the shape of leadership

Strategic Shifts to Engage Gen Z

The future is bright for those willing to adapt

Kent Ingle on June 3, 2024

Churches across America face a significant challenge as the country’s demographics shift and church membership continues to wane. Nearly 74% of Americans perceive a decline in the influence of religion across the U.S., according to Gallup. Pew Research reported a decrease of adult engagement within religious communities, dropping from 34% during 2016-19 to 30% post-pandemic.

For the first time, Christians are a minority, with a Pew study finding nearly 28% of American adults are now religiously unaffiliated. The younger generations are the most affected, with more than one-third of Gen Z declaring no religious affiliation or non-Christian. Nearly 49% reported religion is not as important as other things or not important at all to them, according to a 2023 survey by PRRI.

To successfully reach younger generations, many churches are implementing strategies that cater to Gen Z. Through apps and online courses, churches are engaging a younger demographic in discipleship. They are also employing community-centric environments to foster authentic discussions and flexible services to create space for unhurried worship.

Below are four strategic shifts taking place across churches retaining and engaging Gen Z.


Shift #1: Transforming Traditions

The average age of senior pastors in American churches reached 60 this year, according to the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregation survey. The data shows a trend of aging leaders retaining senior roles, which can keep the next generation of leaders from stepping up. Leaders who remain in positions too long can often hold onto traditional ways of doing things.

When leaders overstay their positions, they can prevent others from bringing in new perspectives that can reach new generations. A church’s goal should be to make room for the next generation so that it outlasts the current leadership. We must invite young adults into the spaces where decisions are made and give them the freedom to shape the Church’s future.


Shift #2: Community Over Politics

The younger generation is looking for churches that care more about their reputation in the local community than their Sunday political commentaries from the pulpit. A study by Barna revealed that 70% of Gen Z is oriented toward making a difference in the world. A UK study revealed that Gen Z is more likely to volunteer for nonprofit projects than any other generation before.

We have an opportunity not just to shape Gen Z members, but also to be shaped by them.

Gen Z members are passionate about social justice. But it doesn’t mean they want to hear about politics from the pulpit. Instead, they seek a transcendent faith that aligns with their desire for societal transformation.

As Carey Nieuwhof explains, “Neither unchurched people nor the next generation are looking for politics or ideology at Church. They're looking for Jesus.” By engaging in social change without political polarization, churches can build trust with the next generation and demonstrate their empathetic worldview.


Shift #3: Unhurried Worship

The revival at Asbury University last year, where thousands of students spent time in the presence of God, is a reminder of unhurried worship’s importance. It’s something we read about in Exodus 33, where Joshua lingered in God’s presence. The Asbury revival brought new hope for the future of the Church and showcased the power of unhurried worship.

For years, weekend church services have followed a predictable template. They have been successful in reaching people and building the Church. But some places of worship have become rigid in their approach, more concerned with sticking to a schedule than following the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

This next generation of worshippers yearn for a heartfelt connection with their Creator, away from the filtered and noisy world of social media. They desire to find spiritual resonance in spaces that allow the rhythms of worship to unfold organically.

It may be time for churches to rethink their approach to worship services and allow more space for meaningful moments in God’s presence. Unhurried worship is a great reminder that our faith is not about ticking boxes but about cultivating a deep relationship with the Lord.


Shift #4: Conversational Discipleship

The Early Church’s discipleship method of open dialogue and debate around the Torah is making a comeback with Gen Z members, who are seeking authentic spaces to explore and deepen their faith. They want to discuss their questions and doubts without fear of judgment.

Sunday sermons can’t be the sole discipleship method for Gen Z. Young people want the truth, and they want to be able to interact with it. Building trust with the next generation requires honest and authentic conversations that hold fast to the truth of Scripture. By implementing discipleship programs and creating forums for Gen Zers to discuss and question their faith, churches can help pave the way for a deeper and more meaningful faith.

As we face a rapidly changing world, the Church must adapt and learn from the next generation. The solution to reversing the Church’s decline is not simply to invite Gen Zers to join but to go where they are and take part in the work they’re already doing.

We have an opportunity not just to shape Gen Z members, but also to be shaped by them. It’s time for the Church to embrace change and be open to new ideas because the future is bright for those who are willing to adapt.
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