So the Next Generation Will Know is a book that I admit I approached with some trepidation. It is all too common to see books about youth and faith devolve into a “kids these days” type of discussion in which people bemoan the wayward youth, especially in some circles. J. Warner Wallace and Sean McDowell have, however, presented a serious call to winsome engagement with youth and preparing them for a life of faith.
The book’s chapters follow the theme of developing a response that truly engages and listens to youth. The first chapter, looks at the challenge of worldviews in a pluralist society, but again it doesn’t devolve into a kind of hopeless look at the youth. Instead, Wallace and McDowell acknowledge the challenges, look at the data, and ask “what now?” with a look forward. The second chapter looks at more data, including how Generation Z in particular has unique challenges with the constant changes brought by technology. Once again, though, the authors don’t bemoan self-obsessed youths or a generation of selifes; instead, they ask what it is like to engage with youth who have totally different access to information, image, and on-demand services than ever before. There’s not a judgment here but rather a call to rethink engagement along lines that make sense. If 89% of Gen Z owned a smartphone by the time they’re 13, smartphones are a good way to engage. If Snapchat and YouTube have made soundbites a relevant way to communicate, better change your way to engage. None of this, at any point, means the authors say we cannot continue to write serious scholarship or the like; but the way its presented should adapt for the audience.
Some aspects of our technology have changed us in remarkable ways, and data continues to suggest that the youth of Generation Z feel lonely and self-report as lonely (61). Engagement with people who are lonely includes genuine relationships and caring, while also acknowledging the challenges presented by the various calls for immediacy and attention. The need for trust is true in every generation, and the on-demand access to information and the need for fact-checking is something that means we need to build trust rather than view a relationship as a “tool for instruction” (67-68). One of the more interesting points in the book is genuine, real listening in which people do not rush to instruction or correction when disagreement happens, but rather acknowledgement of hurt or concern and continuing to build trust.
Making things practical is a good practice for every generation, and Wallace and McDowell emphasize this in engagement with youth. Building a worldview includes application rather than memorization. It’s great if youth can recite a biblical teaching about poverty, but why not couple that with a hands-on activity for helping alleviate some of the stress that causes. Resisting the urge for easy answers is another winsome approach. The model of “two why’s for every what” (99ff) is important because it means application of the ideas we are teaching youth in youth groups and at church. Instead of just telling what all the time, explain why it is important.
Warner and Wallace move into training youth to communicate their own worldview, and valuable ideas are again found throughout the section. For example, talking about debriefing after speaking in disagreement is huge–how do those become learning opportunities or build relationships with others? Setting boundaries is hugely important, as well (162). Some ways to engage with watching movies, reading works by skeptics, and the like all seem like important insight.
What readers may think at this point is that the book is broadly applicable, and I would agree. Saying we need genuine relationships certainly is not limited to Generation Z. What makes the book more specific is the data is focused around that generation and so it helps to reflect on ministry to them. But the suggestions would, I think, work well for any generation. Winsome, practical apologetics is what So the Next Generation Will Know provides, and those looking for an introductory level book on such topics should check it out.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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