Information and theories about the next generation make for regular headlines—from the spending habits of millennials to their politics and faith practices—and religion publishers are taking notice. New books are specifically targeting this younger demographic as well as their predecessors, Generation Z, while still more titles aim to equip churches and faith leaders with tools for engaging them.
Faith Lives On
Several studies in recent years suggest that millennials are leaving the church in greater numbers. Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for the Next Generation by Winfield Bevins (Zondervan, out now), however, suggests a growing movement among younger Christians to return to ancient church practices, including what he calls New Monasticism, which focuses on intentional worship and communal living.
According to editor Ryan Pazdur, “Millennials are looking for a connection to others, and liturgy does that. They are eager to explore something that is rooted, ancient, and global.”
Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World by millennial pastor, rapper, and theologian D.A. Horton (NavPress, Oct.) addresses tensions in the church over classism, sexism, and ethnic and theological divisions. Horton urges readers to combat hatred and seek racial reconciliation by embracing a “Kingdom ethnicity,” or an identity based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“There is as assumption in the millennial generation that the church is part of the problem, or at least not part of the solution,” said NavPress editor David Zimmerman. “Horton speaks to how diverse groups can talk to one another.”
Michael McAfee and his wife Lauren Green McAfee, daughter of Museum of the Bible founder Steve Green, address skeptical millennial readers in their exploration of what they call the “controversial” Bible and what it means for younger generations in Not What You Think: Why the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need (Zondervan, June).
“This book is an honest attempt by two millennials to tackle a controversial issue with sensitivity and kindness,” they write in the book.
A range of Christian living titles are being aimed squarely at millennial readers as well. Catholic publisher Ave Maria Press is offering Chasing Humility: 8 Ways to Shape a Christian Heart (out now) by Joel Stepanek, director of resource development at the Catholic youth ministry Life Teen. Addressing misconceptions he had while growing up, Stepanek explores the Christian teaching of humility and its potential for spiritual growth.
Moody is publishing Walking with Jesus on Campus: How to Care for Your Soul During College by Stephen Kellough (July), while Zondervan’s How to Have Your Life Not Suck by Bianca Juarez Olthoff (Aug.) features career advice and reflections on faith based on the author’s experiences as the founder of a nonprofit that serves younger generations. In Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape (Baker Academic, May), Angela Williams Gorrell lays out ways to use online platforms wisely and responsibly, despite social media's tendency to "minimize the humanness of others," says Bob Hosack, executive editor at Baker Publishing.
"I heard Angela speak to a group of youth ministry educators on this topic, [and] I was so impressed with her fresh insights on loving others well, even in cyberspace, that I invited her to write a book," Hosack tells PW.
Finally, young adults between the ages of 18-25 are the largest demographic of abusers of prescription pain medication, and millennial author Timothy McMahan King is sharing his story in Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us (Herald, June). “Opioids claim the lives of 115 people per day. One of them could have been me,” King writes in the book, which includes an investigation of pharmaceutical companies and a history of the war on drugs.
"We weren’t looking for a memoir, but for a sturdy theological and moral investigation of addiction along the lines of Gerald May’s classic Addiction and Grace," Valerie Weaver-Zercher, acquisitions editor for Herald, tells PW, noting Addiction Nation's journalistic qualities. "Many millennial readers are aware of the racialized nature of mass incarceration and media portrayals of the drug crisis, and they will be interested in this nuanced portrayal of opioids."
Introducing the Next Generation
Those looking for a deeper understanding of millennials and their faith may look to Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Youth by Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley (Oxford University Press, Aug.). “It engages questions few other books do, [such as,] do people who claim they have no religion actually engage in spiritual practice? How do churches that have successfully drawn young people do it?” said Theo Calderara, editor-in-chief, history and religion at OUP.
OUP also published The Next Mormons: How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church by Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess (out now). The book explores the religious beliefs and behaviors of young adult Mormons, many of whom feel the pull between traditional family values and their generation’s support of same-sex couples and women’s equality.
“OUP’s sweet spot is books that take academic research on important topics and present it in a way that is accessible to a general audience,” said Calderara. “This is particularly true for books on young people and religion.”
Further drawing on recent studies, You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith by the director of the Billy Graham Center Institute Rick Richardson (IVP, June) argues that the nonreligious are still interested in conversations about faith and attending church. “A popular narrative says that people are leaving Christianity in droves, especially young people,” said Al Hsu, senior editor at IVP Books. “But Richardson’s book reveals a counternarrative. You Found Me unpacks why.”
Teaching the Future
Other authors are identifying key issues with the goal of educating younger believers about them. Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future (NavPress, Nov.) by Len Sweet is what NavPress’s Zimmerman calls “a springboard book” to get readers thinking about the future of the Christian faith. The book looks at questions “a century ahead,” Zimmerman said.
“Think of hot-button topics such as biotech, AI, gender politics, racial reconciliation, and changes to education,” he said. “Sweet’s premise is that the way we prepare the future church to live is how we shape the thinking of the millennials, Gen Z, and those who follow.”
Similarly, So the Next Generation Will Know: Training Young Christians for a Challenging World by Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace (David C Cook, May) provides strategies for parents, youth leaders, and teachers to educate Gen Zers on the Christian worldview. Each chapter includes interviews with apologists, teachers, or cultural leaders.
In September, Baker Books will publish Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by president of Barna Group David Kinnaman and PlanetWisdom student conference creator Mark Matlock. The pair draws on Barna’s data to present five practices aimed at fostering a sense of faith in the next generations.
As the religious landscape continues to change and new data comes to light, publishers expect even more books for, about, and by millennials. At Herald, Weaver-Zercher is acquiring younger writers "as a strategy for reaching younger readers and because they are churning out such great work."
"Millennial authors in the Christian world, in particular, are offering incisive critiques of a church spoiled by its allegiance to power, racism, and consumption, and they are offering prophetic messages out of their disillusionment," she says.
Baker's Hosack says: "There are new kids on the block, and wise publishers will look to create resources that speak to and meet the needs of the emerging generations."