In the first four parts of our series about exvangelicals, we’ve looked at:
- Who’s Responsible
- Spiritual Drift
- Idol Worship (Celebrities)
- Religious Deconstruction
- Exvangelical Examples
- The Deconstruction Process
- Deconstructing Deconstruction
- Religious Deconversion
- Young People Deconverting
- Generational Deconversion
We continue now with Generation Z.
Members of Generation Z were born between the end of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century (1997-2012). They, along with their older millennial brothers and sisters, have been deeply impacted by celebrity ‘Christians’ deconstructing or deconverting. They are more open to the emotional side of celebrity stories and less inclined to search for the truth.
Many young people view evangelical Christianity in a negative light socially and personally. Some believe the Christian religion is harmful to society. Many raised within an evangelical Christian community are ready to leave it when they reach the age of about 15 or 16. Business models have sprung up during the past decade to help young people who want to deconstruct or deconvert. They offer what many young people say they didn’t get from their church experience. Here’s one example:
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The company even has a Fall Excursion billed as — “Discover yourself and the world around you in a new light, free of dogma.” That kind of thing appeals to young people who are going through deconstruction or deconversion. As you look at the video publicizing the excursion, its appeal to Gen Z is obvious.
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
What’s wrong with this picture is that God established the Church to give Christians support, resources, community and hope. The concerns I hear from exvangelicals who have either deconstructed or deconverted could have been been addressed beautifully through parents, church leaders and members who followed the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Jesus left clear instructions for Christians just before He ascended to Heaven after His resurrection:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20
Following the Lord’s instructions shouldn’t be hard to do:
- Go and make disciples from every nation (ethnos – ethnic culture) in the authority of Christ
- Baptize disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
- Teach disciples to observe (téreó – maintain, keep intact, guard, watch over, preserve) all things (panta – each and every part) that Jesus commanded (entellomai – charged, enjoined, command to reach a purpose) the apostles
If Christians, and that includes church leaders, read and study their Bibles and do what Jesus and His apostles said to do .. and don’t do what Jesus and His apostles said not to do, then they have accomplished the purpose Jesus has planned for the Church He is building. That shouldn’t be hard to do since most of us have access to Bibles and can read. However, Christians are not accomplishing the goal Jesus established for disciples. If we were, I don’t think we’d have so many people growing up in churches only to leave them when they get into high school or college. I also don’t think we’d be hearing so many of them complaining about Christians not caring about them, not listening to them, not answering their questions.
Christianity is about every aspect of life. That includes thoughts, emotions and will. It includes how we relate to God, ourselves and others. Jesus said we should love God “with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself” (Mark 12:33). In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said the same thing a little differently: “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
God calls on His people to use every part of themselves to serve Him and others. Christians should engage their mind and emotions when learning about God and looking for ways to help their neighbors. Unfortunately, many Christians are not doing either and that’s hurting efforts to make disciples of those people who grow up in churches.
Think about that for a minute. A child is born into an evangelical Christian family and grows up in an evangelical Christian church. The child attends all of the church programs and eventually becomes part of the youth group. However, they have doubts and things happen that shake the foundation of what they’ve been taught as truth. They share their concerns with parents, teachers and leaders, but are met with resistance or no response at all. They begin to deconstruct in high school and deconvert in college. All of those years of parents and churches investing in young lives, only to see them become #exvangelicals.
Something is terribly wrong with that picture, yet churches repeat that process year after year after year .. decade after decade after decade. Why does this continue to happen and what can we do about it? These precious children who we love so much are not finding answers to their questions and doubts and are walking away from their beliefs about God at record numbers.
I left church at the age of 16, became an atheist and didn’t return until I was 23 after investigating the evidence for Christianity. Would I have left the church if someone had provided me good answers to my questions and concerns? I might have, but I’ll never know for sure because it didn’t happen.
We need to love and care for our children and youth in the same way we would want someone to care for us. If we had questions and doubts, wouldn’t it be nice if someone cared enough to show an interest and listen? Something bad is going on in churches and has been for decades.
Christians have become so entangled with the world they live in, that they are not spiritually sensitive to their own children and young people. It takes time to enter into the world of young people to earn their trust so they’ll share their concerns. When children and young people ask tough questions, answer them to the best of your ability. If you are not able to answer their questions, invite them to searcher answers with you. When children and young people express doubts about God or Christianity, thank them for their openness and listen. If you’ve had similar doubts, tell them. Share with them how you deal with doubts. Teach them what it means to be a thoughtful follower of Jesus Christ. We do not want Christians to be mindless in their devotion to Christ. He deserves our minds, our hearts, our souls and every ounce of strength we have to give Him.
We can learn from the lives of others. Here is an example that may help whether you are currently deconstructing, deconverting or trying to help someone who is going through that process.
Tony Campolo is a well-known and self-described leader for the progressive Christian movement. He co-authored a book with Emergent Church leader Brian McLaren in 2003 and has been involved with many other Emerging Church leaders and programs.
I heard Tony speak at an evangelical conference for pastors more than 40 years ago and didn’t like what I heard. He spoke with a lot of passion and seemed like a nice person, but what he said didn’t match some of what I knew to be true from God’s Word. Tony became a spiritual advisor to President Bill Clinton more than a decade after I heard him speak. He surprised the evangelical world in 2015 when he came out in favor of full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. The more you look into the writings of Tony Campolo, the more concerns are raised about what he believes.
Bart Campolo, Tony’s son, is now a humanist chaplain. He was raised in a progressive Christian family. Bart spoke on the Holy Heretics podcast several years ago and said that his journey away from Christianity began when he was exposed to urban poverty. “It messed with my theology,” he explains. “I had a theology that said God could intervene and do stuff.” But after a period of unanswered prayer, Bart admits: “I had to change my understanding of God. Sovereignty had to get dialed down a bit. Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why? “Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”. Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty going, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.” Premier Christianity Magazine
Bart made an important point: “Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression.” Once church members start playing with the truth of God’s Word, where will they stop? If God is not Sovereign, if God cannot be believed or trusted, how far is it to unbelief? Bart went on to say that “progressive Christianity,” which is what he grew up knowing, is headed towards full-blown unbelief. He predicts that as many as 40% of “progressive Christians” will become atheists during the next decade .. and he said that four years ago.
Bart Campolo, like his father, is an influencer. Tony Campolo influenced Baby Boomers through Millennials (Gen Y). Bart Campolo has been an influence on Millennials and Gen Z. Influencers are people who “influence” others in specific directions. It might be influencing what someone buys, where they go or what they believe. Influencers use a variety of communication tools including speaking, singing, songwriting, books, social media, podcasts and videos.
Research has shown Gen Z is the most racially, religiously, and sexually diverse generation in American history. Barna Research from a few years ago showed that about half of Gen Z is non-white, only 4% claim to have a biblical worldview, the number who claim to be atheists has doubled when compared to older generations, and 33% say gender is how a person “feels inside,” rather than their birth sex. Barna called Gen Z the first post-Christian generation.
Young people in Generation Z are heavily influenced by social networking and YouTube. 97 percent of Gen Z surveyed said they use YouTube (80-95% every day). Celebrities have a high-name recognition and favorability with Gen Z. Gen Z women are familiar with Beyonce (99%), Zendaya (95%), Shane Dawson (86%), Serena Williams (81%) and Jennifer Aniston (80%). Gen Z men are familiar with Justin Bieber (98%), PewDieDie (95%), Lebron James (95%), Steph Curry (86%) and Elon Musk (84%). Zendaya is a favorite of Gen Z women (72%) and PewDieDie is a favorite with Gen Z men (62%).
Out of curiosity, are you familiar with PewDieDie? He is a 30-something German with 110-million subscribers to his YouTube channel. PewDieDie used to have the most subscribers, but T-Series, India’s multimedia YouTube channel, surpassed him with more than 180-million subscribers. You might want to find how he is influencing your children and young people. Even as he is having fun in his videos, he’s sharing a moral position and life advice. Do you know what he’s saying to his millions of young followers? If we don’t know who is influencing our young people, how and why, we are missing an opportunity to both understand and communicate with them.
Other Gen Z celebrities who have a big influence with today’s young people include Billie Eilish, Rowan Blanchard, Greta Thunberg, Amandla Stenberg, Selah Marley, Yara Shahidi, Emma Chamberlain, Jojo Siwa, and Millie Bobby Brown. Others include Taylor Swift, Dwayne Johnson, Will Smith, KristenBell, Emma Watson. Ariana Grande, Tom Holland, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Downey Jr., Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Megan Thee Stallion, Christiano Ronaldo and Selena Gomez. There are many more, but this will give you a start at better understanding who influences children and youth today.
Gen Z is influenced by global events and issues like climate change, social responsibility, social justice, racism, gun violence, gender equality, recession, the Covid pandemic, etc. Friends are also a big influence in their lives, along with family. Understanding young people in Generation Z is helpful to talking with them about their questions and doubts about Christianity.
Gen Z are also into texting and selfies. They love their smart phones and have never known a time when the Internet didn’t exist. They live in an environment that is always connected, especially to their friends.
One research group in Australia (McCrindle) says the five factors that define Gen Z are —
At their core, Gen Z want to love and be loved, just like the rest of us. They want their lives to matter, just like the rest of us. Who better than Jesus Christ to love them and give them eternal lives that matter.
If you are a member of Generation Z and are struggling with questions and doubts, please contact us. If you are a parent of a child or young person struggling with questions and doubts, please contact us. If you are a church leader concerned about children and young people struggling with questions and doubts, please contact us. If you are a teacher concerned about children and young people struggling with questions and doubts, please contact us. We will do our best to connect you with helpful people and resources.
We are also answering questions from Christian teens who are part of Generation Z. You can read the questions and answers we’ve already posted here. We will continue to post questions and answers in the coming weeks and months. If you would like to submit a question for us to answer, please contact us.
Barna has done a lot of research about why young Christians leave churches. Here is their list from research they did ten years ago. It demonstrates that what we’re seeing today with #exvangelicals has been developing for a long time. I joined Ratio Christi in apologetics ministry on college campuses in 2011 and can verify that what Barna discovered through research was, and still is true, through face-to-face ministry:
- Churches seem overprotective
- Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
- Churches come across as antagonistic to science
- Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
- They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt
Look closely at the six reasons and ask yourself this question: “Is this a picture of my church?” If so, what could you do to make a difference in your church and the lives of children and young people in your church?
In the next part of our series, we’ll look at important steps you can take to help someone who is in the process of deconstructing or deconverting.
EXvangelical – What’s That?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Faith and Self Defense © 2021