Generation Self

There’s a fascinating piece in the Guardian this morning about Generation Self – that’s the name being given to those who are around the age of 20 at the moment.

It seems to some pollsters that as they enquire about the values that people who are that age hold they are being surprised at how much more right wing they seem to be than previous generations.

It seems to me that there may be something in the analysis. I’m the generation that doesn’t really know his neighbours. Those younger than me seem to be those who really don’t want to know their physical neighbours. I can’t imagine voting for a party who say they want to crack down on welfare spending in order to give me tax cuts but it now seems to be a respectable thing to say and something which seemingly “respectable” people advocate. Activism has become signing an on-line petition rather than joining with other people to get other people to help change the world.

I remember being shocked at the last election by the number of young gay men I know who said that they were voting Tory and who seemed to think it was obvious that they should do so.

“But, but, but… Section 28, Mrs T, solidarity!” I cried to no avail.

If there is something in this Generation Self thing then it needs a lot of thought. Apart from everything else, the views and peccadilloes of the twenty-somethings of every age somehow seem to define who the rest of us are. They set the direction.

And so, the churches that are going to benefit are going to be the churches which speak right into the experience of those values being lived. Who will succeed? Who will fail.

All I can see on the horizon is success for those churches which give a clear identity message and doom for those churches which are based on a parish/district model of attracting people simply because they are in the locality.

I can see a future for confident evangelical churches – probably getting bigger again as they offer something directly to a generation who seem to be in the “What’s in it for me?” mentality. What’s in it for you, sunshine? Oh, eternal life, salvation, big things. All for you. I also think that there is a possibility that such churches will increasingly be promoting social justice issues though probably single-issue things like the environment.

And I can see a future for confident expression of a more catholic counterculture to the zeitgeist. I can’t see much of a future for conservative catholicism in any denomination. I can see churches providing spaces and places for those who dream of a connected world, a world where neighbourhood is defined by values not locality and a world where the sacramental refreshes through sign and symbol a bunch of people who are pretty much out of sorts with the prevailing winds of opinion.

“Come to us because we are here in your neighbourhood” just isn’t going to cut it.

Heaven knows, it hasn’t been cutting it (with the possible exception of a few very leafy locales) for quite a while.

if you are not one of them, what do you make of Generation Self? Do you like them? Do they care? What can be done to open the possibility of church as a life enhancing opportunity to them?

If you are a twenty-something, does the description Generation Self feel right?


  1. Richard says

    Thank you for your observation on the future; as erudite as ever. Looking at churches all around me, I might venture a wager on those that sit under the category “doomed.” Which is such a tragedy, as people work so hard in their own worlds. I recently visited a “solid” church and shared a service amongst what used to be a flowering congregation and I was practically mugged during the Peace by one (of only 2 remaining) choir members. I was at the point of blacking out during the bear hug when all I could hear was “ooh- a visitor!!!” I’m pretty laid back but felt like running a mile in the opposite direction. They were a lovely bunch and my heart went out to them- it felt as though they were the last band of happy passengers on a boat without an engine. Their service was valiant and good- but old in the tired sense, and the world of the generation of which you rightly speak walks blithely by, straight into Starbucks and WiFi.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    Um – like most who are not teachers of some kind, I only know a small snapshot of people personally – and therefore an even smaller snapshot in one any age group. But I do know some of this age-group personally. They are indeed much exercised by some people they see as free-loaders. They do care about justice, and the their dislike of perceived free-loading is part of that. They tend to work very hard themselves, they are struggling with the expense of housing and they resent the tax that they can (frankly) ill-afford perhaps going to people they see as not struggling to work as they do. Life, for those I know in this group, is desperately hard, financially, unless they are lucky enough to be one half of a partnership both of whom are working. This is by no always so. Housing is dear, and the huge cost of it distorts everything else, and they are not likely to inherit anything for quite a long time. Deposits need to be large, and the high cost of transport, either public or private, add to the problem, since living in cheaper areas reduces housing and increases transport costs. Work is hard to get, and (and this is just a snap-shot, remember) the ladder ahead alternately exciting, thrilling and daunting.

    I have to say, the ones I know are pretty convinced that the Universe has no meaning – there is no purpose in it. If they believed there WAS a God, or there was any sense to be made of it, they would have a different attitude to much else. Nor are they very party political, though happy to discuss ways the world might be better organised.

  3. Generation Self.
    Previous generations: Un-Self-Esh?

  4. Justin Reynolds says

    Thank you for a very interesting post. The left I think is trying, but needs somehow to present more convincingly its essential message – that effective communal action actually facilitates greater freedom than economic neoliberalism. A burden shared is a burden halved… Life is indeed harsh when we are left to our own devices to sink or swim: for most, a never-ending anxious battle to keep their heads above water. Hence resentment of those perceived not to be making similar efforts.

    I wonder if the current generation of 20-somethings know much about the social democratic system we had, like most of the rest of Europe, till the early 1980s. I suppose I fall into the ‘Thatcher’s Children’ demographic, but my parents remember a different Britain before the 1980s, and my grandparents recalled the establishment of the welfare state, and before that the 1930s. As these memories recede it becomes harder for young people to imagine that a different way of organising our society was and is possible.

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