In the past two weeks, we have posted part one and two of an article titled “What are our Young People Thinking: How to Witness to Youth of the Post 1980’s, 1990’s and 1995’s,”, originally published in The Church Magazine. Part one looked specifically at the unique characteristics of the post-80s generation of Chinese youth. Part two looked specifically at the unique characteristics of the post-90s generation of Chinese youth.
Part three looks at the post-95s generation.
Post-95s – The “keep it simple and pure, master of control" micro generation
Many churches failed to listen to the needs of the post-80s and post-90s youth, resulting in a large-scale exodus of the younger generation and an aging, dying church. Those who are willing to engage young people will sense the rapid pace of change in the world. Even before many people learned how to engage the post-90s youth along came the post-95 youth. There are significant cultural differences between the post-95s and the post-90s youth. Those workers in the church who preach, train, and pastor cannot afford to disregard these differences!
Post-95 youth have grown up during China's fastest economic growth, during a post-Reform Era age of globalization, and the Information Age. Moreover, it has been an era marked by a significantly reduced birthrate and significantly increasing per capita GDP. Many were born in the city and their parents were too busy working to care for their children. The vast majority of them are growing up in a virtual fantasy world constructed by television, cartoons, the Internet, and social networking sites.
Their parents use materialistic things to express their love. They also use a variety of methods to protect their children and insulate them from society's realities. The result is that they appear very naive about the world, but at the same time are overly dependent on the virtual world to gain real-world knowledge.
The internet in China developed at a rapid pace between 2005 and 2010. This is precisely the time when they hit puberty and the critical period of adolescence during which time their psychological makeup was forming. They look for a sense of belonging and sense of existence on the internet, and as a result the virtual world is for them even more vital and authentic than real life. When they have to return to the real world, many of them seem to lack social skills. They are passive, wooden, anxious, tense, and retreat in their own little world as if they suffer from a social phobia.
The common perception of post 95s is that they just stay at home. When they go out, they prefer to fiddle with their phones rather than talking with others directly. They do not enjoy participating in large group activities and don't like to interact in a group of people. But, their world is even more lonely than that of the post-90s youth. This is because their parents are at home even less, more of them are only children, and they have even fewer companions around because of the declining birth rate.
Urban life already tends to be alienating and these children were born in the city; therefore it is even more difficult for them to learn how to interact with others. Their social circles are quite small. Some have called them the “stick around” generation, referring to the fact that they like to stay at home. However, perhaps “micro” is a better descriptor because even though there are those who don’t like to stay at home, their social circles remain very small.
The family education environment in which this generation grew up is even more deficient in character development and lacking in religious culture. Rather, extreme wealth and materialistic living are the hallmarks of this cultural era. Their sub-culture is for all practical purposes isolated from traditional East-West civilization. Inspired by Japanese animation, they have created in the virtual world (also known at "2D" (二次元)) a new culture that belongs to their own generation. They have familiar characters that belong to their own communities, their own language, their own methods of communication, software, style, and practically have no contact with the outside world.
When we step into the world of the post-95 youth, it is as if we have stepped into some online anime discussion forum. Sometimes it even feels like we have walked into an alien civilization, with almost no way to communicate. They are not so good at connecting with the outside world. Many of them are like cats; in fact there is a popular internet slang term "cat person" (喵星人) they use to describe themselve. So, the term"cat" has become an interesting conversation starter with this generation.
For the post 95s, their lives are totally dependent upon on internet connection and the smartphone is one of life’s necessities. Their greatest fear is losing a cell phone signal, or having no way to charge their phone, or that moment when it is time to power off their device. The most important thing in their online life is to show “face.” We have all noticed how crazy they are about taking selfies, even to the point of neglecting school work because they are so obsessed with taking photos of themselves.
However, it's not impossible to communicate with post-95s. They are used to searching for a sense of being in the virtual world. And in the animation world they constantly use their own imagination and anime tools to interact, allowing us engage them in an imaginative realm. If we look at Paul as an example, we see that whatever type of person he met, he became like that person (cf. 1 Cor 9:20).
This is similar to CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia which also uses an imaginary story to share the story of Christ's gospel with the reader. To share the gospel with this group, one needs to use a multitude of techniques that tell surreal stories with theater, multimedia engagement, interactive games, and social media.
They tend to enjoy simple messages, refreshing pictures, and images that do not portray friction–no negative messages whatsoever. In short, they completely distance themselves from the vexing, complex, and intractable problems of real life situations, just like the song "Magic Castle" (魔法城堡) by TF BOYS.
External influences that complicate life are an unwelcome pressure to this generation. New beliefs most likely constitute for them a threat, especially when coming from those they do not know or trust.
When sharing the gospel with post-95s youth, it is not advisable to pack in too much heavy information. Avoid asking for hasty decisions, especially regarding things that may threaten their life choices. They may not be able to seriously think about your honest words of wisdom, rather they might feel pressured to dismiss your admonition. A better approach to follow is to first build a close relationship with them. Once there is a personal relationship, share one point at a time, like slowly raising them up on milk a drop at a time.
They have grown accustomed to being in control in the virtual world in which they have the complete freedom to create their own image and role. It’s best to actively introduce an activity in which you want to engage with him or an idea you want to learn about together. But, leave the final decision-making to him or her. If you try too hard to invite a post-95 youth to attend a church activity, you will only push him farther away. Or, he will just sit in church with his head down and play with his phone. After inviting him/her to church, it is best then to follow up with a message via social media (Weixin or QQ) and let him respond online.
They must eventually face the realities of life. When he or she encounters real difficulties, we can walk with them in love and patience and take the time to help him solve problems. With the experience of solving problems together, we will have built the foundation of a trusting personal relationship with a post-95 youth. From that foundation we can more easily share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. First, there must be real, loving action before a lamb is willing to listen to the Word of God.
To talk about the gospel with a post-95 youth, you need to start from the foundation of the gospel, which is God's creation. First, God's rich infinite creativity itself can make a connection with the imaginative power of post-95s. God is a mighty artist. Think about how God created the sun, moon and stars; how God created the leaves of the trees; how he created the mountains, the rivers, and the earth; how God created man and how man destroyed God's creation, God's work of perfection. Fom this we can speak about sin. You can design a variety of interactive games to assist in conveying this information.
Second, the worldview systems for post-95s are already starting to break down. Only by returning to God's creation can we then describe God's law, the problem of sin, the necessary judgment, and help them understand the atonement of the cross. Everything must start from this origin. Admittedly, these are tough times. However, this juncture also provides an opportunity in this generation of extreme emptiness to completely rebuild a biblical worldview.
Original article: 我们的年轻人在想什么？——浅谈如何向80后、90后、95后传福音 (ChurchChina.org)
Image credit: Singer in Underground Tunnel, by Tao Wu, via Flickr
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