Philip Jenkins Sounds the Alarm on Post-Christian Gen Z


Philip Jenkins is a Professor of History at Baylor University and Co-Director for Baylor's Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion. In a recent blog post he writes:

The United States just passed a critical statistical landmark, one that I think–I fear–has immense implications for the nation’s religious life. If I am right, and we are dealing with early days, we might seriously be looking at the opening stages of a large scale process of secularization. After being reported and speculated about for decades, that secularization might finally be happening. As I will argue, the term “secularization” over-simplifies the process, but let that stand presently.

What is that “critical statistical landmark?” The fertility rate. Why does that matter? Jenkins explains:

Rarely remarked even by expert observers, there is an inverse relationship between the fertility rates of a community and that society’s degree of religious fervor and commitment. High fertility societies, like most of contemporary Africa, tend to be fervent and devout. Conversely, the lower the fertility rate, and the smaller the family size, the greater the tendency to detach from organized or institutional religion.

Where have we seen this before? Jenkins states, “The classic example of demographic/religious change is modern Europe. Not coincidentally, the Europe that has become so secular since the 1960s has also, in these same years, pioneered an epochal demographic revolution of historically low fertility rates.” Jenkins once believed the U.S.A. would not follow Europe’s path. Not anymore.

Jenkins observed:

[T]he US rate began to fall, to Europeanize, dipping below 2 in 2010. At first, I suggested this was a statistical blip, but it has never since returned above 2.0, and last month, the 2016 rate was announced: just 1.74, a very European rate. We can debate these figures a bit, and some different interpretations are possible. But the trend line is unmistakable, and it is pointing steeply downward. What we appear to be seeing is what secularization theorists have long argued. The US is not essentially different from Europe, in religion or anything else. It is following the same path, albeit with a delay of some decades. The US is a laggard, not an exception.

Of course, I am not taking one lone indicator as the key to a whole religious story, but it is an important one.

Secularization could be just around the bend. If you take this demographic information and combine it with findings that atheism has doubled among Gen Zers, then there is reason for concern. We considered these trends further in this blog post.

These trends should increase our sense of urgency in ministering to Gen Zers, and supply further reasons to pray for those in emerging generations. It is also helpful to remember that trends can be reversed, and that God remains sovereign over both church and world. The kingdom is never in trouble.

Nevertheless, take note. Then, take action. Pray, serve, teach, and reach Gen Zers. Do so in the name of Jesus Christ.