“They won’t commit!”
“They never show up!”
“I don’t know who I can count on!”
“They ditched me at the last minute…again!”
If you’re in college ministry, you may have thought (or said) those things a number of times. Gen Z gets a bad rap for being noncommittal and flaky. Set aside your exasperated frustration for a moment, and let’s talk about FOBO.
Choices, Choices, Everywhere!
As a society, we are inundated with choices at an unprecedented level. Go to the grocery store and you will see the myriad of choices available to you for cereal lining an entire aisle. It can be overwhelming. Want a soda? Some machines give you over 500 options. TV has a multitude of channels, streaming services, and bundles, all containing different options. We have come a long way from three local channels you get on your rabbit ear antenna.
For those of us from older generations, our upbringing was different. We weren’t confronted with so many options for every single decision. We learned to be decisive. But for Gen Z, this endless barrage of options has surrounded them their entire lives, from what to eat to breakfast to what video to watch while eating breakfast to what career to choose. Add to it that culture constantly tells them that in order to be “true to themselves”, they, not any other person or institution or belief system, must make all of those decisions for themselves. That is the epitome of self-expression, independence, and freedom, right? Wrong. It’s crippling an entire generation from making a choice, and in doing so, it’s keeping them from experiencing true meaning.
Choice or No Choice?
This plethora of choices causes many Gen Z to simply not make a choice. Their only decision is to wait and see if there is something better. James Choung, an author, evangelist, and generational researcher, refers to this phenomenon as “FOBO” or fear of a better option. Don’t make plans to go to this event because something better may come along. Avoid any serious relationship because you might meet someone else. Avoid selecting a college major since a new one might be offered you like even better.
FOBO has caused many to wonder if this generation is afraid of commitment. Will they decide to attend an event you host? Will they have healthy relationships or just surface ones? Will they ever stick with a job? And most importantly, will they commit to following Jesus or will this also be a surface relationship with very little depth and longevity?
The Choice of Following Jesus
The call of Jesus hasn’t changed. You must leave everything to follow him. Nothing can stand in your way. Certainly not waiting for a better option. We know there isn’t one—a better option— but those not yet following Jesus or those just beginning to do so may fall back to FOBO. Even their efforts to follow Him may be plagued by FOBO…which church should I attend? Is there a better campus ministry out there for me? Should I do this Bible study, or that one, or that one? What if I join a small group and then a better one comes along? I could have this person disciple me, but maybe someone else would be more knowledgeable…
So, the question is: how can we help college students move past FOBO in their lives, especially when it comes to their relationship with Jesus?
FOBO Limits Meaning
James Choung proposes a profoundly simple solution for this: help students see that when you default to FOBO, you limit the level of meaning in your life. Yes, you may find what appears to be a better choice, but even then, the meaning stays small. It doesn’t satisfy. It’s like finger foods at a party. You take a small bite of this, and that, and this, and that…but when you get home, you’re still hungry.
Choosing Increases Meaning
The only way to increase meaning is to make a choice. By making that choice, you infuse the chosen thing with value. Choosing this thing means not choosing all the other options. The choice has greater meaning because you are giving yourself to the choice. It’s like ordering a full meal at a restaurant. You choose that one meal, and the whole thing is yours to eat. You are committed to eating that. You walk away having said no to everything else on the menu, but you also walk away satiated.
Relationships provide a great example of this concept in action. When you get married, you choose someone over all the other people you could choose. You are saying “yes” to that person and “no” to everyone else. This is limiting—very limiting. But the limitations are the soil needed for meaning to grow. By choosing that person, you get to enjoy a level of depth, intimacy, and meaning that you can’t enjoy with everyone. The choice is necessary to infuse the relationship with ever growing depth and meaning.
Choung proposes that we need to help college students understand this concept. Their FOBO, while promising to offer a more free, full, enjoyable life, actually ends up devaluing the things in it. Despite Satan’s lies to the contrary, it prevents them from experiencing the depth, meaning, and joy that make life worth living, leaving them empty, disillusioned, and further paralyzed from making a choice.
Choosing Jesus is Ultimate Meaning
Choosing to follow Jesus is the same. Jesus was constantly calling His followers to believe in Him so they could live. Any holding back (FOBO) would prevent them from experiencing the full life He desired for them. The only way to increase meaning was to trust and follow Jesus, which meant say “yes” to Him and “no” to anything that stood in the way of that—even their own family, if it came to it—because truly abundant life could only be found in Him (see John 10:10).
FOBO Is a Cry for Meaning
Campus minister, pastor, or church member, as frustrating as it can be to deal with college students’ FOBO, try to see it as a cry for depth and meaning. You can answer that cry by calling them to choose Jesus above all else, then choose the things that help them follow Him. Use their FOBO as a teaching opportunity to help them see that they are depriving themselves of meaning by saying “yes” to nothing and “no” to everything. Show them that the meaning of their life will only grow when Jesus becomes the focus. Let them see that in your own life—that a sort of miracle occurs when Jesus is at the center because He multiplies the meaning in all other parts of your life. Work has more meaning. Recreation has more meaning. And most of all, your relationships with others have more meaning."Show them that the meaning of their life will only grow when Jesus becomes the focus." -Gene Austin #collegiatedisciplemaker Gen Z Ministry: Meaning is the Answer for FOBO Click To Tweet
Meaning is the key to moving past FOBO. Yes, the cereal aisle may still be a challenge. How many flavors can there be (and how much meaning can Captain Crunch bring to your life over Cheerios)? But challenging students to seek meaning will help them move past FOBO and on to the best option—Jesus Christ.
Meaning is what we desire. Meaning is what Jesus wants us to experience. When we truly follow Him, we do.
Editor’s note: this post was accidentally attributed to Britney Hamm. Its author has since been correctly changed to Gene Austin.