The shift has finally happened. It has taken the church and youth ministry 10+ years to catch up to what the world, marketing, and research has been talking about, Generation Z. This is a marked improvement to the previous turnaround time for the church when it came to Generation X and Millennials.
Thanks, in great part to the work and research by Barna and Impact 360, the conversation kicked into high gear for the last couple of years in youth ministry about this new generation of young people born since 2000. There is a quick-moving recognition of what is the largest population group in our history.
Millennials are no longer the students in our ministries and actually, they are the adults and volunteers leading our ministries. The church has spun its wheels on trying to figure out Millennials and the world has moved on. It will continue to as Generation Z, will be the last traditional generation.
REACTION NOT A REFLECTION
While many bemoan this generation’s lack of faith and digital lifestyle, there are many more opportunities for hope if we are willing to look. Every generation seems to be a response to the previous generation, and it is no different from this current pendulum swing of society. We can clearly see the stereotypes of millennials, whether fair or not, directly reflecting in who Generation Z is shaping itself to be in comparison.
This is a window moment for the church and youth ministry to choose to either continue to reflect millennials’ shortcomings or react in positive ways seizing the moment, entering the present and future with fresh reactional changes.
The challenge will be for the now millennial adults, who are taking their place in leadership as youth workers and pastors. Will they be willing to overcome their generational stigmas, humbly allowing the next generation to lead up?
ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS NOT DEACTIVATED SPECTATORS
Looking even at recent years’ marches for changes in gun laws and environmental issues, we see a growing contrast. No matter your side or political view, it is clear this new group of young people may not be satisfied to sit and complain into cyberspace from their parent basement. This new generation is a group willing to physically stand up and stand out, unlike their millennial older siblings and even parents. While one generation was willing to wait for parents to provide for them, delay adulthood responsibilities, and complain about the size of their participation trophy, the next generation it would appear is willing to actively participate in challenging government and social change.
The same can be true in the church if we can give this new generation a vision for partnership and participation. While they have been nicknamed “nones” for their lack of religious affiliation. What might be lacking is an intentional mission vision. This generation has already shown itself to be passionately caring and altruistic. Our youth ministry and churches need only to open the door to this generation. Allow them to leave behind the spectator millennial mentality, to throw wide the opportunity to actively participate in a world-changing truth for themselves.
Will they find the church as willing to embrace their participation as the world around them has been? The task for the community of faith will be to shift the focus away from past fickle religious spectators to these new passionate contributors.
CREATIVE INFLUENCERS NOT CASUAL CONSUMERS
Switching on your device and watch what shows are trending. You will see young Generation Z-ers taking over Netflix with shows about them and starring them. You will see for the first time ever social media companies like Facebook and Snapchat, begging for people to come back. Go to a physical store and you realize their digitally savvy influence and opinion is worth its weight in dollar bills. They are shifting not just national retail but national economy.
This newest group of young people are thriftier and wiser stewards of their money, influence, and loyalties. They have access to a world of information and are willing to use it to creatively communicate with each other. They resourcefully create content to rival the past things that were held as truths. This group of young influencers are willing to withhold their approval, presence and resources until something is proved trustworthy.
This is the church’s front lawn to reaching this generation. Our ministries can allow them to peek in the window, invite them to walk through doors to participate, but we must go out to meet them before it is too late. We cannot wait inside hoping for the best, we must go to meet this generation in their spaces, physical or digital. It is not about figuring out what kind of coffee or kale chips will bring in the past generation’s consumers. This generation wants to know we are real and worthy of their trust.
We are soon to be 19 years into this new millennium and new generation. While we need to value the past and understand its place in leadership, the past Millennial generation cannot be the primary ministry mindset of our youth ministries, any longer. The first set of Generation Z has headed out into the world already. We do not want to be too late to have a voice and part in their faith story.