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This article is from Issue 53: Sept/Oct 2011

The Generation of Contrast

How twenty- and thirtysomethings are changing the shape of Christianity—for better and for worse.

Hopeful but cynical. Passionate but distracted. Ready to change the world but a little numb. Hyper-connected but lonely. Our generation is defined by contradiction and contrast.

The pivotal challenge for twenty- and thirtysomethings coming of age in today’s culture is learning to navigate these contradictions, live intentionally and change the world in the right ways. Because our generation will alter how faith is both practiced and perceived—for better or for worse—figuring out what kind of people we are and what kind we will be is essential to our best efforts.

One paradigm that is especially challenging for believers in this generation is being “in-but-not-of”—a phrase that comes from Jesus’ prayer for His followers found in John 17. He asks God not to take His followers out of the world but to help Christians live faithfully in the world.

At first glance, a contradiction.

The black-and-white lines drawn by previous generations have been blurred by the lives and experiences of Christians in their 20s and 30s—lines between truth and error, between “us” and “them” aren’t as clear-cut any-more. And the lines in daily life can be just as blurry. We’re not always sure where the boundary is between personal and professional, work and play, Church and “the world,” between consuming and creating, tradition and reform.

Our generation’s increasing alienation from institutions and traditions that once epitomized the American way of life, and our skepticism of all kinds of authority—the seismic cultural shifts that define our times—have created questions that binary answers just can’t solve. And that’s why this generation of Christians appears to contradict itself: We choose both-and over either-or.

We wanted to know: What is it that makes our genera-tion tick? So, through reliable research and nationwide surveys, we took an in-depth look at twenty- and thir-tysomething Christians in ve key areas: family, politics, faith, media and technology, and society.

As we analyzed the results of these surveys, we saw pat-terns in the data that can help us understand the cultural factors and personal perceptions at play in the lives of our generation.

It became clear twenty- and thirtysomethings are reshaping the world we live in. What’s not so clear is how.

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