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TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION............................................................2 BACKGROUND TO GENERATION Y..................................2 BARRIERS AND OBJECTIONS.........................................5 POTENTIAL CONTACT POINTS.......................................7 Relationship Breakdowns........................................................7 Dysfunction............................................................................7 APOLOGETIC METHODS AND ARGUMENTS.....................8 CONCLUSION.............................................................10 BIBLIOGRAPHY...........................................................11
Generation Y has become the label for people born in the 1980s and 90s1. This currently includes most of Australia’s teens and young adults, a segment with increasing national influence. There are key attributes that differentiate them from other generations, and we need to how they think and what they value. Past methods of sharing the gospel seem to be failing. But if we care enough to enter into their world, perhaps we can reach out more genuinely and effectively.
BACKGROUND TO GENERATION Y
Generation follows the ‘Baby Boomers’ (the post-world-war-II children) and Generation X (born late 60s and 70s). They are also sometimes referred to as Gen Next, Millennials (as many reached adulthood around the turn of the millennium), or Screenagers (referring to teenagers from this generation). They are the largest generation since the baby boom (with most of their parents being ‘boomers’).
Generational experts Strauss & Howe suggest 1982 – 2001 as the boundaries for Generation Y (“Gen Y”)
Chart from http://www.cnllifestylereit.com/overview.asp
Tendencies in Generation Ys3 Culturally liberal: they generally respect unconventional gender identities, roles and sexual preferences such as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual). Often carry an ingrained mistrust of authority. Can be critical of religious conservatives who appear sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, capitalistic or hypocritical. Resist traditions and choices made by their parents. Often delaying career-commitment, leaving-home, marriage, and effectively the transition into adulthood, sometimes now deferring these until their 30s. Technology is familiar and commonplace – most Gen Ys own a computer (97%), a cell phone (94%) and an MP3 player (56%) (“Talking About My Generation” 2007). They grew up as the internet revolutionised access to media. They seek instant gratification, wanting success and results quickly. (“Talking About My Generation” 2007) Traditional stereotypes of success such as ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer’ no longer apply. Success is more personal and subjective. (“Talking About My Generation” 2007) They are comfortable with and have come to expect instant communication as a way of relating to peers. Email, texting, instant messaging (IM) and new social media forms such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter all play a key role in relationships and circles of communication. Expression and acceptance are highly sought after, leading to the rise of flash mobbing, internet meme, online communities, and online pen pals. Some appear to do anything to achieve their few minutes of mass-media fame: they are the “look at me” generation.4 Many began leadership training as early as primary school (“Managing
2 3 4
These are Americans stats but the proportions should be roughly similar for Australia. It’s worth noting that traits like these are always broad generalisations applied to a large group of unique and diverse individuals. There are always exceptions. About half say that “becoming famous” is an important value to them (“A Portrait of Generation Next”)
Generation X and Y”). They want a job they can be passionate about, contains an element of fun, yet is also flexible (eg. flexible hours, or willing to go part-time) (“Talking About My Generation” 2007). Or they may want to work for themselves, not necessarily because of money, but for freedom, lifestyle and to be in charge without conforming to someone else's vision. (“Managing Generation X and Y”). They are swamped by choice, with more opportunities (in careers, travel, communication, influence) than any other previous generation. Perspective on life is either highly optimistic – where they feel entitled to become anything they want to be – or disillusioned – as they see the destination of generations before them, or feel the painful neglect from career-obsessed parents. Heroes are close and familiar – they are twice as likely as previous generations to name a family member, teacher or mentor as someone they admire, although twice as many admire entertainers than political leaders. (“A Portrait of Generation Next”). Casual sex, binge drinking, illegal drug use and violence are more prevalent among Gen Y young people compared with 20 years ago (“A Portrait of Generation Next”).
Generation Y is also a privileged generation, having grown up amid prosperity, and so lack any great desire for change or to forge a new world. The Age reports that “our millennials have everything they need to innovate – except a reason” (Davis 2005). Huntley also calls them the Paradoxical Generation: “they drink and take drugs but eat organic food; they are obsessed with technology but fear it is depriving them of deeper personal relationships; they want to get married but resist settling down with a partner” (Huntley 2006: 10). They value independence, convenience, 24/7 availability, immediate answers, and a lack of cost and efficiency. Their views on God reflect a shift away from traditional church attendance (although perhaps not as extreme as the media often makes out):
Only 19% of Generation Y are actively involved in a church; 17% have an eclectic spirituality, believing in two or more "New Age", esoteric or eastern beliefs, including reincarnation, psychics and astrology; and 31% can be classified as humanists, rejecting the idea of a god, although a few believe in a "higher being". (The Spirit of Generation Y, quoted in Price & Kass 2006)
BARRIERS AND OBJECTIONS
Every generation has a tendency to swing away from the mistakes and imbalances of their parents’ generation. This ‘push’ tends to create repeating cycles as subsequent generations swing between extremes. While they may avoid some mistakes of the preceding generation, they tend to repeat those by earlier ones. People from the ‘Greatest Generation’ (or ‘G.I. Generation’, roughly those old enough to fight in World War II) had traditions of regularly attending church. But as Baby Boomers (and then Gen X) came onto the scene, many were forced into attending church which actually pushed them the opposite direction. The offspring of this generation now have little church experience outside of Christmas, occasional R.E. classes, or Catholic private schools. They also often inherit the bitterness and distrust of church associations from their parents. This can create an immediate barrier to reaching Generation Y. (Although hopefully it will create opportunity for Generation Z and beyond to respond to their spiritual hunger.) Generation Y are also steeped in relativism – the idea that there’s no absolute truth or universal laws of morality, but that everyone needs to discover what works for them. New ideas are judged not by “is it true?” but “does it work?”. The first question is not whether it’s logically coherent; they need to see that what you believe actually makes a genuine difference in your life. This appears strange to the scientific logic of the modernists (Gen Y’s parents and grandparents). Ys need to experience something and see the benefits before they’re willing to
commit – paper-based ‘theoretical’ evidence doesn’t hold weight. Proving the Bible’s accuracy is no longer enough – it doesn’t matter if something was true back then, Ys wonder whether it’s still true today. (And with so much technological and scientific advancement during their maturing years, no wonder they question whether any truth really ‘lasts’.) This takes time, a barrier that Christians often fail to account for. Gen Ys have also developed a general mistrust of authority. Adolf Hitler demonstrated the effects of abusive leadership, Bill Clinton scandalised western leadership. Much abuse within the church has also been uncovered with an almost-regular stream of priestly molestations decorating the tabloids. Church leaders are viewed much like the transient politicians who experience a moment in the spotlight only to be replaced at the whim of a jaded public. This mistrust also creates a democratic approach to life and situations. Workplaces around Australia have experienced the upheaval of traditional hierarchies with the growing mass of Gen Y’s entering the workforce. No longer are they willing to wait years to earn a voice in the direction of a company – they’ve been taught that their opinion matters as much as anyone else’s. Reaching Gen Y requires a breaking through this mistrust. A pastor figure would do well to connect with Ys on an even level rather than an authoritative one – side by side as a friend. They also need to connect relationally over a period of time that ‘earns’ trust and respect rather than demands it. Ys have also grown up in a period where evolutionary theory is more pervasive than ever. The story of creation is reduced to mythical status much like Santa Claus, while evolution is treated as accepted fact throughout most high schools and universities. There’s little room to even question the foundations of the ‘science’, lest they be called heretics. Melbourne social commentator Mark Sayers has also identified 5 insightful reasons why young adults leave church: (Sayers 2008)
Choice Anxiety. Growing up in a privileged society presents a plethora of options. But with more choice, the greater sense of questioning and insecurity. Have I made the right choice? Ys ask about everything. Commitment Phobia. If I commit to something, I lose my ability to choose. Consumerist Spirituality. They participate in something as long as they perceive the benefit, and drop out when something better opens. Post-Christian Identity. Australia is no longer a Christian country (REF??____). With fewer and fewer people identifying with the oncewidespread faith, it’s perceived as outdated and irrelevant. The Pornification of Christian Resources. The staggering amount of Christian resources available make Ys feel that they can connect with God through books, CDs, DVDs, podcasts, and never have to get inside a church where they’re told ‘what to believe’, or have to face the challenges of community – actually mingling with others outside their comfort zone. The problem: information devoid of community.
POTENTIAL CONTACT POINTS
The contemporary sales tacticians understand it well: (1) understand a person’s needs, (2) demonstrate how they can be met. Two crises appear to echo throughout this generation: relationship breakdowns and both personal and societal dysfunction. While these sit at the core of the human condition, Gen Y appear especially attuned to their presence.
“Gen Y grew up watching their parents work too hard, separate and end up with very little money to retire on... that is not a path they want to take.” (Southam 2010) 7
The nuclear family is in tatters. With close to 50% of all marriages ending in divorce, it’s common for a Gen Y to come from a single-parent family. Or they may even come from a family with two mums or two dads. This confused identity leaves Gen Y teens with a hunger for loving relationship. Where do I find that support and companionship that I feel I'm missing? Perhaps its this hunger that drives the sweeping popularity of social networks like MySpace and Facebook. Ys want to stay connected and intouch, to know what’s happening and feel involved in others lives. The unfortunate problem is that the more public the communication, the shallower it becomes. Brutal honesty is rarely applauded.
A lot of Gen Ys feel dysfunctional or inadequate. Those that have been told so directly either strive ambitiously to prove otherwise, or resentfully accept it as fact. But they realise something is broken. Despite the massive growth of technology, science, medicine, communications and information, if they were honest, many would admit the world is not necessarily a nicer place. While many Gen Ys are fed a diet of dysfunction, others create it themselves. Boredom, loneliness and emptiness lead large groups to dangerous experimentations: alcohol, drugs, sex, risk taking. These all seem to provide a brief relief from the pain of dysfunction around them – for a little while the hurt is forgotten. For some, that numbing is highly addictive. For some, the mixture of risk taking, alcohol and anger at the underlying dysfunction results in explosive violence – the only approach some have learnt to solve issues. While previous generations tended to experience a foundational questioning of direction during their 40s and 50s (a ‘mid-life crisis’), Gen Ys are already experiencing similar pessimism and deep re-evaluation in their 20s (“XY Boomers” 2006). Once they graduate and enter the
workforce, it’s quickly apparent that doing the same job for another thirty years would feel like a slow and painful death.
APOLOGETIC METHODS AND ARGUMENTS
Like any cross-cultural mission, reaching this group takes an understanding of their underlying values, dreams and frustrations – what ‘makes them tick’. Business journalists have already researched ways to attract Generation Ys: • They can have a jaded view of flashy advertising that promises a lot but delivers little; they assume the worst about companies trying to coax them into buying something. Ads meant to look youthful and fun may come off as merely opportunistic to a Gen Y. Instead they respond to humour, irony, and the (apparently) unvarnished truth. They don’t want ‘talk’, they want the real thing. Thanks to Australia’s immigration mix and now the internet, they’re an increasingly diverse group, able to connect long-distance with people of similar interests. Whereas “television drives homogeneity, the internet drives diversity” (Neuborne 1999). And yet style plays an important role: “Young consumers have shown that they'll switch their loyalty in an instant to marketers that can get ahead of the style curve” (Neuborne 1999) They’re drawn to ‘grassroots’ movements of common people rather than big corporations. Memes5 and viral techniques that spread through word of mouth are sometimes more successful than commercial advertising. The mass-media ads that do work are usually funny, unpretentious and divert from the mainstream. Gen Ys are flexible, constantly evolving, and less brand-loyal. Fashions and trends change rapidly (once a fashion statement becomes mainstream it loses its appeal).
A thought, concept or character that is spread virally (through word of mouth rather than promoted through mass-media)
• • •
Generalised research like this provides some insight into the world and culture they face, but sitting down and getting to know someone is the only way to really understand how they think. So many young people are just desperate for someone to genuinely care and listen to them. In Chap Clark’s book Hurt: inside the world of today's teenagers, he uses that one word to sum up the experience of so many teenagers growing up in today’s western culture. “There is no doubt that much of life on the surface of the adolescent landscape is light, carefree, and straightforward. This is a time when life can feel like it is full of possibilities and no barrier is insurmountable... But there is another side to this idyllic picture. The surface of the adolescent landscape is where internal fears, loneliness, and insecurities must be held in check, where friendships are generally shallow, and where performance and image are the name of the game... Beneath the superficial...there are dark, lonely corners...the stress and strain of personal survival in a hostile world.” (Clark 2004: 19) Caring peers and adults need to gently probe beneath the shiny exterior veneer to discover what is really going on below the surface. What are their fears, disappointments and emotional wounds? Some would love the opportunity to open up and seek answers to their fears, but don’t want the embarrassment of seeing a counsellor or psychologist. Listen, love, and gently reveal how the God-given desires inside them can only be fulfilled by Him, not by the worldly pursuits of consumerism, fame, or instant gratification.
Generation Y are a mixed and eclectic group who want to be different, but who end up averse to the same sorts of things: authority, tradition, discrimination, commitment, tedium, sacrifice and absolutes. If we’re attempting to reach this generation, we’ll need to compassionately enter 10
their worldview and create a sense of genuine relational community. We’ll need to demonstrate that God is real more than just talking about it, connect their fears and needs with God’s provision, speak to their Godgiven destiny, and challenge them to search out God for themselves – ‘try it on’ and see if he’s willing to ‘show up’ in their lives and situations. We are always one generation away from Australia losing its Christian heritage to a cancerous humanism. We need a new approach for a new people. God, save my generation!
“A Portrait of Generation Next”. People Press. (20th December 2010). Available internet: http://people-press.org/report/300/a-portrait-ofgeneration-next Clark, C. (2004). Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. n.p.: Baker Academic. Davis, G. (2005). “Rise of the millennials.” The Age Newspaper, 30 May 2005. (20th December 2010). Available internet: http://www.theage.com.au/news/Education-News/Rise-of-themillennials/2005/05/27/1117129892594.html (13th December 2010). “Expectations of the Screenager Generation” [Presentation Slides]. Available internet: http://www.slideshare.net/steelgraham/expectations-of-thescreenager-generation (13th December 2010). “Generation Next Changes the Face of the Workplace” 14th December 2006. PBS Newshour. Available internet: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/generation-next/audiovideo/ (13th December 2010). “Gen Y”. Wikipedia. Available internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gen_Y (20th December 2010). Huntley, R. (2006) The world according to Y: inside the new adult generation. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. Lusk, B. (2007) “Study finds kids take longer to reach adulthood”. Daily Herald, 5 Dec 2007. Available internet: http://www.heraldextra.com/news/article_3db6743c-35bc-5e6a-a737938b93f57ac3.html (13th December 2010). “Managing Generation X and Y”. Available internet: http://www.kershaw.com.au/popup/editorial_05.html (20th December 2010). Neuborne, E. (1999) “Generation Y”. Business Week, 15 Feb 1999. Available internet: http://www.businessweek.com/1999/99_07/b3616001.htm (20th December 2010). Price, S. & Kass, S. (2006) “Generation Y Turning Away from Religion”. The Age Newspaper, 5 Aug 2006. Available internet: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/generation-y-turning-away12
from-religion/2006/08/05/1154198378623.html (13th December 2010). Sayers, M. (2008) “Gen Y role models for losing faith”. Mark Sayers – Faith & Culture, 4 Jul 2008. Available internet: http://marksayers.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/gen-y-role-models-forlosing-faith/ (reasons for leaving church available here: http://marksayers.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/sticking-at-it-whyyoung-adults-leave-church3.pdf (13th December 2010). Schroer, W.J. (n.d.) “Generations X,Y, Z and the Others”. The Social Librarian. Available internet: http://www.socialmarketing.org/newsletter/features/generation3.htm (20th December 2010). Southam, K. (2010) “Generation Y might rule the world sooner than we thought.” The Punch, 17 Sep 2010. Available internet: http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/generation-y-might-rule-theworld-sooner-than-we-thought/ (20th December 2010) “Talking About My Generation.” Marie Claire, 6 Jun 2007. (20th December 2010). Available internet: http://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/marieclaire/features/society-celeb/article/-/5886201/talking-about-mygeneration/ (13th December 2010). “XY Boomers”. Transcript from Australia Wide episode, August 2006. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/australiawide/stories/s1726937.htm (20th December 2010).
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