Phigiting in Church

Troublesome toddlers are routine fodder for commentary on church-going etiquette.  Should they have a place in the pew or be sequestered for the peace of the rest of the congregation?  Is their crying out loud a distraction that creates angst for parents and pray-ers, or a sublime disclosure of the divine voice, as Pope Francis has said on multiple occasions?

Little ones are not today’s concern.  Other phigiters should have our attention.

No, that’s not a misspelling, PHillies-style.  It’s a variation on the term coined by David Stillman to characterize Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2012), which has been described as “the most entrepreneurially minded, tech-savvy multitaskers the world has ever seen.”  It combines the meaning of physical and digital, because members of this age cohort appear “unwilling or unable to draw a distinction between the physical world and its digital equivalent.”  To a phigital, Skyping into a meeting is essentially the same as actually being present in the room.

Stillman and his son, Jonah, are living proof of the generational divide and have taken a tag-team approach to informing others about the subject.  Together, they’ve written the book, literally, on what this generation looks and acts like in the workplace.  Other authors are opining about Generation Z’s emerging impact on higher education and their place in the forthcoming industrial revolution.

But what happens when – or if – this generation goes to Church?  Consider some statistics from the GenZGurus:

If 40% of phigitals believe that working Wi-Fi is more important than working bathrooms, what importance will they give to liturgical experiences whose primary link is sacramental, not virtual?

If 62% of phigitals see the ideal length of a feedback session as 5 minutes or less, how can they endure a divine-human session at a longer-lasting Mass?  How do preachers connect in such a short time-frame with a generation that prefers emojis and stickers and soundbites to the use of words and sentences and paragraphs (not to mention documents)?

If nearly 91% of phigitals say that a company’s technological sophistication would impact their decision to work there, what does that mean for deciding to dwell in a church whose sophistication lies more in art and architecture and whose work is fundamentally a mystery?

The questions reveal that this writer comes from another generation, one that didn’t even have a letter or a name to designate it.  But the questions also disclose a dire need for all of us to address the generational gap that exists in the church, a gap that often looms large between the pastor in the pulpit and the people in the pews.

Granted, the church is not in the business of adapting itself to the changing character of generations.  After all, the message of salvation transcends every technology, and its eternal consequence encompasses every age group.  But at 73 million strong, this cohort will have a significant impact on religious communities, now and into the future.

So, the pedagogy of our preaching and the strategy of our evangelization now need to account for how this generation functions.  Maybe some of those who have “only known a world where phones are smart” could text or snap us a few good ideas!


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