Making sense of Generation Y

The conclusions of this book are quite different from the widespread view that we live in a spiritually-attuned society. It suggests that, for the hugely important 15s-25s age group that it examines, spirituality is not anywhere near the centre of their lives and priorities. They are simply interested in finding happiness.

This finding came as a surprise to the authors. They aimed to discover 15s-25s’ world view by drawing-out their relationship to soaps, film, music and clubbing. They found ‘little real evidence of an ongoing “spiritual quest”’. Instead, the here and now is their main focus and, as one of the interviewees put it: ‘Happiness is the ideal you aim for’, although the participants were not materialist hedonists, caring deeply about life as an ultimate value.

Most of the book reads more like a dissertation, which can be off-putting at times but, nevertheless, it is well worth reading and not just by youth workers, as it gives some good insights into what, to many of us, is a mystery generation! And the authors are all leaders in their field.

However, I found the book’s responses, in terms of how to bring the gospel to this world view, quite disappointing. They are little different from the ‘best-practice’ approaches that churches and youth workers are already taking, and there seems to be little by way of fresh approaches to tackle what is underlined again and again as a new and unexpected world view. But this may be a consequence of lack of time for the researchers and contributors to think fully through the unexpected research outcomes.

There also seem to me to be some flaws in the research methods. The sample size of 124 is very small and across a quite narrow spread. Most importantly, the participants were all students, interviewed in youth clubs, colleges and universities. Why all students, when many towards the top end of the Gen Y age group have moved on to forming world views from lifestyles that have more to do with how to make a living, repay student loans, and lay down a career, home and family, than with EastEnders and clubbing?

A further weakness seems to be a failure to engage with the many leading books on the spirituality of people today, including some of CHP’s own best-selling recent titles. Also, people were interviewed in groups, but while this is efficient for researchers, participants may be reluctant to open up on some key issues, or may tend to say what they want others in the group to hear from them, rather than what they really feel personally.

Nevertheless, the findings have to be taken seriously as representative of a serious selection of Gen Y people today. We have to take notice of someone of the standing of Graham Cray when we writes ‘I am now convinced that there is, in the church, a tendency to exaggerate the extent of interest in spirituality in Western culture’. It brings to mind the key point often made by John Finney that each generation is a step further away from the church and the Christian story and so their points of reference must be expected to be progressively less anchored in either. On the other hand, fewer connections with Christian institutions means less baggage and prejudice, and some of the authors’ suggestions are worth serious thought, especially that ‘Scripture if used in a non-prescriptive, non-judgmental manner’ (whatever the author of that chapter means by this!) ‘is less likely than in the past to be met with hostility’.