Generation Z is your cradle-to-college ministry, and they need us now. Currently ages 2-22, the next generation is the responsibility of the whole church, and if we are going reach them as well as the whole world with the whole gospel, we must first care enough to understand them.
They are living online, surrounded by five screens. YouTube is king, and the new preference for social media is anonymity. It may be no surprise that this generation has an attention span of 8 seconds.
As a post-9/11 generation, Gen Z feels the world is less secure than it used to be, but that’s led to resourcefulness. They are career-driven and entrepreneurial, challenging traditional school with hackschooling1 or non-paid internships for hands-on experience.
Spiritual, not Religious
Gen Z is the first post-Christian generation in U.S. history. They lack biblical literacy and prefer to be identified as spiritual, not religious, with a desire for a faith that is socially relevant, integrating cultural issues and the cosmos.
Diverse and Inclusive
They are growing up in multigenerational homes and diverse classrooms. Gen Z is inclusive, collaborative and values equal opportunities. Their neighborhoods are diverse and include the stranger, the immigrant and the refugee.
Money to Spend, Money to Give
Gen Z has $44 billion a year in spending power, preferring to shop online. But they aren’t just buying trendy shoes. Twenty-six percent have raised money for a cause, 32 percent have donated their own money, and 26 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds volunteer on a regular basis.
Mental Health Crisis
Though Gen Z is driven and more responsible, an unstable family life, trauma and the rise of the smartphone have made way for vulnerabilities. The CDC reports that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience sexual trauma before the age of 18. Connected but lonelier and sleeping less than other generations, Gen Z is primed for a mental health crisis.
Connection with Gen Z
It’s time for the local church to start serving this generation in practical ways. This lonely generation is biblically illiterate, is facing a mental health crisis, and desperately needs the hope of the gospel. Here are some ideas to get your team started.
Meet them where they already are.
Gen Z is online. They love YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. Think through where your church is represented online, especially your student ministries. Make small, intentional steps onto any technology or social media platforms to ensure your efforts can be managed well.
Giving them learning opportunities.
This generation is volunteering early, and they want career experience early. Talk about win-win—you can start training up the next generation of leaders (and ministers!) while also getting one-on-one time to disciple them. Think creatively and plug them into where they already flow, whether it’s technology, worship ministry, student ministries, missions trips, community service days—the possibilities go on!
Care about what they are passionate about.
This generation has a big heart for refugees and immigrants. They are globally aware and globally interested. Caring about the stranger and those in need comes naturally to this crew, and they want to pitch in and help. Plug them in and let their entrepreneurial spirit shine with creative ways to care.
Embrace their non-traditional education.
Are there already homeschoolers or hackschoolers in your church? Help mobilize them, give them space to meet, and then offer outlets for their passion. Perhaps an artistic group could paint a new mural for Easter, a skateboarding group could hold an event in your parking lot and reach out to the neighborhood, or gifted musicians could start leading student worship. The possibilities for synergy are endless.
Be there for their mental and emotional needs.
This generation is lonely and not sleeping enough. The statistical chance of boys and girls facing sexual trauma is alarming. The church should be a safe place, but that’s not enough. The church needs to be prepared to meet the needs of Gen Z. Hold a staff event and walk through Mental Health First Aid so your pastoral staff can confidently respond to signs of mental illness. Interview local counselors and create a list so anyone on your team can confidently refer students, no matter their need. This might include mental health professionals in your church, or a local Christian university that may provide counseling at a reduced cost.
Teach an authentic gospel.
Students desperately want to believe in biblical Christianity, so don’t be shy about teaching the good stuff, the deep stuff. Kids want to know that what they believe holds up. Impart your values and a Spirit-empowered life; deliver something real.
See something, say something
All credentialed ministers are mandatory reporters. This means if you suspect sexual abuse, you are required to report the situation to the authorities. The Child and Youth Protection Manual, created by The Foursquare Church, is a great resource to train everyone in your church who is working with kids and students. Learn how to spot abuse, how to respond, and how to set up a safe environment for child and student ministries in your church. Visit 4sq.ca/cypm.
More resources to check out:
- The Barna Group
- Mental Health First Aid
- Child and Youth Protection Manual
- NextGen articles on foursquare.org
1 Hackschooling is a term coined by the homeschooling family of Logan LaPlante. During his 2013 TED Talk, Logan explained that education can be hacked, or improved, by incorporating practical, fun learning with classroom instruction. Research Attribution: Barna Research Group (2018). “Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation” Forbes (2017). “How Generation Z is shaping the change in education” National Council for Behavioral Health (2018). “Health Mental Health First Aid” Sparks and Honey (2014). “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned about Millennials” Jean Twenge (2017). “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” (The Atlantic) James E White (2017). “Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post Christian World” Women’s Marketing (2018). “Where to find Generation Z on Social Media” NonProfit Hub.