Five Resources on Generation Z
Understanding and reaching the emerging wave of young people
Generation Z is the demographic cohort that follows the millennials. Demographers disagree on the year this generation was born, but common estimates run from as early as 1995 to as late as 2015. Depending on how you count it, Generation Z constitutes nearly 25 percent of the American populace.
Every generation presents unique challenges and opportunities for ministry, so understanding the forces that shape each one is a pastoral necessity. The August/September 2016 issue of Influence magazine featured an award-winning cover story about Generation Z by Tim Elmore: “Homelanders: The Next Generation.” I recommend that you start there if you want to understand Generation Z.
For further research about Generation Z, I recommend the following five books, the first three written by Christian authors, the final two from a secular, academic perspective.
1. Gen Z (2018) by Barna Group
Gen Z is the newest report from Barna Group. Barna has a demonstrated ability to synthesize generational data with reflection on effective ministry practices. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative research with youth (ages 13-18), youth pastors and Christian parents, the report offers insights about the “culture, beliefs and motivations” of Generation Z. Noting trends that alternately clash and resonate with biblical Christianity, the report nevertheless ends on a hopeful note: “The pace of cultural change may feel overwhelming, but don’t be discouraged. Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church — and that promise is for God’s people in Generation Z, too.”
Bonus Material: For more on Gen Z, check out “Understanding Generation Z,” Episode 126 of the Influence Podcast with David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group.
2. Meet Generation Z (2017) by James Emery White
James Emery White is senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. In Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, White looks at demographic information about Generation Z from a pastoral perspective. Part 1 “details the new realities facing the Christian church,” the post-Christian realities that shape Generation Z. Part 2 “turns the corner toward response, including the importance of truly becoming countercultural as a church.” White ably summarizes research about Generation Z, but the pastoral response he outlines is the true value of the book.
Understanding the forces that shape each generation is a pastoral necessity.
3. Growing Young (2016) by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin
“Multiple studies highlight that 40 to 50 percent of youth group seniors … drift from God and the faith community after they graduate from high school.” Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin cite this statistic at the outset of Growing Young. Whether you are a pastor or a parent, this statistic should alarm you and move you to act. If you want to make a difference in the spiritual lives of young adults, including your own, this book outlines six “essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church”:
- Unlock keychain leadership
- Empathize with today’s young people
- Take Jesus’ message seriously
- Fuel a warm community
- Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere
- Be the best neighbors
Bonus Material: For more on Growing Young, check out “How to Keep Youth in Church,” Episode 47 of the Influence Podcast with Kara Powell, executive director of Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Additionally, check out this profile of Powell, a longer review of Growing Young, and this excerpt from the book: “10 Qualities Your Church Doesn’t Need in Order to Grow Young.”
4. The Happiness Effect (2017) by Donna Freitas
Demographic researchers all agree that the internet, smart devices and social media exercise a distinctive influence on Generation Z, the first generation to be truly digitally native. Donna Freitas’ The Happiness Effect examines what social media use is doing to this generation of users. “Simply put,” Freitas writes, “because young people feel so pressured to post happy things on social media, most of what everyone sees on social media from their peers are happy things; as a result, they often feel inferior because they aren’t actually happy all the time.” Though written from a secular, academic perspective, The Happiness Effect is a must-read if you want to understand “how social media is driving a generation to appear perfect at any cost,” in the words of the book’s subtitle.
5. iGen (2017) by Jean M. Twenge
Jean Twenge is a professor of psychology with a well-earned reputation as a generations researcher. iGen identifies “ten important trends” shaping Generation Z, all of which begin with the letter I: They (1) are “in no hurry” to grow up, (2) spending a lot of time on the “internet,” (3) conducting relationships “in person no more,” (4) “insecure” emotionally, (5) “irreligious,” (6) “insulated but not intrinsic” in terms of safety and community, (7) motivated by fear of “income inequality,” (8) “indefinite” with regard to marriage and children, (9) “inclusive” regarding ethnicity and sexuality, and (10) “independent” politically. iGen is written from a secular, academic perspective, which colors some of the author’s practical advice, but it is well worth reading.