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Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Meet Generation Z" (James Emery White)

TITLE: Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: James Emery White
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (224 pages).

We have heard of the various terms to describe the various generations. The Baby Boomers are those born between the years 1940s-1960s; the Generation X (born in the 70s-80s); and Millennials (born in the 80s-90s). Generation Z are the newest and youngest group, which is the focus of the latest book from prolific writer and pastor, James Emery White. He calls this generation the "First truly post-Christian Generation." They will make up to 25% of the entire US population and will play a major role in shaping the culture that is to come. This book focuses on what this generation is, its origins, its characteristics, and the need for the Church to re-think her approaches to engaging and interacting with this rising generation. This generation comprises a rising number of formerly churched people, aka, post-Christian. The key thesis of this book is that we need to understand the upcoming culture and its trend in order to reach them meaningfully. It is meant to complement White's two earlier books, Serious Times and The Rise of the Nones. The former is a wake-up call to the Church to rethink more seriously its approaches to an increasingly pluralistic, secular, privatized, relativistic, hedonistic, and narcissistic culture. The latter focuses more on the post-Christians group of people. This book continues the path of helping Church think more effectively about reaching this post-Christian culture and people. White describes some of the signs of this 'seventh age.'

  • Expansion of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere of Asia, Africa, and Latin America
  • Rise of Islam
  • Redefinition of family and marriage
  • Doctrine of humanity
Most striking of all was the observation of the first and the second fall. The first fall led to man being expelled from the Garden of Eden. The second fall has become man expelling God from the culture, aka the dominance of secularism. The rise of the nones stands at 50% which White labels "the squishy center" where people here refuse to take the stand of either secularists or believers. Enters Generation Z which are those growing up in a post 9/11 world; where WiFi is an entitlement; where marriage has been redefined; where jobs are no longer guaranteed in a recession-tainted workplace; living with rich variety of digital gadgets; mass information; social media; sexually fluid; multiracial; and most crucially, post-Christian. White does an excellent job in describing the generational transitions from Millenials to Gen Z; how the young are 'growing older younger' and the changing climate of parenting. He concludes with a worrisome observation: "They have endless amounts of information but little wisdom, and virtually no mentors."

Thankfully, White does not leave readers stuck in this new reality. He supplies a fresh approach to engaging this generation. He starts with the countercultural church and calls for us to understand before attempting to engage. The author makes a powerful case for the calling for Church to be the organizational force for change. The Church needs to be one, holy, universal, and apostolic. It has a singular vision to point others to Christ. Gen Z people are poised to fast-forward their activism even if it means leaving Church behind. In other words, we cannot jettison the Church on the basis of some historical flaws. This is the very reason why Church is becoming less popular among Gen Z. White gives some historical examples of how civilization can be saved when the Church is empowered. We need to be aware of the three primary voices that could be spoken into culture. The first is prophetic which is a call to turn to God and be right with God. The second is the evangelistic call, which is a call to be reconciled in Jesus Christ. The third is the heretical voice which will always attempt to prevent the first two.  The way forward for the Church is not to mirror culture but to counter. When the Church fails to be the Church, it disappears.

Other than finding our voice, we need to rethink evangelism. No longer can we adopt the 'bump' method that is event oriented. We need to move to process oriented methods. This means learning to survey the cultural landscape and the contexts that people live in. One such context is Gen Z having a shorter attention span such as the '8 second filter.' We have 8 seconds before a Gen Z engages or disengages.  Apologetics are increasingly essential to tackling the questions of this generation. Even the understanding of apologetics need to move from mere question and answer to building bridges of connection. Engage with people's need for spirituality and meaning. Check out the things that matter to them, what programs they watch, their fascination with science and technology, and their deepest questions that are only asked when scratched appropriately. He ends with six more strategic decisions:
  1. To be cultural missionaries
  2. To skew young, that the Church need to make a preference for the young
  3. Target the men
  4. Prioritize children's ministry
  5. Cultivate a culture of invitation
  6. Disciple the mission
White then addresses the three major challenges of today: Gay marriage; Map of the Spiritual World; and an Apologetic question on Why God. These three topics are placed at the appendices section and showcase White's approach in action. He shows us the way forward on how to engage the Gen Z with three of the hottest topics that they care about. I have always liked White's way of engaging culture without being stuck in history. There is a certain clarity of thought and freshness of ideas in this book. I find it extremely helpful when he uses familiar symbols and icons of this age to trigger imagination and ideas for engagement. Plus, White maintains a solid grasp of ecclesiology without losing relevance to the Gen Z world. I appreciate the way we ought to position ourselves in reaching out to this generation. The words of Jonathan Merritt ring deep: "There's the world we live in, there's the weight we live with, and there's the Word we live by." That's the road we need to navigate carefully through this new world.

James Emery White is founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He blogs regularly at ChurchAndCulture.org and is a ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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