The faith of Generation Y (Sally Nash)

Sally NashSally Nash explores the faith of Generation Y.

In many churches it is Generation Y (those born from 1982 onwards) that is missing. For the last five years I have been involved in a project with Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Bob Mayo researching the faith of young people attending Christian youth and community work which may be of interest to fresh expressions.

The young people in the study invested their everyday faith in a secular trinity of family, friends and their own self. In these relationships they found their meaning, hope and purpose. We call this 'immanent faith'. Immanent faith was generally good enough to get by – and most of the young people were therefore indifferent to Christianity. Inevitably, however, there were times when immanent faith broke down – family members got sick, friendships fell apart, etc.

Under these circumstances our young people (including infrequent churchgoers) often made do with a faded cultural memory of Christianity gleaned from family, school and wider culture to help them get through their difficulties and restore their immanent faith. This was expressed most clearly in young people's accounts of praying. The young people were also interested in what Christianity might have to say about death and the afterlife, and what it had to say about ethics and living a 'good life'. Authenticity was their guiding principle for both belief and behaviour.

Possible responses

For infrequent churchgoers, the lack of hostility towards Christianity opens out opportunities to tell the Christian story and share its traditions, provided this is done in a way that is led by young people and the issues they face. Ethics can offer a transition point into the faith. 'Does it work?' is a key question for young people, more so than 'Is it true?'

'Does it work?' is a key question for young people, more so than 'Is it true?'

Adopting a 'sacralised' approach to youth work by providing opportunities for prayer and occasions to discuss and make sense of difficulties and death through the Christian tradition – its symbols, stories, rituals and buildings – would seem to be an obvious lead to follow up. The close relationships young people had with their families suggest there is scope for intergenerational engagement.

We see the book The Faith of Generation Y as continuing a dialogue on how to be church with Generation Y and look forward to hearing the stories. (See Sylvia Collins-Mayo, Bob Mayo, Sally Nash with Chris Cocksworth, The Faith of Generation Y, CHP, 2010 for a full write-up of the findings.)