Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Meet Generation Z (2017)

I know some are still trying to catch up with Busters, or Generation X, or whatever we called those who followed the Boomers. Or maybe you leapfrogged over all that straight to Generation Y (Millennials), on whom marketers have been focused for at least a decade. I could tell you there are actually six living generations in America, but I don’t want to add to your stress.

Let me save you some time: Drop everything and start paying attention to Generation Z, who now constitute 25.9% of the U.S. population. That’s more than Millennials (24.5%). That’s more than Gen X (15.4%). Yes, that’s even more than Baby Boomers (23.6%). By 2020, they will account for 40% of all consumers. Generation Z will not simply influence American culture, as any generation would, they will constitute its culture.

So who falls into Generation Z? There’s still some debate on exact dates, but essentially it involves those who were born after Generation Y - so approximately 1995 to 2010. It is the generation that is now collectively under the age of 25.

Some would argue that everyone born from, say, 1980 to the early 2000s are one giant cohort known as Millennials. It’s true that such a grouping would be unified under a technology revolution, but as the research of Bruce Tulgan notes, “This time frame is simply too broad to define just one generation because the 1990s and the 2000s are two distinct eras.” To lump them together would be to link a 13-year-old with a 35-year-old. And even technologically, that would be hard to embrace. Much of the 90s was pre-internet except for very, very early adopters. And the smart phone? Non-existent. The ubiquitous nature of those two things alone would decisively divide any generation. “Growing up with a supercomputer in your pocket connected to most of the world’s population and knowledge,” writes David Pakman, “has created an irreversible pattern of behavior unlikely to revert to the ways of previous generations.” Or as an article in the New York Times noted, “A 14-year-old in 2015 really does inhabit a substantially different world than one of 2005.”

Intriguingly, some are calling Generation Z the last generation we will ever speak of. The speed of culture, where change can happen in a day, will make speaking of generations and their markings obsolete. “Tomorrow will be less about what a difference a generation makes, but more about what a difference a day makes.” All the more reason to make sure we know about which is probably the last, and arguably which will prove to be the most influential, generation in Western history.

So who is Generation Z? They grew up in a post 9/11 world during a recession. They’ve experienced radical changes in technology and understandings of family, sexuality and gender. They live in multi-generational households, and the fastest growing demographic within their age group is multi-racial. But there are five defining characteristics that everyone should know.

For those five and more, I’ll have to steer you toward my just-released book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World.

But make no mistake: Understanding and reaching this generation is the heart of understanding and reaching our post-Christian world.

James Emery White


Sources

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Baker), available now.

Jill Novak, “The Six Living Generations in America,” The Marketing Teacher, read online.

Leonid Bershidsky, “Here Comes Generation Z,” Bloomberg View, June 18, 2014, read online.

Jeremy Finch, “What Is Generation Z, and What Does It Want?”, Fast Company, May 4, 2015, read online.

Bruce Tulgan, “Meet Generation Z: The Second Generation Within the Giant ‘Millennial’ Cohort,” Rainmaker Thinking, 2013, PDF here.

David Pakman, “May I Have Your Attention, Please?,” Medium.com, August 10, 2015, read online.

Alex Williams, “Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z,” The New York Times, September 18, 2015, read online.

Sparks and Honey Culture Forecast, “Gen Z 2025: The Final Generation,” 2016, read online.


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His new book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Predictions That Didn't Come True

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article recently titled, “10 Media and Advertising Predictions that Didn’t Come True in 2016.”

Examples included:

*TV advertising, like it always had, would help decide the election. Reality: Hillary Clinton dramatically outspent Donald Trump on TV ads, while Trump relied on a mix of free media (rallies and interviews) and an aggressive social media strategy. And just in case you’ve been in a coma for the last few weeks, Trump won.

*The NFL would continue humming with no issues. If there was one indisputable truth among media writers, it was that the NFL was immune to ratings pressures in TV. Yet in 2016 the league suffered a surprising decline in viewership. No one is quite sure why, with theories ranging from the national anthem protests to the interest in the presidential election. Nonetheless, though they have bounced up a bit of late, early on in the season ratings were down.

*Advertisers would pull back on digital or pull back on TV. Now that 2016 is in the books, we know that digital ad spending surged, but not at the expense of TV. Bottom line? Advertisers determined they needed both.

I don’t know if anyone put forward a similar list of predictions for the interplay of church and culture at the start of last year that have been proven false, but I know of more than a few that were heavily circulating through the corridors of conventional wisdom that we now know have not proven accurate:

*Younger Millennials and Generation Z would come around to church and faith just like earlier generations. We now know that instead of becoming more religious as they get older, they become less – and further removed from church involvement. This makes the challenge of reaching Generation Z more urgent and challenging than ever before, as they will not naturally turn back to any kind of faith from their youth. In fact, Generation Z is the first generation where the majority didn’t have a strong faith upbringing to begin with.

*Large, fast-growing churches are attracting crowds through the abandonment of orthodoxy. Patently not true. Study after study has confirmed that what marks large, fast-growing churches more than any other single factor is conservative theology. A major study out of Canada (that I recently blogged on here) revealed that what separates declining churches from growing churches is that declining churches are more liberal, while growing churches are more conservative.

*The church has moved past racism. If 2016 proved anything, it was how deep racial divides continue to be and how tone-deaf many in the white Christian community have been to the fissure lines. The most segregated hour in America continues to be Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., and most leaders have no idea how to build truly integrated church communities that would provide the beachhead needed to tackle racism in the larger world.

*We didn’t have to worry about the “rise of the nones” because we were just losing the nominals who weren’t a vibrant part of the church to begin with. Oh my, where to begin. Lest we forget, the nominal population, no matter how it was shaped historically, has always been America’s mission field. It’s who Wesley and Whitfield, Moody and Graham won to Christ. The so-called “nominals” who make up the rise of the nones have always been the prime evangelistic target. Its inhabitants are the ones who have historically been the most open; the ones who represent the fields white unto harvest. Nominals populating the rise of the nones simply means that our primary mission field has become a much tougher target. So rather than heave a huge sigh of relief that Evangelical faith may not be losing any ground in terms of percentage points, we must recognize that all that means is that we are, for now, holding our own. But “holding our own” isn’t exactly the mission. 

*The key to reaching Millennials is to go retro, traditional, liturgical, ancient-future, Anglo-Catholic. I’ve always found this one fascinating. The Christian publishing industry went through a phase where it couldn’t publish enough disaffected Christian Millennial memoirs. Many took those musings as a window into the unchurched Millennial soul and the key to developing ways to reach them for Christ. Um… you do remember these were Christian Millennials largely whining about their parents’ 1990s megachurch, right? What does that have to do with reaching non-Christian Millennials? Very little. Case in point: name one Evangelical church that has broken even the 1,000 attendance barrier with Millennials that has employed a strategy built around disaffected Christian Millennial memoir tastes. Exactly. That isn’t a swipe at small churches, just that this was never the key to reaching non-Christians

So what were your predictions for 2017 again?

James Emery White


Sources

Mike Shields, “10 Media and Advertising Predictions that Didn’t Come True in 2016,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2016, read online.

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Baker).


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His forthcoming book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The True Nature of Discipleship

Discipleship matters.

The goal is not a crowd, but rather a core of committed Christ followers who are fleshing out the life of Christ at work, in their marriage, their parenting, their finances, their thinking, their politics, their…

… everything.

To borrow from Abraham Kuyper, there is not an inch of any sphere of my life that Christ does not say, “Mine!”

But what is the nature of discipleship?

There seem to be two schools of thought. The first holds that discipleship is all about ongoing investment. Whether classes or seminars, sermons or small groups, everything is designed to “feed” the Christ-follower. The language used to describe and promote this understanding of discipleship puts the entire emphasis on someone or something, doing discipleship to someone else. The one being discipled is seemingly passive. In other words, discipleship is something received.

The other school of thought is less about feeding and more about training. There is an old line that says, “Give me a fish, I eat for a day; teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime.” So rather than providing an ongoing pipeline for biblical teaching (present though that may be) the overarching goal is to teach people how to become Bible students themselves.

So which is the true nature of discipleship?

The answer lies in the word itself. 

The word “disciple” is from the Greek word “mathetes” and literally means “learner.” 

Stop there. Re-read.

Learner.

This puts the action firmly into the lap of the one doing the learning. The point is that you, as a disciple, are to be actively learning. It is your responsibility to take up the mantle of self-development. 

And yes, this suggests a teacher is involved. 

And yes, we talk about someone going to college to receive an education.

And yes, Jesus seemed to fill the teaching/equipping role by inviting 12 men (and more than a few women) to do life with Him for three years. 

And yes, they were called “disciples.”

But reflect on those early followers: Theirs was an invitation to learn, not to enter into a passive process of being fed. We certainly know that not all of the twelve went to school on Jesus. One in particular didn’t seem to learn much of anything. If discipleship was simply something done to you, Jesus failed epically with Judas. 

(I wonder if Judas ever said he needed to follow another rabbi where he could be better “fed” and thus grow better spiritually than he was under Jesus.)

Growing in faith is something that can be served by others, but ultimately must be owned personally. 

This is decisive. Too many followers of Christ view discipleship as something that is done to them and for them – akin to a personal enrichment program. Yet the writer of Hebrews made it abundantly clear that people who keep getting “fed” in this way are in arrested development. Once out of infancy, they should no longer need to be fed, but instead be feeding others (Hebrews 5:11-13).

But even more disquieting is how we have missed out on what it is we should focus on learning. The back-half of the Great Commission exhorts us to teach new believers to obey what Christ has commanded. This is the essence of the content of discipleship.

And what has Christ commanded?

To live our lives in mission to the least and the lost.

In other words, what we are to be learning is increased love toward others and increased faith for the task of serving them. We are not to be in search for a feeding station that creates a culture of dependency and endless demand for head-knowledge, but instead for a learning environment where an active life of faith is stretched and encouraged.

I know, knowledge is needed. Doctrine matters. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But that transformation only happens when what is in the mind translates into obedience to serving the widow and orphan, and reaching out to the hell-bound and skeptic. 

So discipleship is enhanced through practical teaching, learning the personal disciplines of prayer and Bible study, engaging in ministry, engaging in relationships that bring challenge and opportunity, and welcoming circumstances that demand the essence of commitment and obedience.

In other words, faith is stretched by being in the game where you are admonished by teachers/leaders, investing in connecting with God through prayer and the Scriptures, putting yourself on the front lines of the cause of Christ, mixing it up with other Christians who sharpen you as iron against iron, and being led by God into unique situations that challenge you at the deepest of spiritual levels.

That’s not passive, but active.

It’s something that can be served, but never delivered.

It takes a church, but only goes so far as the person is willing to be,

… a true learner.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His forthcoming book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian Culture, is available for pre-order on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Pastoral Mess of 2016

The headline for many for 2016 was that it was the year they couldn’t wait to come to an end.

Depending on your view of things, the reasons seemed endless:

A ruthless political season, the deaths of many famed celebrities, mass shootings, racial division… and the list goes on.

But there was another reason for many to lament the past year: the crash and fall of pastor after pastor, many of them in the “celebrity” category. I won’t name the names here – you probably know them – but you can read a sampling of those who come to mind here, here and here.

Most were young, relatively unmentored (or even unschooled) entrepreneurial church planters, rapidly platformed for being young, hip and “successful,” and the “fruit” of their ministry was deemed an affirmation of their personal integrity and the worthiness of their platform.

Can anyone say, “trainwreck inevitable”?

It prompts me to suggest four truths, followed by four pleas.

First, the four truths:

Truth #1: Young and hip does not mean wise and insightful. It doesn’t even mean you have the latest insights into how to be effective and relevant. In truth, it doesn’t mean anything. Some of the most effective churches reaching Millennials and Generation Z are led by those in their fifties or even older. And their jeans aren’t skinny. And those older, seasoned leaders are the ones who have true wisdom and maturity to bring to bear.

Truth #2: Numerical fruit is one of the weakest signs of a leader’s walk with Christ, much less God’s hand of anointing on an individual ministry. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. It is not crowds and book deals, speaking engagements and followers on Twitter. God brings fruit because… well, God brings fruit. And it’s often in spite of the leader’s walk with Christ that He does it, not because of it. How else do you explain so many leaders of “successful” ministries being revealed for shadow lives?  

Truth #3: Church planting in order to plant a church and extend the gospel to a fallen world is a good and noble thing; church planting to establish a platform for fame and fortune, acclaim and notoriety, is not. Even worse is when that church plant is designed to remove personal accountability, rather than provide it. Such self-created vehicles are destined to be driven into self-created ditches.

Truth #4: We are all sinners, but there is a difference between sin that we at least attempt to resist, and sin that is brazenly and unblushingly pursued and embraced. Even worse is when those in a position of leadership feel above the very teachings on sin that they propose to others.  

Why propose these four truths? Because failing to embrace them has seemingly led to many of the downfalls among those leading churches.

With that being said, here are four pleas that might make 2017 a better year:

Plea #1: Please, can we slow down the platforming? Conference organizers seem more intent on getting the “next, next” person on their docket than whether that person has been tried and found worthy to be platformed. We are perpetuating the Christian “celebrity culture,” and when it vomits on us through epic falls and fails, we have only ourselves to blame.

Plea #2: We must recapture the lost art of mentoring, and the lost value of being mentored. Church leaders should be apprenticed before assuming leadership. What that apprenticeship should entail can be a robust conversation, but that it should take place in some form or fashion should be without question. The danger of much church planting today is that young leaders can arbitrarily bypass any kind of preparation and simply create their own church/ministry and appoint themselves senior leader. 

Plea #3: Church structure must provide accountability. While I am an advocate of creating church structures that release the gift of leadership (freeing it from the unnecessary constraints of bureaucracy), the current pattern seems to be creating – through church planting – structures that allow a leader to assume an unchallenged, unaccountable role that is autocratic, dictatorial and imperial.

Plea #4: We must regain the lost dynamic of repentance. We are all called to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the truth of Scripture into repentance over sin. To repent is not simply to experience regret or even remorse. It is to enter into “metanoia” – the true turning from a course of action. This is when you realize what you’ve done, regret it, experience authentic remorse over it, and then seek to turn from it.

Granted, we all struggle with repetitive sin. This is not to diminish the scandalously inexhaustible depth of grace that God is only too willing to bestow upon those who continue to authentically confess that sin and seek forgiveness. But part of that confession must entail the commitment to repent, no matter how imperfect that might play out. What is perhaps most disturbing of the many stories of fallen leaders is how unrepentant they seemed to be as they engaged their double-life. There seemed to be more presumption regarding God than fear.

And perhaps that is what I feel seems to be missing most in so many leaders, and what I know needs continual cultivation in my own life: the healthy, grace-informed fear of the living God who will not be mocked.

Here’s one pastor ready to renew and recommit himself to that bottom line so that 2017 won’t be like 2016.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His forthcoming book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian Culture, is available for pre-order on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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