The first time I thought seriously about the “new generation” was in 2012, my freshman year of high school. I was asked to discuss what would soon be known as Generation Z, also called iGens or Zoomers. With today’s teenagers and early twentysomethings starting to have a significant presence in society, I am pushed to think about myself—placed right at the cusp between Millennials and Gen Z—and the students God has called me to love on campus.
The Artist Generation
Taking a deep dive to understand why we talk about generations so much now, I discovered certain facets of generational theory. At the base of this theory is the idea that generations cycle through four stages, Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist, which correspond to the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and finally Gen Z. Furthermore, I found that each generation asks a Spiritual Question of the Day; Gen Z is asking, “What is beautiful?” in this world. With the Artist generation (Gen Z) at the tail end of this cycle, previous generations may note key differences in their ideals and experience tension with Gen Z’s desires and pursuit of what is beautiful.
I commonly see “generation wars” with younger people and older folks not seeing eye-to-eye. Even my 12-year-old sister is quick to point out when someone is being “so Millennial.” I notice Gen X and Millennials coming up with “task forces” to get Gen Z on board. It feels like a constant project. However, I believe we must put down our tools and graphics and shift our mindset to the goal of simply honoring each other.
Understanding Gen Z’s Passions
As children, Gen Zers in the US have been shaped by events such as the 9/11 terrorist attack, declarations of war in the Middle East, destruction from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, a rise in mass shootings, and, now as growing young adults, a global pandemic; the list goes on and on. Baby Boomers and Gen X (and Millennials to some extent) were the ones tasked with rebuilding after these tragedies. Meanwhile, Gen Z watched, powerless, as the world crumbled and attempted its return to beauty.
As the youngest generation, we may believe the lie that we are useless in times of crisis. But as we mature and understand ourselves more, we should be encouraged and empowered to use our voices. Zoomers have learned so much from previous generations. This knowledge helps us make sense of the mistakes of the past while inspiring us to seek creative new ways to better our world. Fortunately for all of us, I believe Gen Z can bring something beautiful to the table that wasn’t there before. This makes me hopeful for collaboration without the expense of a “generation war.”
Show Zoomers Something Beautiful
As an InterVarsity campus minister, who also happens to be part of Gen Z, I need to continually receive the beauty of the Jesus story. This ultimately inspires my relationship with others and my passion to bring beauty to the world we live in today, a world that’s experienced so many tragedies.
Speaking with Gen X and Millennial staff, I’ve noticed their deep relationships with Gen Z students. They weren’t using some special tool to contextualize to the younger generation. These campus ministers are simply creating avenues of authentic trust, naming safe spaces for students to share fully, and modeling leadership well—nothing too different than what was done in the past. I have come to the conclusion that Zoomers simply desire a place to feel safe, honored, and encouraged.
Relationships that model the one we can have with Christ are beautiful. It’s critical for us to treat others in this way—Gen Z or not, like Jesus says in Mark 12:28–31. The biggest key to staying relevant with today’s students, I’ve discovered, isn’t a particular tool, graphic, or task; it’s helping empower students to see what is beautiful.
Our lives are being disrupted. We are forced to let go of things that have felt both normal and essential. In all this, God invites us to come to him, to be passionate about our love for him and others.