With a circulation that numbers in the tens of thousands, The Church Magazine (ChurchChina.org) is one of the most widely read Christian publications in China today, particularly among urban house church leaders and members. Published bi-monthly, it explores various issues and topics of interest and relevance to Christians in China.
In the November 2014 issue, they posted a long article titled “What are our Young People Thinking: How to Witness to Youth of the Post 1980s, 1990s and 1995s,” written by Lu Zun’en. In it he describes the unique characteristics of each of these groups (generations) of young people, and suggests effective means of evangelistic engagement.
Due to the length of the original article, we will be posting it here in three parts over the next three weeks.
Beginning in 2012, Ambassadors for Christ (USA) began actively studying the cultural changes of the new generation of intellectuals, as well as viable strategies for sharing the gospel with them. Here we will share the preliminary results, but we are still in the process of studying this. If there are mistakes here, let the reader please offer guidance.
The post-80s generation – a generation searching for intimacy, sincerity, and reconciliation
China's huge societal and historical changes simultaneously molded the distinctive personalities of the post-1950s generation of parents and their post-1980s children. The two generations are mutually antagonistic toward and dependent on each other, contributing to the contradictory "love-hate" relationship that post-80s children have with their parents. To build a deep relationship with a post-80s young person often means one must understand the various kinds of influences the "family of origin" had on his/her personality. When referring to a "family of origin" (i.e., either the mother, or father, or whatever loved one who previously has played the role of parents in the growth process), we must also discuss the private concerns of post-80s youth.
Over half of post-80s and post-90s youth are single children. They have a positive attitude towards life and believe they have the ability to influence society; in other words, they are an idealistic generation. Their families of origin experienced political instability and therefore, lack a sense of security when it comes to society. Although they wish to protect their children, these families pass on this sense of insecurity to their post-80s children, and thereby sometimes appear as being too manipulative, dogmatic, or dependent upon their children. Some children carry long-standing hostility towards their parents, believing that "all parents are cursed."
Most post-80s youth have gone through experiences growing up that are similar to the famous pianist Lang Lang. Their lives and personalities have been deeply molded and influenced by their family of origin. Yet, not every person has the ability or opportunity to imitate Lang Lang by turning his or her scars into the power to succeed. Post-80s youth have been hurt by the negativity of their parents. Every move by their family of origin which ties them down has deep emotional effects on them, revealing their high level of emotional dependence on their family of origin. Deep in their hearts, they are still eager to reconcile with their parents and to find a way past their unpleasant memories.
Compared to post-90s youth, they seem burdened with concerns for family, society, and the interpersonal relationships with those around them; they are wrapped up in a great deal of delicately entangled love-hate emotions. Within a social environment in which they have no way to fully trust one another, they do not easily share their feelings. They sometimes learn the exact same pattern of response behavior from their elders and yet deep in their hearts they yearn for sincerity, calmness, and a non-defensive feeling of intimacy. If he or she is an only child, the intense desire for a pure and honest friendship is even greater. When they themselves approach marriageable age, many in this generation still have strong memories their parents' failure at home and thus have a fear of intimacy.
Their lives are in no small measure influenced by their family of origin and friends. Once they enter society, it is difficult for them to avoid compromising their own ideals. This sentiment was captured in the young writer Han Han's movie, "The Continent" (后会无期). The experience of growing up for this group was more depressing than happy. Not only do they not know themselves, but also they have unconsciously lost the innocence they once had and in reality are not aware of the mask they have put on. On the one hand, they wish to preserve some of the last remaining unadulterated childhood moments. On the other hand, they want to say goodbye to their unhappy past and to appear more emotionally desirable without having to say a word. It's like the song by the band Mayday (五月天), "You're Not Really Happy" (你不是真正的快乐). In order to keep a smile in this world, one often will need to bury his scars deep in his heart.
Post-80s youth have had relatively little personal experience with political unrest during their childhood. Yet, many of the families of post-80s youth have negatively adapted to changes in society following the Reform Era, causing them to hold critical attitudes toward the political system and social status quo. Traditional Confucian values still maintain a superficial impression on their minds, but these have already lost substantial meaningful guidance. This loss causes the post-80s generation to have a more open attitude toward new values compared to the previous generation and also possess a more independent-thinking spirit.
In the past, when the church and Chinese intellectuals discussed the gospel, they often stressed that Christianity and science were not in conflict with each other. They also emphasized biblical values of marriage as well as teachings on deep, personal spiritual advancement. For the post-80s generation, science remains an obstacle for intellectuals to come to faith; however, it is no longer the core issue. They are more concerned with whether faith can rebuild trusting, intimate, and meaningful relationships with the other people in their lives. In addition to ethical right and wrongs, they hope to seek out how to resolve martial conflict and how to build intimate relationships.
Apologetic topics of creation and evolution are no longer good entry points to share the gospel with this generation. Rather, it is through counseling topics such as how to reconcile with parents, how to deal with emotions, how to deal with one's self, how to make friendships, and how to deal with the struggle between dreams and reality. Post-80s youth are much more willing to talk frankly about sin and personal struggles. They enjoy the natural interaction of fellowship activities, not just the pursuit of individual, superficial, and good moral behavior that others will notice.
They are attracted to evangelicalism due to its attention to the vicarious atonement of the cross, particularly its unconditionality, the lack of manipulation, and sacrificial love that allows man to be reconciled with God and which can also cause sinners to be reconciled with each other, to forgive each other, and to rebuild intimate and sincere relationships. In addition, the message that in Christ man is a new creation is very important and must constantly be stressed for post-80s youth to heal from their scars and to rebuild a Christ-centered self-image.
Post-80s youth are still willing to listen to traditional classroom-style lectures, but they increasingly enjoy the pluralistic sharing style of small group fellowships. That type of style more easily arouses a sympathetic response from them. Good speakers should not only adequately prepare their messages, but they should also prepare an outline for small group discussion so that people can participate after listening to the message. There should be plenty of time to interact and share in small groups.
Much like in the song "Childhood" (小时候) by the band Soda Green (苏打绿), many post-80s youth long to rebuild a close relationship with their parents and to have a good heart-to-heart talk with them. After becoming Christians, many of them face their family of origin with courage and not only seek reconciliation with the older generation, but also become gospel envoys to lead the entire family to Christ. After they reorder the conflicting, tangled relationships between themselves and their family of origin, many other major decisions in their lives, such as those dealing with marriage, career, view of life, and life goals, may also follow being solved together.
Those born between 1985 and 1990 (also known as post-85s), lie between post-80s youth and post-90s youth. Like red turning to yellow, there is overlap between the two colors of these generations. Sometimes you can use post-80s cultural phenomena to explain something and sometimes you can use post-90s cultural phenomena to explain something. You need to look at what the actual circumstance of each individual might be.
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: World Bank, via Flickr
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