Leaning In To Difference: Zoomers and the Future of the Church

Jul 7, 2024 | Faith

By: Stephen McAlpine

When my son was learning to ride a skateboard we would go down the skate park for what seemed like endless hours, and he would stand at the top of the ramp and try to ‘drop in’.

When my son was learning to ride a skateboard we would go down the skate park for what seemed like endless hours, and he would stand at the top of the ramp and try to drop in. Because once you can drop in as a skater, you’re away. Everything else comes after that.

And as I would video him on my iPhone, he would try. And try. And try. And he would fail. And fail. And fail.

And the reason he failed so often was that instead of leaning in, pushing himself down into the ramp, he leaned back. And that’s when he stacked it. Every time. It was reflexive. He was scared of falling off. I get it. Have you ever stacked on a skateboard?

Faced with the abyss below him (ok, it was about four feet deep), he would instinctively lean back in order to save himself. And the laws of physics being what they are, his skateboard would fly out in one direction and he’d fall off and go slithering down the ramp.

But at one point he got it. I could tell. I watched as he steeled himself, punched down his front foot, and voila!  He was away. His balance, his centre of gravity, went with the board, as it was designed to, and he had dropped in.

It was onwards and upwards. Skating for hours, dropping in like there was no tomorrow. And onto kick-flips next.

Zoomers are Leaning Into Difference

There’s an interesting phenomenon underway among a younger cohort of Christians in the West today. And it’s this: Faced with a plethora of challenges; a growing secularism, a hardening against the gospel, a rejection of a biblical understanding of humanity and sexuality, Zoomers are leaning in.  They’re steeling themselves and saying “Okay, if I’m going to believe this thing, then I’m going to go all in.”

That’s right. After watching a couple of generations of Christians leaning back in the face of growing hostility, there’s a sense among the newer generation that if you’re going to bother with Christianity, then bother with it. Don’t faff around the edges, or try to make it softer and easier. Instead, lean in!

An Australian Broadcasting Corporation article just recently pointed this out. And I must say, that’s good to read, given the ABC’s penchant for all things domesticated when it comes to faith issues.

As with all progressive media, the ABC is implicitly hostile to any version of Christianity that does not kow-tow to the “sexular age”. But just for once, its curiosity has been piqued.

The article is about the “surprising” return to traditional Latin mass by a cohort of young people in Australia who should, according to the law of the Medes and the Progressives, become more hip and urban and modern. I mean with all that technology, gender diversity, and “You Do You” in the air, surely the “yoof” are putting the bigotry and staidness of the past behind them.

But surprising to whom? Only progressive elites who assume that if angular faiths can cast of their angularity (or gut themselves) they will get an audience again. Clearly they haven’t paid attention to the collapse of the mainline churches.

As the article reports:

“…the irony of rejecting Pope Francis’ modernising reforms, which are intended to broaden the appeal of the church, wasn’t lost on these young Catholics. “I suppose from the outside looking in, it wouldn’t make much sense,” 27-year-old Catholic convert Zachary Dennis said of his preference for Latin.”But once I had resolved to become Catholic, this to me was the only logical choice and I’m assuming those around me would also agree.”

Hey ABC! It’s not an irony! Christians who take their faith seriously by and large don’t want to broaden the appeal of the church by removing its backbone. Not just because it’s unfaithful, but because it’s unsuccessful! Yet for a couple of generations broadening the appeal has been the actual gospel of progressive Christians. And it’s resulted in exactly the opposite of what they wanted.

Can you imagine the planning committee of the United Reformed Church in the USA back in the 1970’s:

“Well once we crush the idea that Jesus was actually raised from the dead, we can appeal to moderns. And while we are at it, let’s kow-tow to the sexual revolution that began all of five minutes ago and get ahead of the curve.”

As a wise woman sage once said on an Insta reel, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Zoomers Not Boomers

And of course they don’t. Faced with record numbers of “nones” and faced with a dramatic decline in church attendance, those who thought that they could modernise the church to ensure it kept in line with the zeitgeist on all things cultural and sexual, have discovered that people who might despise and reject you if you maintain the central tenets of faith, simply ignore you if you don’t. The Boomers led the decline. And fed it. Despised and rejected wasn’t in their leather, insignia-ed attache case.

But given we worship a despised and rejected Saviour, then it seems to make sense to go for that. And Zoomers are. Not in total. But a growing number.

Now there’s a chance that some of this intensity is because of the desire for tradition for the sake of it. But here’s a great quote in the article by Associate professor Joel Hodge, who leads the School of Theology at the Australian Catholic University:

“Young people are forming forms of belief in the modern context which has become very individualised, very fragmented, very difficult to know right from wrong. I think that’s the key context: that secular, postmodern fragmenting, and young people are looking for ways to orientate their lives in the midst of that. You see it in these forms of traditional Catholic practice which have increased and you’ll also see it in forms of Pentecostalism, evangelicalism.”

So not just Roman Catholic Zoomers, it turns out. Even us humble evangelicals. And from what I have seen, that’s true of the younger evangelicals I have met. We’re living in a train wreck of a modern West, and the cultural soothsayers are telling us that the best way forward for the train is to keep going. And they’re starting to go “Yeah, nah!”

We’re in deconstruction la-la land in which cowards and liars are ruling us, and the hard left and the hard right are joining hands in an anti-Semitic barrage whilst our leaders kow-tow to them. We’ve got two ageing Boomers in the USA telling us they should be President when one of them doesn’t know how to tell the truth, and the other one doesn’t know how to tell what day of the week it is.

Add to all of that the midst of a porn crisis, a gender identity crisis, an anxiety crisis, a social media crisis, an intellectual crisis, and somehow the message from the secularists is “More of the same please.”

Now I am not naive. I realise that we are also going to see a return to paganism. Post-Christianity – or at least post-public-square-Christianity has left a vacuum in its wake. We’re spiritual. So we’ll spiritualise. What will that look like? Who is to say? Ross Douthat of the New York Times asks that same question:

“Does the future belong to the secular progressivism of an aging West, the supernaturalist Christianity of a youthful Africa, or to the collision of both with some sort of emergent post-Christian spirituality, the rise of techno-religion or the return of pagan magic?”

Probably a mix of all of these. But as a Christian I’d have to say the signs are that younger Christians are getting used to the idea that no matter how kind and nice and smiley they are, the world is going to hate them. Yes folks, that’s right, Zoomers, it turns out, won’t be the snowflakes.

No, the snowflakes are my generation. The X-Gens who, faced with the scorn and hostility of a rising secularism that pushed hard on the sexual ethics button to see if we would roll over, rolled over!  Not everyone rolled over, but all too often many in our cohort did. And now they are sad and washed up and the funky churches they planted with such grand plans to identify with the culture are sad and washed up too. Hey fellow X-Gen skatepark dude, Kurt Cobain would be 57 if here were alive. Maybe bald. Let that sink in.

Okay, so I use him often, but my test case is Russell Brand. Twenty years ago if progressive Christians were tasked with getting Brand over the line, what do you think their approach would have been? What do you think they would have assumed would lure him to explore spirituality? It wouldn’t have been leaning it, would it? It would have been leaning back!

“Hey he’s a sex addict! that’s okay, we can work with that, as long as he gets consent.”

“Hey, he’s hip, urban and cool, he doesn’t believe in resurrections!  That’s okay, nor do we!”

Hey he’s well read and up-to-date with just about every philosopher! He won’t want the Bible! Boxed ticked already!”

Turns out, when at the top of the ramp, faced with a loss of credibility should he sign off on a more orthodox approach to Christianity, Brand leaned in.  And we all know where that ends up. Kick-flips.