Describing Generation Z

Gen-Z-CoverOne of the things that we talk about in our classroom discussions about ethics is the category of ethics known as “descriptive ethics.”  It really is as simple as the term itself: descriptive ethics is concerned with communicating what is seen concerning a particular group of people or a particular topic.  It’s also the one question on the test that everyone should get correct.

A great example of descriptive ethics dropped this last week.  The Barna Group (along with Impact 360) released a sleek and sobering look at today’s teenagers: Gen Z- The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation.  One of the odd dynamics of the last few years (at least from my vantage point) has been the shift in cultural discussions to young adults (and away from youth).  As a teacher, I often have to take things written concerning college students and extrapolate down to high schoolers.  So it’s refreshing to find something that deals with this particular moment in the life of teenagers.  As such, it’s kind of brought back a strand of joy and challenge that I haven’t experienced in a few years, this idea of a report like this and the conversations that it can open up.

The question, of course, becomes “how do we effectively and purposefully pursue those questions?” particularly if they are questions that many of us have forgotten how to ask.

One of the most interesting trends in the book, but the way, is to see some of the ideological shifts that have taken place between millennials and “generation z” kids.  Granted, and Barna points this out, these Gen-Z kids are still being formed, so things are still up for grabs.  But while you can’t quite say that Gen-Z is more conservative, they are a little different, a little more open-minded in a healthy way.

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Two other quick observations/thoughts:

  1.  I think it’s cool that the Barna Group made some distinctions in the religious involvement level of the students interviewed and polled.  Throughout the book, “engaged Christians” and “churched Christians” are differentiated in their opinions.  This is mostly based on particular evangelical markers but also by how often teenagers attend church.  This adds a nice layer to the discussion.
  2. I really like how the study attempts to look at four main categories of interest: identity, worldview, motivations, and views on faith/church.  As these things are teased out through the report, points of connection and diversion becomes much clearer.

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One last thing of note from the book’s beginning.  Without going full “Benedict Option,” the president of Barna, David Kinnaman, notes an ideological shift from “Jerusalem to Babylon” in terms of culture and the role Christianity plays in it.  Instead of “faith at the center,” we now see “faith at the margins.”  A “simple life” has been replaced with a kind of “bitter/sweet tension.”  And while the idol in “Jerusalem” was “false piety,” the idol of this new “Babylon” is “fitting in and not missing out.”  And so the question stands: “Are we making disciples for Jerusalem when we need to be making disciples for Babylon?”

(image from barna.com)

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