I wrote the following article for an edition of the GOSPEL MESSAGE in 2000,
which focused on technology in missions.
Ten years later, the kids I wrote about are in college or have already
graduated! During a
lecture at a missions seminar in Philadelphia Biblical University in January, 2009, I read
my description of the "N-Generation" in this article and asked if it described
them as students. All nodded in approval!
Here is the article:
“And the gospel must first be published among all nations.”
The TV remote control and the computer mouse are the leading symbols of the 20th century, according to Japanese
sociologist Naoki Masamura. He believes that these simple plastic instruments are indicative of the tremendous
social transformation from “residentialism” to “neo-nomadism” during the last century.
Neo-nomadism, says Masamura, is characterized not by wandering about from one place to another, but rather by
the nagging restlessness of the human mind. If there is too much talk in a TV film or excessive advertising
during a ball game, zap! — we change channels. If it takes too long for a website to load on our PC monitor,
click! — we try another.
I happened to read Masamura’s arguments at a time when I was considering the dangers and pitfalls facing the
emerging “N Generation,” sometimes called "Net kids."
Heritage of restlessness
At 62, I am one of the oldest computer-literate persons in Austria. Having been engaged in some sort of youth
work during our entire missionary career has helped keep my wife, Verna, and I abreast of whatever is on the minds
of young people. For 10 years, we did youth work in the inner city of Linz. We also operated a youth center and
published a youth magazine. Since 1984 we have been involved in the establishment and operation of the Austrian
Bible Institute. Together with one of our graduates, we helped establish Jungschar, a national youth organization
similar to Awana. Hundreds of young people in more than 60 clubs all over Austria hear the gospel through this
organization. We are now getting involved with “Net Kids,” members of the N Generation.
Net Kids were born into our fast-moving society by no choice of their own, yet they seem to thrive in the Information
Age as though it were the most natural environment for human beings. Taking a closer look, however, many of these
kids are, by their own admission, bored to death.
Cable and satellite television offer countless channels of entertainment and information at the press of a button.
Pressing another button on the remote control switches the consumer’s attention to CDs playing in surround sound.
Another button activates the VCR or DVD player. When kids are bored with that, they turn to their computers for
diversion. Multi-gigabyte hard drives packed with information and entertainment cannot fulfill the insatiable appetite
that characterizes Net Kids. Even the endless offerings of the World Wide Web fall short of their expectations.
Via the remote control or the mouse, the entire world lies at their fingertips, yet the most frequently heard statement
among youth is “I’m bored!”
Masamura sees this development as one more step in the evolutionary process. The era of nest-builders with traditional
values is past; the 20th century has left today’s young people a heritage of restlessness.
Today, many adults zap their way through relationships, and the old “till-death-do-us-part” marriages have given way to
open-ended “lifestyle partnerships.” The same is true in the workplace. People surf through career opportunities,
changing professions more often than their parents changed jobs. Most work is project-oriented. Groups of independent
service providers form for specific projects and then dissolve.
The results of this lifestyle permeate every area of society. Like the classic nomads of the plains, the zapper/surfer
gives little attention to building for the future and entertains few long-range ambitions. Survival is the primary
motivation, for security is no longer an option. Working within a large organization or independently, each is responsible
for his or her own destiny. Everyone is boss today.
Nomads have no need for roots; where they live is determined by the project at hand. However, their constantly changing
addresses not only rob governments of the fertile soil in which they normally thrive, but also create a problem for local
churches. Networking with other churches in the discipleship of Christians and in following up new believers takes on new
significance as people move around.
The 20th century ushered in the zappers and surfers, but the first generation to come of age in the 21st century may be
incapable of personal relationships and destitute of long-term commitments. Who will be their missionaries? Most certainly,
it will be representatives of the N Generation.
Not just surfing
Net Kids are very different from their predecessors. Recent generations thrived on a diet of television, fast food and
the standard classroom fare. With little supervision or guidance, they dutifully indulged and soaked it all up. They
learned to react and respond. They were fast with a joystick and could tell you which films, TV shows and CDs were cool
and which were a drag. They wore what their peers wore; drank, smoked and talked like their peers; and tried to be different
only by piercing a different part of their bodies.
Net Kids are a different breed. They are not just consumers and copiers of their peers. They don’t simply respond to impulses,
but are taking an active role in their own education, choosing and devising unorthodox ways of doing things, intent upon
steering their own future. Like their predecessors, they too are familiar with the mouse and remote, but they are not content
merely to surf channels and the Net seeking entertainment. They are searching for reliable answers to questions few others are
even asking. And they demand to know why no one is asking. You can’t put these kids off by saying, “Everyone knows that!”
This is a generation of kids that doesn’t swallow everything it is fed and that is asking parents, educators, clergymen and
politicians some embarrassing questions. Net Kids are aware that much of the information offered by schools, churches, the
media and the Web is unreliable. They get disgusted with older people who keep forwarding ridiculous “true” stories, chain
letters, virus warnings and other e-mail scams without first checking them out. Here in Austria, they also protest hanging
crucifixes, saying mandatory prayers and attending obligatory religious instruction classes in public schools.
The N Generation is highly critical in its search for genuineness, always questioning and testing the postulates of acclaimed
or self-proclaimed experts. Net Kids accept nothing at face value, wanting instead to think their way to their own conclusions.
If this is an accurate description of the N Generation, then it is not just “surfing,” but going much deeper. We have a great
opportunity to share the gospel in this generation’s staked territory, the World Wide Web. The Web can ensnare and lead young
people to destruction, or it can be the Net that rescues them and leads them to “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
The Rod of the Lord
Preaching the gospel to this generation will be a tremendous challenge. Are we up to it? Acts 2:40 calls for a departure from
the corrupt generation, and some Net Kids may be doing just that. Representatives of a “corrupt generation” forbade prayer and
the Bible in American schools, but while many Net Kids investigate and reject religion, some of them are coming to the conclusion,
“We must obey God more than man!”
In Oslo, 30,000 teenagers have heard the gospel in recent rallies. What great evangelist is behind this movement? None! Teens
simply print out flyers on their inkjet printers, inviting fellow students to “come hear us preach.” They take turns sharing
their experiences with Jesus Christ, and their peers listen. The children’s crusades of the Middle Ages were organized by the
church and resulted in many tragic deaths. These crusades are organized by the kids themselves, and many are being saved.
This sounds great, but there are many disturbing aspects. Where are the spiritual fathers and the church? How about long-term
commitment? What role does the cross play? We can’t allow the Net Kids to do all the questioning, nor should we expect them to
find answers without help.
In the fourth chapter of Exodus, God called Moses to lead His people out of enslavement. Moses gave the classic excuses in his
reluctance to obey. He asked, “Who am I for such a gigantic task?” but God answered, “That is not important; just tell Pharaoh
that I AM sent you.” Moses argued that he wasn’t a good speaker, so God gave him a “remote” — a surrogate speaker named Aaron.
As a last resort, Moses claimed he had nothing. God responded, “What is that in your hand?” It was not a mouse, but it was a rod
that could produce mice, flies, frogs and other frightening things, even turning into a snake. The rod of Moses became the rod
of the Lord, and what he held in his hand eventually led to the deliverance of God’s people.
Moses agreed to go, but he had no idea what he was getting into. In his mind, this was to be a short-term commitment to a special
project that would soon be completed. His short-term mission experience turned into a lifelong career of faithful service. The
same rod that brought pestilence to Egypt later brought water from a rock to quench the thirst of God’s people.
Perhaps the zappers and surfers of the N Generation have something in their hands that God could use to free thousands of people
from their enslavement to sin. For the first time in history, we have access to every people, nation and language. The Information
Age must not be monopolized by the devil.
Ralph V. Harvey*
*Ralph is Chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Association of Evangelical Churches in Austria, which is in the process
of developing an evangelistic Internet ministry.
P.S.: In my original article I wrote in the second sentence under “The Rod of
the Lord”: When God pours out His Spirit upon all flesh in the end times, the
kids become visionaries while senior citizens dream.” (Acts 2:17-18). This
was deleted by the editors, probably because they feared the words could be
In the same issue there was a Q&A forum in which Ralph took part. There is not enough room here to give the entire forum,
but a couple of Ralph's comments may be worth reading:
“Internet saves us about $100 per month in telephone, fax and postage costs. The speed at which news and information travels is
“I have a brother who lives in Littleton, Colorado. After the shootings in Columbine High School, I immediately translated
first-hand reports of this tragic incident from a Christian viewpoint and passed the information on. As a result, the testimony
of those martyred Christians was not only subject material for numerous youth meetings in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, but
it was aired on several radio stations. A popular Christian youth magazine asked me to write a major article, which had a good
impact on youth throughout German-speaking Europe. Christians must learn to recognize opportunity and react quickly in order to
take advantage of the Internet’s potential. Setting priorities must include criteria for changing them.
“At a recent youth rally in Salzburg, many of those attending came from non-Christian backgrounds. Each young person was given a
sheet of paper and asked to illustrate a specific part of the weekend theme. We made digital photos of the pictures and, along
with the accompanying Bible text, burned them onto CD-ROMs for each participant. It cost very little to multiply the testimony
of this event.”