By Rick Chromey
You probably know them by a different name.
Gen Z. iGen. Plurals. ReGen. Or Centennials.
I call them the iTech Generation.
Born since 1999, this cohort of kids was suckled in cyberspace. They’re a social-media generation raised in an “i”-tech world (iPod, iTunes, iPad, iPhone, iWatch). They surf, text, video chat, stream, and save to a cloud. They’re the only living American generation with no recollection of 9/11.
In 2018, this generation will be 19 years and younger. Last fall they entered our colleges and universities. The generation that walked to kindergarten with iPads and grew up Snapchatting on their smartphones is now inhabiting our lecture halls, workplaces, and church chairs.
The iTechs are a 3-D generation.
The iTechs emerged in a cyberculture that was digital, wireless, and mobile. They manipulate their touch-screen technology with “swipes, touches, and pinches” rather than “points and clicks.” They process information through screens. They archive their lives and stream their media through cloud technologies.
It’s why the iTechs are forcing old institutions—particularly educational and religious—to rethink how we communicate.
This YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter generation doesn’t tolerate long, passive, non-visual, Sunday morning monologues. They’re interactive and experiential. Micro-media has shrunk their attention spans to a few minutes. The iTechs process information via touch technology and communicate with emojis. Think TedTalk. Think coffee shop conversation. Think with your eyes not your ears.
The iTechs are a Google generation with Khan, Siri, and Alexa as tutors. Most of their reading is digitally through screens. They experience a world where the artificial, fake, and computer-generated is unbelievably real. Consequently, iTechs hunger for authentic, powerful spiritual experiences.
Decentralization is a natural consequence of a cyberculture. In a web world everything is flattened. Authority, power, and control are spread throughout society (creating choice and personalization).
For the iTech, this means anyone can become famous, influential, and rich. YouTube flattens entertainment. Twitter flattens communication. Facebook flattens relationships. Snapchat flattens history. In a web world, great revolutions and social change aren’t just led by the educated elite, royal rich, or politically popular.
Without a doubt, the iTech Generation will force preachers and teachers to inhabit more interactive and collaborative discipleship and learning strategies. We’ll need to move from the proverbial “sage on the stage” to becoming a “guide from the side.” We’ll need to facilitate, journey, storytell, monitor, and mentor.
The iTechs experienced a world where truth is no longer considered objective. And while “Absolute Truth” still exists (I believe), most truth in the postmodern mind is relative and the result of personal experience. Consequently, to truly understand a person, we must “deconstruct” what experiences, backgrounds, and learnings made someone who he or she is. It’s why “my truth” isn’t always “your truth.” Truth is now personal.
While many fear deconstructive philosophy, I actually think it gives Christianity a unique advantage. After all, Christianity is the only religious truth built around a Person, not a set of rules, book of divine revelation, or system of principles. Jesus was Truth and that truth sets us free (John 8:32, 14:6). The Word was flesh and lived among humans (John 1:14). Jesus was a Living Relationship.
And that’s what iTechs, and perhaps all postmodern generations (born since 1960), hunger to experience. They desire something Real, Relevant, and Rewarding. It’s no wonder the finest apologetic for Christianity is still a life transformed by Jesus.
Some things never change.
But it’s also why the iTech Generation will greatly reimagine biblical discipleship, worship, leadership, and ministry in the coming decades.
Some things need to change.
It’s the rise of the iTechs. Church, are you ready?