the shape of leadership

Reaching Generation Z

Four things you can do to help young people find their ‘why’

Will Jones on August 9, 2019

I recently visited a popular tea shop spot for youth and college students. As I sat sipping my caramel milk tea, I couldn’t help but notice the way the young people around me interacted.

At one table, a teen conversed with her friend while also interfacing with Snapchat. At another table, two guys spoke to each other every 30 seconds or so as they steadily scrolled their phones. Somehow, in spite of all the distractions, they managed to talk about social justice, fashion and school.

This is Generation Z. Born after 1996, they lead busy lives. Compared to teens a decade earlier, they spend more time doing homework and less time socializing, according to Pew Research Center. As digital natives, they’ve scarcely known a world without smartphones and social media. Perhaps that explains why, despite their hectic schedules, they spend most of their leisure time each day in front of a screen (2.5 hours for girls, and 3.5 hours for boys, on average).

The most diverse generation today, they are also on track to become the most educated, with large shares already enrolled in college. They are passionate about equality and social matters, but faith is barely on the radars of many.

Barna Group reports that 35 percent of Generation Z identifies as atheist, agnostic or “none.” The members of Gen Z are more likely than older generations to view morality as fluid, believing that what is right or wrong changes over time, Barna found. They are also less likely to see lying, abortion and homosexuality as morally wrong.

To be sure, evangelizing this generation poses some unique challenges. Yet we must continue to obey the command of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It will take more than lights, fog machines and loud music. Based on my research and the conversations I’ve had with Gen Z students, I believe there are four things we need to do if we hope to reach them for Jesus.

Show Consideration

This generation’s background is different from that of Americans growing up several decades ago, when attending church was the norm and most people viewed the Bible as authoritative and inspired.

The worldview for many of today’s young people more closely resembles the culture of the Athenians in Acts 17. We can’t assume they are biblically literate, or even that they have attended a church. But we can show consideration of their perspectives, and communicate practically when discussing Bible terms and principles.

The members of Gen Z are open to engaging with people who value their input and affirm who they are as individuals.

Paul offered this guidance to the Colossians about engaging in conversations with unbelievers: “Be pleasant and hold their interest when you speak the message. Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions” (Colossians 4:6, CEV).

Seek Understanding

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

This certainly applies to Gen Z. Asking questions and listening as they articulate their views on God, life and the world can go a long way not only toward understanding where they’re coming from, but also gaining their trust and respect.

There’s a difference between trying to win an argument and seeking another person’s best interest — and they can spot it. The members of Gen Z are open to engaging with people who value their input and affirm who they are as individuals.

Serve With Them

An admirable trait of Gen Z is a strong desire to make a positive difference in the world. It can also become a point of connection with the Church.

This generation wants to be a part of something greater than themselves. We can build relationships by including them in activities that benefit the community, empowering them to use their talents and creativity, and demonstrating the love of Christ.

Share the Why

Gen Z cares deeply about the motives behind choices and beliefs. They are also interested in stories, aware that in today’s diverse world there are many different backgrounds and perspectives. It’s not enough to tell them we think Christianity is best for them. They want to know why we choose to follow Jesus.

Share with transparency your story, explaining why you made a decision to accept Christ. Relate Jesus’ story, too — the gospel — and the why of His mission.

Your authenticity and time investment can help young people find their why. Pray that God will prepare their hearts as you engage in conversations and invite them to become a part of His eternal story.

The church has an incredible opportunity to reach and invest in Gen Z, a generation that will influence and shape our nation for years to come. How will we reach them? Will it be through the same methods of evangelism — through church events and flashy environments in our worship services? Probably not.

We’ll reach them by being considerate of them as individuals, seeking to understand their perspectives, involving them in what we’re doing, and sharing our testimonies of faith.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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