From the Gen z Perspective
Tobi Park | November 2, 2018 | 10 MIN READ
One thing you should know about my mother is that she is a forty-something, Korean-American baddie. Often mistaken as my cooler, more fashionable older sister, she’s usually the one telling me about all the trends. So it was surprising when, noticing my unmade bed, she muttered, “Millennials these days.”
Anyone under 40 years old tends to be lumped under the Millennial label. But I am a part of Gen Z (also known as iGen, Gen K, Homeland Generation). We were born somewhere between the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, and the oldest of us have entered college and the workforce. Consequently, we are now being pushed into the limelight.
So who are we?
We value vulnerability, individuality, and authenticity. We participate in politics and don't hesitate to voice our opinions. As the first generation to be born into the Internet Age, we are globally interconnected like never before. But what are we actually connected to?
Our Future is in Our Hands
Postchristianity: a nationwide loss of Christianity in worldviews and public affairs
Gen Z is considered a “post-Christian” generation. A Barna study found that “the percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults).”
In many schools, the Bible is treated like a fairy tale or a literary trope. Our country’s doctrine preaches tolerance and universal acceptance, while simultaneously brushing Christianity to the wayside. Mentions of Jesus steadily fade from classrooms, newsrooms, and government decisions. It is “progressive” to put down Jesus, his followers, and the church. Christianity is seen as a disease, no longer relevant in this “bright, new future.”
What are the Effects?
To write this article, I interviewed many of my peers. I asked them what a distinguishing factor of our generation was. A few said, “Social media!” or “Technology!”
However, most said, giggling mirthlessly: “Depression”, “Mental illness”, “We’re all sad”.
One added in a strangely perky voice, “Myth: Some Gen Z’rs are suicidal. Fact: ALL Gen Z’rs are suicidal.”
We laughed, but it made me feel uneasy. Conversations between my peers are often peppered with jokes of self-harm, anorexia, and suicide. Just look at social media, where some of the most popular posts are jokes about mental illness and death.
Is it just a phase?
Unfortunately, no. Statistically, teenagers are sadder than ever. The number of Gen Z teens who reported a major depressive episode in 2014, was 37% higher than that of those in 2005, when Millennials were in high school. In 2014, suicide became the second-leading cause of death for teenagers, surpassing homicide.
In April, a childhood friend passed by committing suicide. In June, a classmate spent months in a hospital after a suicide attempt. Two known acquaintances began cutting.
Many students publicly discuss contemplating suicide. This week, someone shared an Instagram post on how she often came “dangerously close to ending it lately.” Mental health issues are no longer some foreign topic. This darkness is slowly seeping its way into the daily lives and thoughts of my generation.
Why is this happening?
In the post-Christian Era, faith is seen as foolish and shortsighted. Logical and godless processes are seen as ideal. Your identity relies on your own merits. So when you falter, your identity falters too. When you fail, you are the failure.
We value our INDIVIDUALITY. We are our own gods. There is no divine plan to lean on. When your entire personhood is centralized around something that wavers, your will to live can waver too.
We are not strong enough to carry the burden of our own identities. It is too difficult to carry the burden of our futures on our own.
What deters Gen Z’rs from church?
Assumption: Gen Z’rs don’t come to church because they disagree with the Christian doctrine.
Reality: Gen Z’rs don’t come to church because they disagree with the Christian people.
Don’t get me wrong: Many Gen Z'rs disagree with the doctrine and theology of Christ. I attend an incredibly progressive high school, so when it comes to social issues like sexuality, divorce, and abortion, my peers and I often hold extremely opposing views.
But they don’t hate me. Though they consider me a bit misguided, they comprehend my beliefs are grounded in a God of love who has certain controversial laws. I have been dubbed “the nice conservative Christian” because of the genuine relationships I have with them.
One joked: “If all Christians were like you, I’d go to church every day.”
Gen Z’rs dislike the Church for its judgment and sterility. Oftentimes, Christianity can come off as an exclusive club for the perfect. We ignore taboo topics like mental illness and sexuality, while unintentionally preaching a doctrine of unreachable ideals.
To a generation that values genuine, authentic, and raw relationships, the Church can come off as fake and threatening.
How Do We Love Gen Z?
Even though it is easy to do, we can’t automatically judge or patronize Gen Z non-believers for what they believe because they don't know Christ.
So in order to reach out to the newer generation, we must build authentic and non-judgmental relationships. Though Gen Z’rs might disagree with our theology, they will still respect the relationship. The genuine friendships can lead them to the church. We need to love on them generously with no expectations but speak about Jesus in our own lives.
Finally, remember that WE are not strong enough to carry the burden of our own identities. We are so busy building our own individuality, expressing ourselves, and trying to convince others that we are so different and special.
But let all of us -- Gen Z’rs and the different church generations -- encourage and remind one another that we are children of Jesus, and our identity needs to be in him. Our failures don’t define us. Our merits don’t determine who we are. We are sons and daughters of the Most High God. As children of Yahweh, we do not have to carry that weight on our own.
Tobi Park attends Living Hope Community Church and is a sophomore at Orange County School of the Arts. She was the youngest speaker for the 2016 TedxValenciaHighSchool, and has been published in Adonis Designs Press, Basil O’Flaherty (2 pieces), Phosphene Literature Journal, Chautauqua Journal, Panoplyzine, and Rattle. She also received a Silver Key in the Scholastic Writing Awards. Tobi writes for many reasons; one of them is to inspire change. She wants to change the world, and in her opinion, change doesn’t have to be big. Maybe she can bring a new perspective to light. Maybe her words can bring joy. To her, any small shift can be change.