I recently completed a six-week intensive online seminar from the Barna Group, a think tank that has done a great deal of research on a topic of great interest to me: the religious inclinations and spiritual yearnings of what sociologists call Generation Z, young people born between 1996 and 2008. Many, we were told, in this age group did not receive a religious grounding from their family. Still, they express a curiosity about the sacred, a yearning for community, and a willingness to learn about religious traditions.
Generally, Gen Z young adults say they do not find what they are looking for in traditional places of worship. They feel passionately about many social issues such as race and gender equality, LGBTQ and immigration rights, gun reform, and reproductive rights. Yet some of these issues put them at odds with traditional religious teaching or at least with those who inhabit traditional religious spaces. Consequently, many Gen Zs say they lack a sense of belonging- the very element that is at the heart of religious community.
Research shows that it is not that these young adults are stepping away as much as it is not being raised in religious institutions in the first place, unlike Millennials or Generation X-ers. The question comes up from so many leaders: How can we get them back? The data reminds us that they have not been there in the first place.
Over 70% of young people researchers that they are religious. About the same number say they feel they are spiritual. There is a lot of overlap in those categories. One can be both things, or just one of the two. Young people continually move back and forth between these categories depending on their experiences. Many times, they are interested in rituals that connect them back across millennia and to communities of faith that they respect and find resonant today. Most importantly, they are not interested in accepting a whole faith system simply to access one or two important rituals.
Young people’s spiritualities tend to seek religious traditions that say less and do more. Young adults increasingly appear very skeptical of people who talk all the time. I think they might tell us that from their perspective, a lot of faith proclamations have not held up well, especially when it comes to issues that they really care about concerning justice, racial equity, and gender equity. They look ways of believing that encompass those elements. So, engaging with nature, being more contemplative, and enhancing meditation become practices that provide space for these values and concerns.
All this research shows that this generation is intensely values driven. Rather than prizing status, conformity, or achievement, Gen Z allow their values to drive their decisions. Those values deal principally with issues around justice and equity. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive that religious communities just don’t care about those issues at the same level they do, and that is where the disconnect develops.
In so many ways, this generation is the most diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity that our society has known for quite some time. It is certainly the most diverse in terms of public policy. When organizations and religious institutions don’t engage in discussion about those matters, or even understand that they should be a part of the discussion, what young people hear is that these organizations do not care about them. For example, when we see interest in Black Lives Matter and racial justice, as well as in other issues mentioned, what we see is that diversity matters in ways it has not mattered to prior generations. For Gen Z, it matters because diversity is a fundamental part of what Gen Z is: it plays a critical part of their identity formation, religious exploration, and the process of defining their sense of self. In other words, diversity and inclusion are at the core who they are.
All this only skims the deep insights these studies present – and the profound challenges that face those who earnestly want to hand on what they received in faith. Over the months to follow, we will continue to explore this crucial element of our future. I hope to share these insights with Vestry as we explore the way forward with our vision for the future. Stay tuned!
Source: Rector’s Blog