We had a Classis meeting again last week! If you're not familiar with the term, every church in our denomination belongs to a classis--a regional body of churches. We belong to Classis Hudson with other Christian Reformed Churches in Northern NJ, New York City and Long Island. We meet together a few times a year at each other's churches. H.R., Don, Eric and myself went down to Midland Park CRC.
Among other business, we were blessed to have Hanna Na, director of one of our supporting ministries called Mid-Atlantic Ministries, give a presentation on how churches can minister to and understand the generations of millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen. Z (born 1997-2012), particularly as it pertains to mental health. We heard how every generation is unique and what makes these two distinct. Millennials were age 5-20 for 9/11. They were part of the massive cultural shift to the internet. They have regularly known our nation to be involved in war, they entered the workforce during an economic recession and struggled despite being more educated than prior generations. They are an ethnically diverse generation, and have learned to adapt and embrace certain technologies to accomplish important tasks and connect with others.
Gen. Z grew up in a post-9/11 world and see a world dominated by constant anxiety, insecurities and fear. They have never known a world without the internet and social media. For many of them, important life stages and transitional events were heavily impacted by COVID. They are much more skeptical of institutions in general, and churches in particular. They can tell when someone isn't being real with them and see through the "production" of church. They crave authenticity and deep and meaningful relationships.
Hearing some of those things that mark these generations might help us understand why we face a massive mental health crisis. Many of the constants in life that prior generations took for granted simply aren't there for the next generations. Living in a world dominated by insecurities and fear, coupled with many other challenges like a recession or pandemic can create anxiety and isolation. 1 in 5 Americans actively live with a mental health illness. That means we can expect that includes lots of our church members.
So what can we do about it? I think perspective is key. Sometimes we look down on other generations because they aren't like our own. Sometimes we blame those who came before us for our world's problems (okay, boomer!), or get frustrated with those who are coming along behind us for not having the same values or ideas (kids these days don't know how to…). When we make time to connect with each other, the walls of disconnect begins to break down. Hanna recommended creating "unreligious spaces" for people just to connect intergenerationally. Sometimes we just need to have fun together in order to grow together. I resonate with that. Some of my most important relationships were forged playing games, eating around a table, or working together on something. It doesn't need to look like a production. It just needs to be real.
We know our world is hurting and people are disconnected. But the church can be different. We can be the people who connect. We can be the ones who genuinely care. We can be the ones who love like Jesus. Then more will know we are not alone.