“This is not another pop-sociological book about a particular generation.  This is a book about the most significant cultural challenge facing the Western church that just so happens to be reflected in a new generation.”  
(James Emery White)

In 2014, Dr. James Emery White wrote a book called, The Rise of the Nones, which revealed the cultural and religious impact of a significant increase in the number of Americans who, when queried about their religious affiliation, would answer “None.” 

The number of people who would give that answer today has risen to 23 percent of American adults, and an additional 19 percent would call themselves “former Christians.” Add those and you have 42 percent. The church has been challenged to understand how to react to this fact and its implications for faith and culture.

EvanTell cares about these statistics very much. How would our Great Commission mission be affected by this trend? What needs to change in our approach to the Millennial Generation, and its follower, Generation Z (GenZ) born between approximately 1995 and 2010?

It takes a person with the intellect and heart to write Serious Times in 2002, to narrate this cultural and spiritual shift. All of us at EvanTell have been reading, Meet Generation Z, in which Dr. White tackles the challenge of understanding and reaching GenZ for Christ. If we don’t reach them, we may never have the chance to reach the generation of their children. One might say that of every generation, but in this case:

 “Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West and the heart of the missional challenge facing the Christian church.”  (from White's Introduction)

From Chapter 1 to Chapter 3, Dr. White tackles the growth of the “Nones,” the state of the Western church, and the role of the family in a post-Christian world. The Post-Christian environment he discusses is the world in which Generation Z will live and lead. In the second portion, chapters 4–8, he clarifies “the new realities facing the church” and the rationale for becoming a truly countercultural church. After all, if the culture is “post-Christian” and we are “Christian” there will be challenges at every turn— in family, cultural mores, education—in life! The last section is a set of sample apologetic appendices focused on Gay Marriage, Map of the Spiritual World (and the occult), and Why Believe in God?— an intense, interesting, engaging apologetic for Millennial and Gen Z folks. 

So What?

In Serious Times, Dr. White stated that one of the greatest culture analysis contributions of the church to the world has been our focus on “so what.” If people do not believe in Christ, so what? If people choose to live out totally self-focused desires, so what? If organizations support policies that revile life or set races and generations at odds, so what? The church has heretofore held up before the world a countercultural spiritual reality that says, “The ‘so what’ matters! Life matters! Grace and the amicable care and concern for people regardless of race, age, or station in life matters! Children, who are not productive in the world, and old people who are no longer productive matter! You matter! God cares! God sees! God knows! God moves! And God loves!

White causes me to think. It is, after all, Christ who intimately activates the church to get a grip through the Holy Spirit. White illuminates reality and calls us to act in love with the Holy Spirit’s help to generate what I would callsituational value” in the world. This merciful value is beneficial to even the person who does not know Christ, draws the person to the church’s charitable action, to church community, and security in Christ. 

We can do this! The church can get a grip even when governments fall, and wars loom, and society rockets toward irrational quasi-scientific nonsense. 

Generation Z will live in this world and ultimately lead this world. In great detail, White describes how this generation is different from the Millennial generation that preceded it and necessitates a different approach. The church, and ministries like ours, need to be immediately engaged in the things of God, the mind of God, and the actions that are of God for our time. White says, “Finally, the ‘relevance’ of the church is not found in its capitulation to culture but in its transformation of culture.” 

How will we transform culture? Certainly we will not do it by becoming like the culture. If we did that we would no longer be the church – we’d just be another mouthpiece for the culture. Much as the early church was a sort of “stealth invasion” of the culture of the day, our voice, says White, is critical. Our voice is, unfortunately, not a unified Body of Christ’s voice these days. 

Our CEO, Dr. Larry Moyer urged everyone on our staff to  “read page 95!” What’s there?  The call to speak the gospel into culture with “relevance, but not compromise,” to speak the gospel to Millennials and GenZ and build a bridge to the culture of the future so that we offer the one, true gospel in a way these generations can appreciate and understand.

White is so right when he says the way we approach communicating the gospel is risky: “Transformation is heresy. Translation is the heart of our mission.”

We have much to learn from James Emery White and we can begin now—the future depends on it, the gospel demands it, and the children of our children’s children deserve it. To do this, we in the Body of Christ must change. Prayerfully reading Meet Generation Z is a good start.

Additional Resources:

  • Visit James Emery White’s website: churchandculture.org
  • Come hear James Emery White speak at EvanTell’s 45th Anniversary Dinner & Fundraiser in Dallas on April 26, 2018: evantell.org/events
  • Learn more about Authentic Life, designed for reaching upcoming generations.