Will Gen Z Hold On to the Faith? by Jaquelle Ferris for The Gospel Coalition
Stacia Datskovska wants to leave her church. The 15-year-old from Northern Virginia finds it cold, alienating, and—worst of all—too traditional. She has ideas for reform, summarized in the title of her recent USA Today opinion piece: “Churches could win back teens like me if they were more welcoming and less judgmental.”
Her story isn’t an anomaly; it’s the norm. According to a study from LifeWay Research, 66 percent of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.
These statistics are staggering and heartbreaking. In their wake, churches are asking, “What did we do wrong?” There is wisdom and humility in asking this question, and I’m thankful we do. But what about what went right? What about the other 33 percent, the teens who stay? What if we examined their lives and asked, “What did work?” Perhaps then parents and pastors could lead with less fear and more faith, optimism, and hope.
That’s why it’s a joy to commend David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock’s new book, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. These authors (experienced researchers and concerned parents themselves) studied more than 1,000 young adults who remained in their faith throughout high school and beyond. They found these “resilient disciples” all shared a few significant traits. This book unpacks those traits, five practical strategies for modern discipleship to provide parents, pastors, and youth workers with an optimistic yet realistic look at the resilient disciples of my generation—and how we can make more of them.
Living in Digital Babylon
The bottom line is that teens today must be discipled differently than they’ve been in the past. We live in a post-Christian, digital age and, as Kinnaman and Matlock point out: “We are the first generation of humans who cannot rely on the earned wisdom of previous generations to help us live with these rapid technological changes” (25). And so the people at Barna “have adopted a phrase to describe our accelerated, complex culture that is marked by phenomenal access, profound alienation, and a crisis of authority: digital Babylon” (19).