Generation Z hasn’t rejected God as previous generations may have done. They simply don’t ever think about him. What might that mean for your church?
Teenagers Past and Present
We can be fairly certain that adolescents, since the emerging youth culture in the 20th Century until the present, have felt anxious about their place in the world. Particularly entering adulthood!
In the distant past, children would have grown up to follow in their mother’s footsteps to raise a family or followed their father to the farm or the factory.
But adolescents from around the mid-century until today have a seemingly endless array of choices and opportunities at their feet to help script their own way of life. We explore this further in Year 3 of the Youth Ministry Module, as part of The Degree.
Different Generations, Similar Priorities
Youth For Christ recently found that Generation Z possesses many of the same priorities, worries and concerns that relatively recent teenage populations like Millenials and Gen X had. You can read my earlier post if you are unfamiliar with the difference between Millenials and Gen Z.
For example, when asked about their own lives and their top worries, 54% answered “School and Exams”, and 30% “What Other People Think of Me”.
When asked about their priorities, 82% said that “Making my family proud of me”, 64% answered “Becoming Successful”. These priorities wouldn’t be far off how young people from previous generations communicated about the things that were important to them.
So those in Generation Z do share several traits common to all adolescents in recent decades. But significant differences do exist and many of them have huge implications for the church. Specifically, Generation Z hasn’t rejected God, as previous generations may have done, they simply don’t ever think about him.
Generation Z is Post-Christian
Individuals who have grown up as part of Generation Z have little or no history with God, the church or the Christian faith. It is important to note that Generation Z have not so much rejected God as much as they just have never really ‘met’ Him in the first place.
“The 2015 British Election Study showed that those who claim to have no
religious affiliation or no religious faith has risen from 3% in 1963 to 44.7%
today. Among adults aged 25 and under, the number of ‘nones’ climbed to
This does not mean they are not interested in spiritual things. It’s just that they are turning to places other than Christianity and the church to try to connect with the spiritual realm.
This presents several challenges to the church, as the ways it has sought to engage with young people in the past may no longer prove effective.
Challenges for Starting with Parents
Because Generation Z has grown up in a fully Post-Christian culture, they often aren’t raised by Christian parents. Therefore the church will find it difficult to engage with parents as a starting point for reaching significant numbers of young people.
And even those parents who have a Christian faith are increasingly feeling overwhelmed at the task of helping to shape their children’s worldviews and beliefs. In the ‘Passing on Faith’ research conducted by Olwyn Mark, only 40% of parents said they had had a conversation about faith with their children.
Furthermore, 34% said they believed social media and technology would make a bigger impact on their children’s beliefs than their own influence (Youth for Christ, 2016, pp. 40-41 citing Olwyn Mark’s Passing on Faith research).
Challenges for Gathering Young People
I recently attended the Youth Evangelism Conference and was struck by how often the topic regarding ‘the numbers of young people leaving the church’ was mentioned. Resources and workshops were on offer that could help youth leaders in their efforts to make faith more ‘sticky’ for young people.
While we do want to want to hang on to those young people who have grown up in our ranks, the statistics regarding Generation Z make it painfully clear, the overwhelming majority of young people are not in the church in the first place.
As Tim Chester and Steve Timmis reminded us in their book Everyday Church, Mission by Being Good Neighbours:
“70% of the UK population have no intention of ever attending a church service. That means new styles of worship will not reach them. Fresh expressions of church will not reach them. Alpha and Christianity Explored courses will not reach them. Guest services will not reach them. Churches meeting in pubs will not reach them. Toddler churches meeting at the end of the school day will not reach them.
“The vast majority of un-churched and de-churched people would not turn to the church, even if faced with difficult personal circumstances or in the event of national tragedies. It is not a question of ‘improving the product’ of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events”
Young people are not coming to church services on a Sunday. And recent research amongst Generation Z also reveals they are much less likely to access youth clubs or drop-in sessions. This, coupled with the reality that young people can interact socially without leaving the comforts of their own bedrooms, does present challenges to the mission-shaped church who desires to gather young people.
Challenges in Communication
Despite the reality that fewer people are interested in coming to the church when it is gathered, especially on a Sunday morning, the church continues to place a high priority on its weekend services.
Furthermore, most churches seem to continue to place a high emphasis during these services on a spoken message that is delivered primarily as a one-way transmission.
However, due to the increase in the ability to access the internet from mobile devices – the average attention span of young people is significantly decreasing (see my post titled, Gen Z: The Internet in It’s Pocket Generation).
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015.
Adapting our Communications
The church has been bound by Jesus and by the early apostles to preach and teach the Word. We do not have a choice on whether or not to do this. But the church does have a choice regarding how it is done. What impact should decreasing attention spans have on how the church communicates its message in this culture?
Much more reflection will need to take place by church leaders and youth leaders working with Generation Z in order to be more effective in how we communicate. But James Emery White offers an initial and very helpful take:
“(Generation Z) communicates in bite sizes…Bottom line? Whatever it is weJames Emery White, Meet Generation Z
are attempting to convey, much less explain, will need to be communicated more frequently in shorter bursts of ‘snackable content”
Reason for Hope
The reality that Generation Z has grown up with little or no awareness of God, coupled with the challenges of attracting young people to church outreaches or programmes, may cause today’s youth leaders to feel overwhelmed and want to give up before they even start. But the news is not all bad.
Experts who have been studying Generation Z and church leaders who have been working with them, sense a growing curiosity amongst this age group. Like all good ‘postmoderns’, Generation Z appears sceptical of organised religion, but they are not anti-God or anti-Jesus.
While the previous generation has essentially been ‘inoculated against faith’ by the adults who raised them, it’s because of this that Generation Z is now curious. Gen Z has virtually no awareness of the Christian faith, which causes them to be open to exploring it when presented with the opportunity.
Other posts by Darin on the topic of Gen Z include How to tell a Millennial from a Gen Z, Gen Z: Understanding Gen Z’s Sexual Fluidity, and Gen Z: Understanding the Internet-in-it’s-Pocket Generation.