Read Part 1.
Applying Peter’s & Paul’s Communication Model to Millennials & iGens
“We report, you decide.” It’s a slogan from a popular news outlet that positions itself as different from other agenda-driven media by its “fair and balanced” posture. How successful this network has been is a matter of debate, of course, but the formula is actually a good one for another mode of communication — especially for the emerging and distinct audience of the 21st century. In order to understand how that formula is especially fitting of this generation, we need a bit of context on how this present generation came to think that way it thinks. So let’s look back.
Following World War II and the culminating failure of the modern project, postmodernism rejected the idea of a grand narrative as a guide for humanity and culture. More specifically, postmodernism dismissed the modern metanarrative that discovery and technology would lead humanity to a utopian future. Technology had not succeeded in ushering in a golden age, instead it brought on the wings of the Enola Gay the most effective device for mass destruction the world had ever seen.
Modernism had been rooted in the idea that premodernism — an era steeped in superstition and fear of unknown deities — was inadequate for advancing human understanding, purpose, and quality of life. Premodernism, ineffective as it was, was eventually discarded in favor of the hopeful and bright modern idea of better life through rationality and science. Descartes’ rationalism and Bacon’s scientific method were two late seventeenth century forces that helped drive the eighteenth century Enlightenment and the two-century modern project that followed.
While postmodernism borrowed modernity’s appreciation of science, science was no longer the central catalyst for progress, but rather science simply provided some general boundaries where postmodern ideas could flourish. Within the fence lines postmodernism maintained a largely atheistic faith in rejecting the idea of metanarrative altogether. While postmoderns could unify around big ideas like environmental responsibility, there was little room for heavenly sovereigns who would inhibit the postmodern agenda. Science had already killed God, and there was no benefit for postmodern thought in bringing Him back. His return to centrality in culture would have represented to postmoderns an overarching meaning and accountability that would prove too restrictive of the postmodern project.
That project was simply a localized, contextual search for meaning that avoided universally applicable (non-scientific, and especially theistic) truths in favor of respecting narrow-context narratives as meaningful. As long as those micronarratives made no overtures of universal prescription, they fit comfortably in postmodern thought. This was a profound rejection of divine authority, even if the cost was a robust denial of human value in favor a biocentric model which considered all life to be equally valid. While this was an appropriate repudiation of traditional anthropocentrism, the preferred alternative was more problem than solution, as it preferred the creation over the Creator, and rooted itself further in micronarratives, drawing attention away from the reality that its naturalistic micronarratives were, in fact, rooted in a well disguised naturalistic metanarrative.
For many, the micronarratives and the naturalistic metanarrative of postmodernism simply have not quenched the thirst of those who have pursued them. There remains a yearning for universal truth and for grand meaning. Even within postmodern thought there was eventually made room for theistic ideas and an allowance for spirituality — but on the condition that broadly applicable prescriptions be avoided. Within that context, a significant contingent within evangelical Christianity adopted postmodernist thought, sounding a clarion call critique of the more rationalistic church that was increasingly accused of being cold and lifeless. Favoring an experiential posture, this emerging version of the church became so comfortable within a postmodern framework, that it became increasingly uncomfortable with definition, distinctness, and other-worldliness.
This paradigm offered fertile conditions for departure from the Scriptures as the ultimate authority for universally applicable truth, and paved the way for the descent of the church into narrow-context experientialism. The postmodern church, without its authoritative base (the Bible) reflected a decreasing distinction from its surrounding culture, and thus became less and less relevant to a society that had fled “the tyranny of definitions and structure,”1 leaving itself awash in a sea of questions, bereft of meaning and starved for truth.
Millennials responded to postmodernism’s distaste for definition with some degree of recognition that definition was inevitable. The “why” questions that postmodernism refused to answer had answers,2 and Millennials were more receptive to those answers than their predecessors had been — even if it meant that metanarrative itself was up for reconsideration. In fact, valuing meaning is one of the defining characteristics of the Millennial generation as a whole. Millennials were confident in their skepticism toward authoritative structures, and unafraid of deriving their own metanarratives with a higher degree of independence than their predecessors had shown. Millennials find meaning in sharing their gifts, making an impact in the lives of others, and living their desired quality of life.3
A recent episode of Tim Allen’s popular sitcom Last Man Standing deals with the challenge of children being uninterested in the church traditions of their parents. In trying to entice their children to value church, the parents encourage the church to adopt more contemporary methods in order to attract the younger generation. (It is worth noting that the technique seemed to be effective for Generation X, but the young people in this particular episode were Millennials, bordering on iGens.) Ultimately the young people are drawn in not by the church getting younger in its approach, but by the young people’s use of their talents to get personally involved.4 This portrayal is poignant, in that it shows how methods that worked for one generation don’t necessarily connect with the next. But it also illustrates a key path to connecting with the Millennial generation: interactivity and involvement leading to significance.
Generation Z, or the iGeneration (iGens), who have never known life without cell phones or social media, is the fastest learning, most information-exposed generation to date. They are driven and desire to change the world through their efforts. Four in five high schoolers believe they are more driven than their peers, and 26% of 16-19 year olds are currently volunteering.5 Pragmatic, entrepreneurial, impatient, self-absorbed, global, fast paced, digital natives, and more multi-cultural than their millennial predecessors, “Generation Z takes in information instantaneously and loses interest just as fast.”6 This started at an early age for iGen’s, largely through the rapid advance of technology and the accelerating rate of change. For example, kids are losing interest in toys at a much earlier age than ever before, as they are able to access technology for gaming and to engage social media.7 They are exposed to adult themes much earlier and are asking and having to answer bigger questions far sooner than children from previous generations. They are independent learners, discovering online learning sources themselves, and they are setting the tone for how diverse generations will exchange information, consume technology and goods, and interact with others.
Millennials and iGens alike find themselves in an emerging post-postmodernism, even as they respond to the postmodern culture that weaned them. In 1996 Tom Turner observed signs that postmodernism had run its course and something else was coming:
There are signs of post-postmodern life, in urban design, architecture and elsewhere. They are strongest in those who place their hands on their hearts and are willing to assert, “I believe.” Faith was always the strongest competitor of reason: faith in a God, faith in a tradition, faith in an institution, faith in a person, faith in a nation. The built environment professions are witnessing the gradual dawn of a post-postmodernism that seeks to temper reason with faith.8
If postmodernism was a rejection of rationalism, post-postmodernism is rationalism with conviction and heart. Turner summarizes the distinction between three eras quite simply:
The modernist age of ‘one way, one truth, one city’ is dead and gone. The postmodernist age of ‘anything goes’ is on the way out.’ Reason can take us a long way but it has limits. Let us embrace post-postmodernism and pray for a better name.9
Millennials and iGens have never known the challenges that come with ‘one way, one truth, one city,’ so they are not as averse to some modernist ideas as their postmodern predecessors. Further, because of the technology explosion, ‘anything goes’ is not satisfying. They want answers, and they want to discover those answers themselves through independent process and free exchange of information. It is within this context that we presently find ourselves. “We report, you decide,” has added value, especially now, as it affirms the Millennial and iGen independent spirit and invites the interlocutor to listen, evaluate, determine, and take action.
There are some clear distinctions between the two generations. Some key differences include: (1) iGens have shorter attention spans, (2) iGens are more comfortable with multitasking, (3) Millennials are more price conscious, (4) iGens often start early, (5) iGens are more willing to take chances, more entrepreneurial, (6) iGens have higher expectations, (7) iGens seek to distinguish themselves, value individuality more, and (8) iGens are even more global than Millennials.10
While these are substantial differences, there are also significant commonalities:
- transparency is important,
- metanarrative is okay,
- personal vulnerability and sincerity is important,
- both are socially driven and want to be personally involved,
- significance and meaning is paramount to both,
- both process great quantities of information, so exegeting culture is relevant,
- the church is of little relevance, though spirituality is not off the table,
- participation is viewed as value (dig in the dirt with them, they will sense you value them.
Being aware of the differences — of any generational or contextual differences — is important in reaching out to anyone, but also being discerning (like Peter and Paul) regarding how to best reach people of a particular generation or context is a significant complement to delivery of the message. We could say that God uses His word, so we need to get that right, and He uses His people as ambassadors. As Paul characterized his own ministry, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).
(Part 3: “Taste & See” Apologetics)
1 Gordon Brown, “The Millennial’s Guide to Postmodernism” in Primer Magazine, viewed at http://www.primermagazine.com/2014/learn/the-millennials-guide-to-philos….
2 Rachel Gall, “Postmodernism is Dead! Postmodernism is Dead?” viewed at https://socalledmillennial.com/2013/07/17/postmodernism-is-dead-postmode….
3 Shankar Ganapathy, “10 Millennial Personality Traits That HR Managers Can’t Ignore,” Mindtickle, viewed at https://www.mindtickle.com/blog/10-millennial-personality-traits-hr-mana….
4 ABC, Last Man Standing, Season 6, Episode 18, “Take Me to Church” Feb. 24, 2017, viewed at http://abc.go.com/shows/last-man-standing/episode-guide/season-6/18-take….
5 Sparks and Honey, “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials” viewed at https://www.slideshare.net/sparksandhoney/generation-z-final-june-17.
6 Alex Williams, “Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z” in New York Times, Sept. 18, 2015, viewed at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/fashion/move-over-millennials-here-co….
7 Jill Novak, “The Six Living Generations in America,” viewed at http://www.marketingteacher.com/the-six-living-generations-in-america/.
8 Tom Turner, City as Landscape: A Post-Postmodern View of Design and Planning (London, UK: E&FN Spon, 1996), 8-9.
9 Ibid., 10.
10 George Beall, “8 Key Differences between Gen Z and Millennials” in Huffington Post, Nov. 5, 2016, viewed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-beall/8-key-differences-between_b_1….
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.