Who’s not to love them, these bright, active, engaged young “20 somethings” who are heading back to college or to other places of learning or employment.  Absolutely interrupted in their early adult years by COVID-19, they are ready to re-enter the school or job market with renewed energy and focus.  And we surely need their reality and their excitement to recover from the devastation of COVID and its aftermath in our lives.

What we are learning about this new cohort of Gen Zr’s is equivalent to meeting a new friend and discovering what enormous talents they possess. They are smart, energized, interesting, and ready to take on the world. They have been described as “on track to be the most educated generation”.  (“Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z explained”:  Google 2021.)

Their “ancestors”, Gen X and Gen Y account for a population of over one hundred thirty-seven million people born between 1965 and 1994. “Gen Z is our newest generation born between 1997 and 2012/2015. They are currently between six and twenty-four years old…nearly 68 million in the U.S.” (Google 2021.)

And they are living their formative years in the middle of the COVID crisis which has powerfully changed every aspect of their lives from home to school to work.

So what can we learn from this newest generation and what can we teach them?

In reporting on this generation, the Pew Research Center (“What We Know About Gen Z So Far”) indicates:

  1. They are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet; 
  2. They are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to be enrolled in college.
  3. They are described as progressive and pro-government. 
  4. They see racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing.
  5. They are less likely than older generations to see the U.S. as superior to other nations.
  6. They represent the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic makeup.
  7. Gen Zr’s see family and societal change as a good thing. 48% see same-sex marriage as good for society. 

Then I consulted my most favorite experts on Gen Z: my grandchildren who are Gen Zr’s! They saw the Pew Research Center Report as accurate in their experience as a Gen Zr. Their college years were deeply interrupted by COVID; they are getting ready to go back to college; they are making plans for their future after college. 

I find their optimism and resolve to be markers of hope and spirit in the world. I did not hear complaints of unfairness or signs of depression or loss. I experienced their amazing candor and ability to reflect and recognize the bigger picture of life with COVID restrictions and changes. 

Forced to deal with the unexpected and powerful interferences in their lives, they appear to be living with short-term goals (e.g. graduate school or a job) that allow for maximum flexibility. Their friends are powerful allies in this new world they inhabit. They are both the reflection of this new normal we are experiencing and the promise of survival. They have been exposed to a sudden upheaval of gigantic proportions in nearly every aspect of their lives. AND THEY HAVE SURVIVED!

Surely the church can learn from their experienced wisdom. 

We are facing the reality of deep and perhaps permanent changes in the church.  We have learned to create a worship experience with no congregation present. We have been forced to create a “safe church environment” with masks and minimal to no contact with members of the church. We are holding our meetings on Zoom. We are relying on email for contact. We are not hugging, nor singing nor holding hands while praying.

We are like a gigantic population of aging Gen Zr’s who are living a new normal we never asked for nor wanted. Friends and family are dying of this new disease; our lives are totally interrupted and changed by new restrictions and rules. 

Shall we take hope from our Gen Zr’s?  Shall we listen to their plans and their dreams? Shall we acknowledge how much we need each other?  We who have lived through so much in our own lives can surely be amazed and touched by the courage of these Gen Zr’s. 

And they, who are living with this new normal, can observe our optimism and hope and spirit. Together, we can discover the presence of God in the middle of everything.

And perhaps, a new model of Spiritual Life can be born for everyone.