USA (MNN) — World news isn’t very encouraging lately–at least the stuff that hits the headlines hasn’t been. Many people wonder what’s next. Is there any hope?
When you look at the generation just reaching adulthood now, what do you think? Before you look down on them and despair, consider these words from Greg Jao of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship about the changing mission field for campus ministries.
“On college university campuses, we’re beginning to watch the first group of students who belong to Generation Z,” he says.
Who is Generation Z, you ask?
Jao explains: “Generation Z is the population that grew up after 9/11. So the 9/11 reality of a world that’s filled with war and terrorism [and] collapsing economies has been the only reality they know.”
First of all, can you believe this week marks 13 years since 9/11? The students entering college now have no recollection of the event, yet they have only ever known the results of it.
Along with this, members of Generation Z are digital natives, Jao says. That means they have grown up in a world where they’ve always read from screens and always expect to.
Where does that leave campus ministries?
Jao says, “For InterVarsity, we’re asking all sorts of questions about how to engage this group of people.
“If this group of students, for example, didn’t grow up in an era of economic prosperity but have always been defined by the economic collapses…, what is the word of hope that we offer them? It’s not going to be the American Dream, and it’s not going to be just ‘find a good spouse and a good home and a good community and a good job.’ But they’re students who actually know that there’s real pain, real suffering, and real injustice in the world. And I believe that’s an entry point to the Gospel because the only solution to those issues is Jesus Christ working through the Church to transform our culture.”
It seems that this generation will not have the distraction of generations past of looking to a country for salvation and meaning. They know that isn’t enough.
The partnership between knowing the reality of pain in this world along with being immersed in a digital world creates a challenge for those trying to spread the Gospel. First of all, the attention span of Generation Z is incredibly low.
Jao says these digital students are used to jumping from link to link online, spending 15 minutes here and there instead of an hour in one location.
“We’re convinced they need to learn how to engage Scripture deeply,” Jao says. But spending 15 minutes in Scripture is not a deep venture. So, how do you teach them to study Scripture?
“This is a generation that communicates deeply through images, icons, and symbols rather than text messages,” Jao says.
Jao says InterVarsity is devoted to figuring out this new language so that they can effectively communicate the truth of the Gospel. They are considering how to evoke and provoke conversation through images and artwork.
This is different from the tactics many churches and organizations (and marketing campaigns) have been using to capture the attention of the previous generation.
“This is a generation that you cannot capture their attention merely by being gimmicky, by attempting to be trendy, or hoping for something to go viral. I think what will capture this generation’s attention is true community, where they encounter real people and real conversation,” Jao says.
There needs to be something more solid to provide the platform to share the Gospel.
“It’s a fascinating opportunity to engage this new generation,” Jao says. “It’s different from the one before, but what’s consistent is: everybody wants authentic relationship and everybody needs to hear the Gospel.”
Jao stresses that in 40-50 years, Generation Z will be in the leadership position. If there is a possibility for them to be shaped by Scripture and transformed by the Gospel, then maybe we should really think about what role we might play in that.
Jao explains that a group of people who communicate through images are essentially speaking a different language. Jao compares it to Bible translation. Instead of asking them to speak our language, he says we should meet them where they are: we should grow leaders who are fluent in their language and can communicate in order to share the truth about Jesus Christ. Then, perhaps, this generation can be taught how to develop a healthy attention span that lets them delve into Scripture.
Jao says even though this generation’s attention span is low, they actually have a high ability to focus when they are immersed in something. If they can spend hours playing a video game, they have the ability to spend hours in Scripture.
No matter what happens with this world, God is in control. “Even as generations change, what gives me incredible confidence is the Gospel continues to span generation after generation. What’s coming is no surprise to God,” Jao says
If you’re interested in supporting the work of InterVarsity, click here.
Please pray that God would equip InterVarsity to be an effective witness to His Gospel and character, and that they would be able to operate even under the tightening constraints of many campuses.