply invested in diversity and inclusion. They get very critical when people or organizations are inauthentic. And Zoomers don’t easily change their minds.

They’re also turning their back on church. Or, more specifically, certain kinds of church.

The least religious generation

American data shows that every new generation is less religious than the one before it – and Zoomers are the least religious generation yet. According to recent numbers, 34 percent of Generation Z are religiously unaffiliated, compared to Millennials at 29 percent, Generation X at 25 percent, Boomers at 18 percent and only 9 percent of the Silent Generation.

Zoomers also do not equate being religious with being “good.” While 58 percent of Americans agree that children should be brought up in religion so they can learn good values, Zoomers believe the opposite. And once they leave a church – usually before they turn 18 – they do not return.

It might be tempting – as churchgoers – to press the panic button about all this. But as researcher Colleen Batchelder points out, young people are simply being consistent in their views. She writes:

“The vast majority of Millennials and Generation Z value racial diversity, cognitive diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. They also believe that gender equality is a normative expectation within the church, the workplace and within the home. However. . . one will find that Millennials and Generation Z are not leaving the church; they are leaving a subset of the church: conservative evangelicalism – or more precisely, white evangelicalism.”

In other words, these “exvangelicals,” as Batchelder calls them, are not rebelling. They expect authenticity from their faith groups. For example, a church that preaches love but doesn’t accept or affirm certain kinds of love isn’t for them. And they’ll leave a church with even a sniff of racism or sexism in a heartbeat.

The lesson for denominations that want to “hold the line” on certain issues seems clear. If you do, you will lose the Zoomers. And they won’t come back – ever.


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