iGens 10

iGens 10 February 27, 2009


The oddity of Jean Twenge’s conclusion that we discussed Wednesday, that our youth are more anxious and depressed than before (see her book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before), is that one would guess that the youth should be happier … “In many ways,” as she puts it, “there’s no better time to be alive than right now” (109).

Her contention is that the growing “tendency to put the self first” leads to “an enormous amount of pressure on us to stand alone” (109). This is the downside of the focus on the self that has emerged out of the Boomers’ approach to education and parenting.

What are the long term impacts of a self-esteem approach that leads to our young adults feeling even more need to “stand alone” or “do it on their own”? Do you think standing alone is a major issue today? What are some remedies or approaches to these issues? Do you think there is a “social anorexia” at work?

She thinks there is (and I use my own term here) a social anorexia.  That is, “we’re malnourished from eating a junk-food diet of instant messages, e-mail, and phone calls, rather than the healthy food of live, in-person interaction” (110). There is an instability in relationships — beginning with divorce and casual romantic relationships and the biological clock ticking for young women and young men (1.2 men unmarried for every one woman). Lots of living alone and lots of moving from one location to another … looking for jobs and the economic realities of how expensive it is to buy a home and dual income and then kids and fees for taking care of kids … much of this driven by the desire to stand alone. Add to this higher expectations by the young adults … and the desire to make it on our own.

That is, the desire to stand alone leads to more isolation and loneliness and they lead to anxiety and depression.

That is, standing alone leads to more depression. People need one another. Studies are best explained along these lines.

The USA has more but feels worse. Part of the problem is the decline of community. 

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  • RJS

    This is interesting – I think that there is a growing sense of detachment – it affected previous generations (ours for example) and may certainly be worse now.
    It is interesting – what can the church do? I think this is a key question, because we have something to offer – hope and meaning and community and …
    I will give a somewhat damning indictment though based on a rather long experience – church is important. I am involved and committed, but…
    But I’ve learned that it cannot be counted on. The ideal of Christian community doesn’t exist. Well of course not – but it does not even come close and no one seems to care, especially in leadership, which is worse. We must stand alone — there is no choice.

  • Scot McKnight

    Precisely why there is a rise in small groups, why there is a rise in house churches, no-church churches, emerging groups … because there is a massive instinct that church is fellowship and not just a Sunday service. Frankly, the fellowship dimension has been so dispersed into a myriad of forms that church on Sunday is being deconstructed. I believe the next generation will rediscover church as fellowship. It’s looking for that.

  • Mike

    I agree with RJS and Scot, but I would add that community is lacking even in the family. I usually live in Poland, but am currently in the States for a year. It has surprised me how the family in the States is more “activities” oriented. Mom or Dad doing their own thing and or going to different sporting events or other activities in which their kid are participating and not really communing neither with each other nor with their children. I think this has given families the illusion of community. Yes the family is involved with one another, but more involvement or participation doesn’t necessarily mean deeper community.

  • Rick

    I happened to be rereading through portions of Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language last night, and he mentioned reasons for the powerful impact the early church had on those around it. He pointed out that one appealing aspect to unbelievers was seeing the tight church communities that really seemed to love each other.

  • RJS

    I think that small groups are basically a good thing but…
    But they have two negative effects: (1) They break the local church up into disjointed small cliques, and (2) They diminish the call and place for a larger more inclusive church community. We fellowship with a few people, and fellowship with the larger body is often viewed as an intrusion on our precious off-time.
    At times and in some places there is emphasis on fluid small groups as evangelistic outreach – but in this case we lose community once again. We have transient interactions and must stand alone.

  • Scot,
    This has been a rewarding journey through Generation Me. Thanks.
    It seems that the core, underlying issues that led to lack of community are addressed with solutions that take years and decades to play out. For the church to be effective, we need to take a long view and plant seeds of community that may not be harvested for a very long time. And I am not sure what doing that that even looks like. But I have a hunch that churches are trying to address the problem with the values and tools and paradigms that are inherent to the problem.

  • AprilK

    RJS said: “The ideal of Christian community doesn’t exist.”
    I’ve been in a house church for three years after serving many years on the leadership team & staff of a church plant. At the church plant, my husband and I were told to “get on board or get out” when the vision of the church shifted and we pushed-back. We were hurt and disappointed and thought we might find genuine community in a house church environment. I’d spend years thinking I was “in community” with these people. Words like “family” were used frequently, but I don’t think it was meant.
    In the house church we’ve seen lots of people come and go. They come in talking all about “genuine community” and “connecting” etc., a few months later they leave for all sorts of reasons. Often it’s superficial, blame-shifting, etc. It’s just like in any “regular” church. Sigh…
    I will say we’ve met a handful of folks (2-3 couples) who seem truly committed to the idea of Christian community. They’re what’s kept me from slipping into a pew somewhere and becoming an anonymous, fringe, church-attender.
    As an iGen-er, I’ve learned that I have to stand alone even in the Church. Ideal Christian community is elusive. I seem glimmers of it here and there, but it turns out often to be “fool’s gold.”

  • George Davis

    Reading these comments about the disappointing nature of Christian community in our church experience reminded me of a section in Bonhoeffer’s *Life Together.”
    He writes…
    “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
    By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief peiod in a dream world…. Only that fellowshp which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”

  • I keep coming back to a common theme that touches on many different aspects of our lives: We live in an age of unprecedented affluence and choices from within in traditions, institutions, and social patterns that were crafted from the pervasive human experience of scarcity and limited choice.
    In some ways there is something quite liberating about growing up on a farm, knowing you will farm the same land as generations before you have done, and knowing that your one objective is to eek out enough that you and you loved ones will have enough to sustain yourself from year to year. You are part of a community that is united around the common vision of sustaining life from year to year. There are few choices. You know what you have to do. You know the community in which it has to be done.
    Now everything is a choice. And if I chose one thing (job, spouse, community, home, etc.) how do I know that one of the other ten choices I could have chosen wasn’t really the better choice? What criteria do I use? Meanwhile, people are increasingly made to feel it is all up to them to make the choices, absent any real community to guide them, and told its your own darn fault if you make the wrong choices.
    I’m not saying this is new for this generation but I think we have witnessing an intensification and expansion over the past few generations.
    Barry Schwartz gave a wonder talk at TED called The Paradox of Choice where he says that the official dogma of all Western industrial societies is “If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom.” Then he takes on that dogma.

  • Rebeccat

    I think that Mike (#3) is definitely onto something with regards to the family. Many young people don’t know HOW to live in community with other people because the original community which was supposed to teach them (the family) was broken or distracted and the secondary community which was supposed to provide a safety net (neighborhoods) doesn’t exist anymore in most places. When I was working on the community groups team for a church a couple of years ago, we saw all the time that people wanted community. They were begging and dying for it. But then they had no idea how to actually DO community. The idea that creating community takes commitment and time as well as a willingness to put in rather than just show up and consume just didn’t register with most people. And we couldn’t get the pastoral team to get on board with the idea of emphasizing community and the actions needed to build it to save out lives. It was very frustrating for everyone involved.

  • Rick

    RJS #5-
    “I think that small groups are basically a good thing but…
    But they have two negative effects: (1) They break the local church up into disjointed small cliques…”
    Would not some consider that small group “church”? Sometimes they do a better job of living out Acts 2:42-47 better than the large group, especially in some contemporary churches. I can get sermons on my Ipod, and can get the Sunday morning worship/praise music on the radio (or on my Ipod). Many contemporary churches don’t do the sacraments very often, so what am I missing?
    A small group can provide “…the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 42:2 ESV.

  • RJS

    Fundamentally – In small groups we are entering into an ingrown exclusivity that does not invite others into the community because (1) it has to stay small to work and (2) insider insight keeps newcomers intensively on the outside.
    It isn’t sermons, music or sacraments that is lost. As you said these we get elsewhere.
    It is open, inviting fellowship and community, and it is being challenged to get along and fellowship with those who may not see things quite our way. Church should be community, but not always comfortable.

  • RJS’s thoughts about small groups are interesting, and I certainly think this is a danger, but I just can’t agree.
    There is a danger that a family will be a clique as well, but a healthy family will create a loving community that sends its members OUTWARD into other friendships, groups, etc. I think that a healthy small group will do the same – it will create loving relationships and encourage spiritual growth in the midst of a disjoined culture. The members will be able to move out from the group into their other relationships and groups with the knowledge and ability to create other healthy relationships.
    I think the danger in over-hyping “community” in the church is that we continue the trend of developing insta-friendships that have no lasting commitments. The church needs to teach long-suffering love and care throughout life stages.

  • RJS

    I didn’t say small groups were a bad thing – and I don’t think that they are a bad thing. But they are not “church.” They are a very good thing if they send their members out, stronger and more secure, to interact in the larger community of the church – and the church sends its members our stronger and more secure to interact in our larger world and in service to our larger world.
    But the church has to provide a larger and even more secure community to which we all commit. Small groups by their very nature cannot take this place.

  • RJS

    “even more secure community”
    This wasn’t quite what I meant – rather a more open and diverse community, although I do think that it also can be more secure.
    What is the ideal small group or house church size? Can they grow?

  • John L

    RJS, have to disagree. Small groups are just as authentically “church” as large groups. Size shouldn’t matter. Where two or more..
    You say, “the church has to provide a larger and even more secure community to which we all commit.”
    But this paints a top-down, centralized notion of “the church” to which everyone “commits.” I’m not sure we can call our current global system of largely non-communicative, institutional, professionally-controlled denominations a healthy representation of shared faith (church), nor can we find in this model a “community to which we ALL commit.” Christendom is fractured by design.
    Personal growth, growth as community, and shared resources can all flourish in a home/small ecclesia: perhaps moreso than in a tightly managed gathering with strong lay/clergy distinctions. In some of the healthier examples of simple church, smaller cels occasionally come together in loose affiliation on larger scales. Over generations, as the denominational model dies off (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) I think we may see the home + regional model grow in proportion.

  • RJS

    John L,
    I am not talking about top down, or about institutional control, or about any such issue – I am talking about an open inviting community.
    Small groups are by their very nature closed and unable to grow beyond a small size. They are incredibly important … but
    Small groups often focus on how many people they want to have, or whether this or that potential member will “fit” and so on…
    This is not church.

  • Jim Martin

    I really believe that the next generation is looking for genuine fellowship. Between an individual person and another. In families. In clusters of people. For many of them, fellowship is not something lost. Rather, it has never existed in their experience. For many of them, it may have never existed in their family of origen not have they even been able to observe it in families of their peers.
    One challenge for churches is going to be to really see/care about this generation and be willing to adjust, mentor, and provide both models and the experience of some kind of authentic fellowship.

  • MattR

    For me, I see two issues:
    1. The Economy. In some ways my generation (iGen) has more consumer choices than ever. Yet, as we’ve seen in recent days, the ideals set up by previous generations (buy a house, have a long term career in one field, be faithful to a company and they will be faithful to you, etc.) are not realities for many now. So some I know go into debt and get in way over their heads… yet no on asks the question: are theses really great, and practical goals?
    2. Community. As RJS and others have mentioned, the church has a lot of burden to carry here… yes, there is no ‘ideal’ community, but the church has built systems and structures, and really at this point deep DNA around artificial forms of community. It’s programs and getting buts in seats before forming deeper relationships with God and others. Even small groups often become this, a programed form of community… you can’t program it.
    Some now just expect this from church, and so now are just religious consumers…
    But Scot is right (#2), for many of us, this is one of THE most pressing issues. And we want to re-form the church so relationships (God, each other, and those outside) become the center of church life… this means questioning a lot of what we are and do, including ‘Sunday morning.’

  • John L

    RJS, I see your point, but let’s define “small group.” In the past, we’ve hosted home meetings that had upwards of 30 people engaging with each other. And I’ve visited Constantinian communities (for lack of better terminology: CEO/pastor/clergy up front leading a “service,” everyone else facing stage being “served”) that had fewer people than this. Which is more effective?
    I don’t see how home churches “limit open, inviting community.” The model works. If one gathering outgrows a home, it splits into two. And so forth. People invite other people, just like in more traditional settings.
    Yes, home gathering is far more intimate, and thus more incumbent upon each individual to be tolerant of others. This is not easy, but it is REAL. As for those gatherings that become ingrown and exclusive, they tend to die off.