The poet Gertrude Stein called the young survivors of the First World War the “Lost Generation.” Now the media have noticed an updated “Lost Generation” - or what The New York Times calls “Generation Limbo”: Young people generally between the ages of 18 and 29 have lost all hope because of the current economic crisis.
Also called Millennials, they have “literally lost their future,” according to columnist Elise Jordan. She bases this conclusion on just-released data from the U.S. Census. And the data is grim.
The employment rate for this age group is at its lowest level since World War II, falling 12 percentage points just since the year 2000. The number of Americans aged 25 to 34 who are living with their parents has jumped by over 14 percent since the Great Recession began, to a total of 5.9 million.
Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies found that one in three young families is below the poverty line. Of those with children, 36 percent are in poverty.
And, as I’ve mentioned before, the economic meltdown is driving down the marriage rates of working-class young people, while driving up the rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births.
And the problem reaches all economic and social levels. The Times speaks of “Highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.”
This Generation Limbo is in desperate need of hope. Jordan notes that today’s shell-shocked Millennials, “rather than turning to literature or the arts or even booze, dull the pain by worshipping the cult of celebrity, wondering why their own specialness doesn’t translate into hefty paychecks.”
Quite a picture! But we know what they need, don’t we?
This economic crisis can be a great spiritual opportunity for the Church. Think about it: Man doesn’t live by bread - or economic prospects - alone. We must not only preach this kind of lifestyle, but model it before a watching world. We need to show young neighbors that faith in Christ makes sense during the good times and the bad times.
No, I haven’t forgotten that many young people today, according to the book UnChristian, look on evangelical Christians with suspicion. One reason is that they often accuse us of talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
But that’s why our witness has to be authentic - and tangible. I can’t help but think of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Folks banded together, helped their neighbors, fed and clothed the down and out. Well, when young people see us engaged in such visible signs of love in Christ’s name, it will make an impression.
Here are a few questions to consider: Do you know any young non-Christians? If any were to visit your church, would they feel welcome? How can your church tailor its ministries to help struggling members of Generation Limbo in practical ways?
The answers will be different whatever context in which you find yourself in. But don’t wait for members of the Millennial Generation to walk through your church doors. Maybe you should go find them.
So why not take a simple first step? Invite a young non-believer over for coffee and just listen.