3 Books To Help Church Leaders Understand Gen Z (or iGen)

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Gen Z is growing up. The oldest members of the generation coming behind the millennials, born after 1995 and before 2012 and labeled by Jean Twenge as “iGen” due to their adolescent years being shaped by the omnipresent iPhone, are now finishing college and entering the workforce. The younger members of this generation are entering their teenage years at a time of profound moral and social change, driven by technological advancement and constant communication.

It doesn’t matter if we choose the label Gen Z or iGen for this generation; what matters is that we understand this next wave of humanity and that we minister faithfully to them and alongside them. They already make up 24 percent of the population. It is important for pastors and church leaders, college and student ministers, parents and grandparents to learn about the next generation we are called to reach. These are our kids and grandkids. We will pass on our faith to them and, Lord willing, they will pass the faith to the generations that come behind them.

A college minister recently asked me what books or resources I’d recommend for understanding the broad contours of this generational shift in order to minister more effectively. I thought of two books right away and then considered a third.

1. iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us

If you’re only going to read one book about the generation born after 1995, choose this one from Jean Twenge.

Not only has Twenge given us a different label for this generation (iGen instead of Gen Z), she has provided statistical analysis that paints a picture of young people’s beliefs and practices. She delves into details regarding personal habits, social skills, outlook on life and work, religious beliefs, and political views. Some of the trends are troubling, while others are signs of hope. She raises flags here and there and sounds the alarm on some of the damaging effects of too much phone use. Eric Geiger has summed up some of Twenge’s findings about this generation.

2. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

This is not a book only about Gen Z, but it is about what is taking places on college campuses these days, and the authors make a distinction between how millennials viewed things and the newer expectations that members of iGen have when they come of age.

According to authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, many younger Americans have fallen for three “Great Untruths”:

  • The Untruth of Fragility (What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker)
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning (Always trust your feelings)
  • The Untruth of Us vs Them (Life is a battle between good people and evil people).

Church leaders who want to minister effectively to those in our youth groups and college ministries will need to find biblical ways of inoculating young people to these untruths, unmasking the falsehoods so that they become visible to the next generation and promoting truths that demonstrate how and why the biblical vision is better.

Haidt and Lukianoff hope to persuade people who have succumbed to the Untruths, not merely stand at a distance and excoriate readers who do not already agree with them. Surely we as church leaders must learn to do the same, but from a biblical not merely psychological perspective. The Coddling’s pragmatic approach is sound, but limited in its effectiveness. Still, it helps us see some of the problematic thinking on display in the members of iGen who are now in college, and it gives us insight into how we might combat these falsehoods.

3. American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers 

The first two books help us understand the larger trends regarding iGen, offering something of a bird’s eye view of the next generation. This book by Nancy Jo Sales is different. It takes us to the ground level to show what is going on in the lives of many young people today. Sales’s book is filled with interviews and stories that illuminate some of the reasons why Twenge’s research shows increasing depression among teenagers most attached to their phones.

What you read here may shock you. Some of the accounts of explicit text messaging and the nonchalance of pornography are stomach-churning. But nowhere will you find so many enlightening interviews from young people who are most affected by the technological shifts we’ve experienced.

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