When the class of 2000 graduated high school, generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss proclaimed theirs was a generation with a true capacity for greatness. They predicted this service-oriented, civic-minded, ethnically diverse and globally connected group of young people would become another hero generation, much like the “Greatest Generation” of the World War II era.
Now, that initial spark of optimism seems to have given way to a collective cultural sigh of disappointment. Society has become jaded by the newsfeed constantly bemoaning the rate of the now twenty- and thirtysomething young adults shirking their workloads, boomeranging home to live with Mom and Dad and just generally extending their adolescence well into their 20s and beyond.
This sense of dismay is especially poignant in the Church, where study after study reveals Christian kids in America are exiting the faith in droves as they enter adulthood. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, one in five American adults claim no religious affiliation—the highest such finding in Pew’s polling history.
But all this gloom and doom doesn’t tell the whole story.
“There are real challenges facing the generation. That’s why I wrote two books focusing on the problems,” says David Kinnaman, who has made a career running these numbers as president of the Barna Group, the leading Christian research firm. “Yet I am incredibly hopeful about today’s young adults.”
“What we’re seeing emerge is a smaller but more committed core of young Christians.”
And this hope is not unfounded. “We can have total confidence in the next generation not because the age group is so great—but because God is,” he says.
Drew Dyck, author of Generation Ex-Christian, sees promising evidence for this hope in what he calls “a smaller but more committed core of young Christians.”
“If there’s a silver lining to the large number of young adults leaving the faith,” Dyck says, “it’s this more passionate group of young Christians ... They’re against-the-stream swimmers who are serious about their relationship with Christ.”
Even Howe and Strauss could not have predicted the three powerful things happening right now, as what they named “the next Greatest Generation” collides with an even greater God.