James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Baker Books, 2017. 219 pages.
Overview of the Book
Meet Generation Z is divided into two parts, consisting of eight chapters total, with three appendices.
Part One: The New Reality
1. A Seventh Age, the Second Fall, and the Rise of the Nones
2. Meet Generation Z
3. When Christ and His Saints Slept
Part Two: A New Approach
4. The Countercultural Church
5. Finding Our Voice
6. Rethinking Evangelism
7. Apologetics for a New Generation
Appendix A: Gay Marriage
Appendix B: Mapping the Spiritual World
Appendix C: Why Believe in God?
In my estimation, the real strength of Meet Generation Z is the first part: The New Reality. Here, White interacts with various statistics and sketches for us the current picture of where our culture is in regards to its social and religious perspectives. Surprisingly, while Generation Z is not religious, it is spiritually curious.
Generation Z, according to White, is made up of those born from 1995 to 2010. Essentially, Generation Z is made up of everyone presently under the age of 25. Generation Z is characterized by five traits: 1) Recession Marked, 2) Wi-Fi Enabled, 3) Multiracial, 4) Sexually Fluid, 5) Post-Christian.
Chapters two and three were, for me, the most helpful in the book. Here, White presents Generation Z. Generation Z is losing its childhood and innocence at a younger age than any preceding generation, it is highly influenced by the music industry, and is riddled by pornography. Additionally, Generation Z's parents tend to be under protective and religiously unaffiliated.
The data presented here is excellent information that should interest anyone working in youth ministry. Every generation has its own quarks, and the information here orients the reader towards understanding where Generation Z is at.
White has a commendable and desirable passion to reach Generation Z. Unfortunately the means he prescribes to reach them are seriously deficient. He advocates that the Sunday gathering of believers be fundamentally changed towards reaching the unbeliever. White writes, "Yes, I know, many churches feel that both weekend services and small groups should be discipleship oriented. We disagree. The weekend service should be, a least for now, the front door of the church for outreach. As a result, it should crafted optimally for that outreach. That often means it is not crafted optimally for discipleship" (p. 152). Everything in the service from the music played, the media used, the messages, and the dress should be oriented towards reaching the lost.
This understanding of nature of church is fundamentally flawed. The church is the gathering of believers. The word for church, ekklēsia, means the called out gathering or assembly. The church is comprised of those who have been called out this world of sin (1 Pet. 2:9), called to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16 ) that are worthy of this great calling (Eph. 4:1). The church is the gathering of believers building each other up (1 Cor. 14:26; 1 Thess. 5:11) and pastors are those who are to equip God's people to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). The church is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:17; Eph. 4:12; 5:30; Col. 1:24). This is not to say that unbelievers aren't welcome to attend the gathering of Christ's body, the church. But to orient the service for the unbeliever and not for the believer is ministerial malpractice. The Sunday gathering is for the building up of God's people. It is the responsibility of every believer to go out from the church and do the work of evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20).
White's suggested correctives flow from his errant view of the church. He advocates that we should rethink evangelism, be cultural missionaries, skew young, target men, prioritize children's ministry, cultivate a culture of invitation, disciple your mission. While some of these methods can be helpful (targeting men and having an excellent children's ministry) some of them are downright silly. White actually suggests hiring young people and going to great lengths to have young people in prominent positions on the platform or as greeters--simply because they are young. If you want to attract young people, White argues, then feature young people. The biblical model is not the rejection of young people, but young people being examples of godliness (1 Tim. 4:12-13). The Bible certainly not exalt young people just because they are young. Instead, young believers are to be discipled by older believers (Titus 2:1-8). Intentionally portraying the church as young to reach the young is pragmatic in nature and wrong.
Overall, I benefited from reading White's book. At Desert Heights Church, one of the hats I wear is that of youth pastor. My experience with Generation Z fits what White describes in the first part of his book. Where I profoundly disagree with White is how to reach them. At DHC, we are serious about expository preaching (explaining the biblical text). This usually takes the form of going through a book of the Bible verse by verse. We are often told by people that one of the main reasons why they stay is this commitment to the authority of the Bible manifested by verse by verse preaching. DHC Youth, which I oversee, is also committed to expository preaching. In the year and a half that I've overseen it, the youth group, made up of 13-17 year olds, has slowly grown. These teens come because they are learning and growing in their faith. I have not expended any energy in trying to dress like them, or talk like them, or strain to communicate to them using references of their culture. I have simply loved them and fed them with the Bible--which is the essence of pastoral ministry (John 21:15-19; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
My one complaint--substantial complaint--with White's book is his minimization of the ordinary, God-prescribed ways of church ministry in favor of over-contextualization and pragmatism. We can and should expend much energy in reaching the lost, but it is God (John 6:44) through the power of his Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) that will grow his church (Matt. 16:18). Generation Z like every other generation preceding it, will be reached not by man's innovation or creativity but by ordinary churches using the ordinary, God-ordained means of growth (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 10:14-20; 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Christ will build his church and nothing, including the gates of Hell, will prevail against it.