Bridging Gaps to Reach Gen Z
Three issues to keep in view
When interacting with younger generations, we often expect them to think like we do. But generational differences are real, and acknowledging them can be the first step toward bridging the gaps.
Some may think of Generation Z, those born after 1996, as millennials Part 2. But as the president of a university, I have learned not to make assumptions about a generation based on the one that came before. Most college students today are part of Generation Z, and these young people have unique perspectives, passions and priorities.
To reach this generation of young adults with the gospel, it helps to understand what they care about and what makes them tick. While generational trends obviously don’t apply to every member, these insights can help us minister across age demographics.
With that aim in mind, here are three big concerns of Generation Z we can use to build relational bridges:
Gen Z sees the world as a place to connect. Despite being digital natives, this generation is hungry for genuine relationships. In fact, members prefer face-to-face interactions. This group is eager to collaborate and communicate with all kinds of people — yes, actual humans.
It’s easy to assume young people just want texts instead of calls or handwritten notes. We may think chatting via Instagram rather than over lunch is the best way to reach out to them.
But Gen Z is suffering in many ways from having grown up in a society where people use technology to keep one another at arm’s length. These young people understand the need for human connection and deeply desire meaningful relationships as God intended.
This represents an opportunity for churches to mentor and disciple this generation, inviting its members into relationship with Jesus and fellowship with the body of Christ.
Rather than alienating them for their deeply held convictions, why not meet these young people where they are?
Today’s young adults care deeply about environmental issues. Regardless of political affiliation, Generation Z especially takes a personal interest in working toward a healthier and cleaner world. That can mean using stainless steel straws, bringing reusable tote bags to the grocery store, eating organic or vegan, taking public transportation, and even buying carbon offsets.
Older generations often dismiss such efforts as frivolous or political, but young adults see environmental consciousness as a matter of living responsibly and compassionately.
Rather than alienating them for their deeply held convictions, why not meet these young people where they are? After all, we can certainly agree that caring for creation is a biblical mandate. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
Generation Z’s pragmatic commitments can remind us that looking after this world and the people in it is a part of each individual’s responsibility. And we can follow Jesus’ lead by using nature as a reference point to teach them about God’s love (e.g., Matthew 6:26-34, 10:29-30; John 3:8).
Generation Z members have a wide lens when it comes to race. They are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation of Americans. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 62% of Gen Z see increased diversity as good for society.
According to Cara Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of Boundaries of Obligation in American Politics, Generation Z is “less likely than older generations to define ‘us’ and ‘them’ in racial, national, and geographic categories.”
Our culture — the church world included — still has a long way to go when it comes to overcoming barriers that divide us. Gen Z, with a keen awareness of social justice and a passion for inclusion, is already making a difference in the way society views these issues.
We can benefit from the diverse perspectives, even as we point Gen Z toward a God who created all people in His image (Genesis 1:27) and a Savior who is building a Church from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).
If we want to communicate with those in Gen Z — let alone minister to them — we need to get to know these young adults who are receptive and attuned to others’ perspectives and experiences. Are we ready to be just as receptive and open to hearing and understanding them?