An Emerging Urgency
Entitled. Overindulged. Helpless. Overprotected. Lazy. Narcissistic. These words all represent characteristics attributed to today’s emerging generation, my generation. From the prevalence of helicopter parenting — hovering over children, ready to swoop in at the first sign of danger or hardship — to the “every kid gets a trophy for trying” approach to competition, it is not hard to see why the emerging generation is growing up to be codependent, emotionally immature, and self-absorbed.
Yet, while these attributes are certainly worthy of pause and reflection, there is another characteristic of the emerging generation that is of great significance to the Church: Nones, individuals who self-identify as unaffiliated with any church, denomination, or religious tradition. Presently, 20% of Americans identify themselves as unaffiliated with any religious tradition; for the emerging generation, one in three individuals report their religious affiliation as “none.”
Who are the emerging generation? We go by many labels; most commonly, we are referred to as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. The emerging generation encompasses those of us born between 1980 and 2000, roughly. We’ve been described as “self-entitled narcissists” as well as “open-minded do-gooders.”
Additionally, we are the largest and most unchurched generation in America. Notably, we are the first generation in history that didn’t grow up with a church or religious background. We weren’t raised in church. We weren’t taught the authority of the Bible, the inerrancy of Scripture, or other basic doctrines of the evangelical Christian faith.
Instead, my generation was raised with the religion of moral relativism. We were taught that there is no such thing as a moral absolute. A character from the film Twelve Monkeys, released in 1995, says it well, “There is no right, there is no wrong, there is only popular opinion.” As a result, my generation tends to be more progressive on social and moral issues, such as homosexuality, abortion, and alcohol.
Furthermore, there is a growing trend within Christian circles of the emerging generation to reject the dictates of Scripture as out of date and without authority. According to the Economic Values Survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2013, only 17% of the emerging generation identifies themselves as “religious conservative,” which encompasses theology, economics, and social issues.
More than half of the millennial generation believes being a religious person is about doing the right things vs. holding the right beliefs. The majority of the emerging generation believes religion is a private matter that should be kept out of public affairs. More than half of my generation does not see a connection between belief in God and morality. In other words, you do not have to believe in God or have a personal relationship with Him in order to be moral. Clearly, the Church has work to do, and reaching the emerging generation is going to look differently than evangelism has in the past. My generation tends to be well-educated, and we need to see why the Christian faith is a reasonable belief system. We were not instructed with a clear moral compass, so we need to see why moral absolutes are important. We weren’t raised in the church, so we need spiritual fathers and mothers who are willing to pour out their lives for the sake of raising us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, he engaged with her in love to see and know truth. Afterwards, his disciples simply marveled at him without asking him why he bothered to reach out to the unclean woman from Samaria. Instead, they were preoccupied with their meal. Nevertheless, Jesus challenged them, saying,
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:34-35, ESV)
The emerging generation is the largest in history, and the most unreached. Church, I pray that we see the fields are white for harvest. Let us accomplish the work Jesus came to do.
Rachel Forrest will be sharing about reaching the emerging generation during the Women’s Session of the State Evangelism Conference on Tuesday, Jan. 28. To find out more information, go here.