The Challenge of Telling the Next Generation
“…which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep His commandments.” Psalm 78:5b-7 ESV
These words from the psalmist are a direct command from our heavenly Father to parents and ultimately to educators in our Lutheran schools. This is a tall order and one not to be taken lightly as it has eternal consequences. To be effective in carrying out this command, it is important to know the children we are teaching. How well do you know the students you are teaching? Have children changed over the years, or as someone once said to me, children are basically the same as they have been throughout the years, it’s only the times that have changed. Is this true? Or are children different now than they were in the past?
It would seem that the latter would be the case as over the years there have been classifications given to the different generations. These generational classifications have been mostly developed by the Pew Research Center along with the suggested age ranges which are updated periodically. You have most likely heard some of the terms used for these generational classifications:
- Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (59-77 years old)
- Gen X: Born 1965-1980 (43-58 years old)
- Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (27-42 years old)
- Gen Z: Born 1997-2012 (11-26 years old)
- Gen Alpha: Born early 2010’s-20251
When Pew Research revised its guidelines for generational classifications in 2018, Gen Z and Gen Alpha didn’t appear on the list as separate categories. People born between 1997—the cutoff for Millennials—and the present year were simply called “post-Millennials.” The Pew Research Center periodically updates the age ranges it uses to define the generational groups and in 2019, the organization officially added the birth years for Gen Z 1997-2012. 1
While you are teaching some students that fall into the Gen Z generation, many of you are most likely teaching the newest generation that is now known as the Gen Alpha generation. Generation Alpha is officially the most accurate label to describe the youth of today. The Gen Alpha generation are listed as those born in the early 2010s through 2025.1
In either case, the challenge of teaching these students has become all the greater in an increasingly hostile culture in which we are living. Some recent statistics and numbers about Gen Z highlight the challenge facing our churches and schools:
- 1/3 of Gen Zers believe it is not possible to know for sure God is real. Source: Barna Group, 2018
- Less than 40% of Gen Zers identify as Christian. Source: Religion in Public, 2022
- Only 4% of Gen Zers have a biblical worldview. Source: Impact 360 Institute, 2018
- Gen Z is the first generation to be totally immersed in the world of the internet since birth.
If these statistics are true of Gen Zers, what will the Gen Alpha generational statistics look like? And, if the well-known researcher and author George Barna is correct in his belief that a child’s worldview is to a large degree determined by the age of 13 — their core beliefs, morals, values, desires, and lifestyle2, what implications does this have for our families, churches, and schools?
Some questions to consider for your church and school ministry:
- Which generational group do you belong to? What generational group are you teaching? Does this really matter?
- As educators in our Lutheran schools, can anything be done to help reverse the numbers and statistics regarding Gen Z’s beliefs? If so, what?
- How can we draw students and families to our Lutheran schools if the statistics about Gen Z above are accurate?
- Can the trend of succeeding generations’ beliefs dramatically declining be reversed?
- What are ways to help train and raise students with a strong biblical worldview and faith?
- How will we be able to effectively teach God’s truths to the newest generation, Gen Alpha?
- Are we as a Lutheran school aware of the differences in these generations?
- Are we prepared to address the challenge each generation presents?
Pray that God will make us effective and bold educators in our efforts of reaching and teaching the Gen Z and Gen Alpha generations with the truths of God’s Word so that they will “set their hope in God…keep His commandments and arise and tell them to their children!”
1 “These Revised Guidelines Redefine Birth Years and Classifications for Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha” Michele Debczak, Dec 6, 2019 – Updated: Mar 10, 2023.
2 Barna, George. Raising Spiritual Champions: Discipling America’s Children. Arizona Christian University Press. 2023.