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Making Sense of Generation Y Making Sense of Generation Y
The world view of 15- 25-year-olds

Sara Savage, Sylvia Collin-Mayo, Bob Mayo, Graham Cray
ISBN 9780715140512 (0715140515)
Church House Publishing
£12.99

Category: Youth Work and Ministry

This book is a survey and evaluation of the views and lifestyles of Generation Y, those born after 1980. It makes uncomfortable reading for an entrenched generation X-er like me.

It's divided into 3 parts.

  • A summary of the worldview of generation Y
  • A closer look at the way 124 members of this generation interact with TV soaps & film, clubbing and images
  • A reflection of the findings of the study for youth-work practice.

The basic finding of the survey is that Generation Y see the world through the lense of a 'happy midi-narrative' (HMN). This (sub-) worldview suggests that life is essentially benign, that happiness is the ultimate goal and that this is achievable through the celebration of life and the support of immediate family and friends. There is little consideration of or desire for the spiritual within the HMN. God is wheeled in occasionally where he can be of help on the road to happiness.

The 124 Generation Yers surveyed were encouraged to discuss selected films, TV series and cultural images. Their interaction with these took place on a pick and mix basis, interacting with characters with whom their actual or ideal self had resonance or commenting on the quality of production. The material used had been chosen to prompt conversation on spiritual issues, but generally speaking this seemed to be the last thing on Generation Y's mind. Images with an ambiguous meaning, such as a picture of a deer in clearing surrounded by a forest fire and a Benneton advert, with a face of Jesus airbrushed onto a man dying of AIDS did, however, provoke some more searching discussions and some references to the numinous.

I was intrigued both by the choice in section two of clubbing as an expression of generation Y praxis. The authors allow that by the time the book was published, the clubbing tide was well on the way out. I'm also unsure whether the findings of the survey that clubbing is seen as a kind of escapism from the normal bear the author's conclusions about the prevalence of the HMN. If life's so good, why do Generation Yers need to transcend the normal? Having said that, if the 18-25s I have contact with are anything to go by the HMN could well be a veneer covering over a multitude of anxieties provoked by real life. I can't help but wonder whether the group interview technique employed in the research was really effective in exposing the real thoughts of the interviewees.

Graham Cray contributes an excellent chapter to the book, making sense of Generation Y within 20th century British society. He points to the shaping of Generation Y by the forces of electronic media, globalisation and consumerism. The Gen Yers questioned about music spurned the consumer driven music industry, preferring music that's 'edge.' Cray points out that consumer culture was however, 'the amniotic fluid in which they lived.'

The authors' suggestions that ambiguous images may be used to provoke spiritual searching, and that 'layering' media is the best way to achieve this make sense. However, I can't help that feel that this would require the most incisive biblical-theological input, artistic flair and immense skill in media production to make it fruitful in drawing the imagination of a Generation Yer in the right direction. Re-telling the Christian story in a way which raises questions and the importance of prior mission / relationship building are also stressed as keys to outreach to Generation Y. Churches are sensibly urged to be ready to provide pastoral care for the 'deep pool of unaddressed pastoral need' which lurks beneath the dodgy pontoon of the HMN.

This survey has resonance with the findings of other surveys on westernised, included youth and with my own limited experience of working with this age group. It all suggests to me that we have some serious thinking to do about how to appropriate the gospel to the 'included' members of the first fully consumerist generation.

Tom Wharin, September 2006

Tom Wharin is a graduate of London School of Theology currently serving as Associate Pastor (18s-30s) at Gold Hill Baptist Church, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks.

Church House Publishing

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