Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18
This is the generation where the oldest is now around 21. We often talk about them in generalities, but after lots of research, those generalities have proved accurate. I was riding on a plane recently and spoke to a young woman who was still in college and a member of Gen Z.
We spoke about several observations that I have written on her generation, and she confirmed that what I was saying was accurate. Good to know I’m not totally off base.
Gen Z, as they are commonly called, are different from their predecessors, the Millennials. The latter are now aged 22 to 38. If you are not sure if someone is Gen Z or not, just ask them if they are a millennial and they will quickly tell you: “I am not one of them.”
Thomas Rainer, one of many resources that I follow on leadership and cultural trends, recently did a podcast on Gen Z. It contains some interesting trends and new insights as to how this new Generation is now affecting the church.
Gen Z is asserting its influence on Church life in subtle ways. They are digital natives, which means that if your church is not involved in the digital community, Gen Z might not ever know that you exist. Put in another way, Gen Z continues to seek a digital community and is attracted almost exclusively by that means of communication.
Churches that miss this trend may be missing the mark. It is something that I pay attention to, often suggesting methods of communication that will be consumed by the next generation. Much of the on-line Church websites cater to an older generation. Works for them, of course, but not for Gen Z.
A church that may be visited will already have been checked out on line. They can get an idea of what you are about from the church webpage, long before they darken the door. That means that the website needs to cater not just to members, but also to prospective attenders of a younger generation.
A member of Gen Z or a millennial is unlikely to ever pull up and listen (or watch) last week’s sermon. They don’t have the attention span for that. It’s not the content; it is the length that is problematical.
Thinking creatively to reach Gen Z means adapting to their communication style, not the other way around. You can’t change the stripes on a zebra; nor can you change the fact that this is a digital generation. Not only that, it must be mobile digital friendly (as opposed to computer friendly), and your mobile presence must be clear.
Creating short podcasts, or even a breezy bible study on a sermon topic has a better chance of being watched. Anything better than zero would be an improvement. Social media is also a must for engagement and community.
Rainer suggests that Gen Z might be more receptive to the gospel than millennials. This is not a hard data analysis – but there are implications that this is true. The time to reach them is now, not later, according to Rainer.
I believe that this generation has little contact with the church or the Bible, so they may not have an existing prejudice.
One thing that interested me is that Gen Z has never seen a “worship war” – which is where there is a tension of the style of worship in your church. It is an anathema to them – they will not tolerate it.
I know this might grate on some who prefer old traditional hymns for worship. But there are two things that will kill church attendance by the next generation: poor worship or poor sermons. I am in favor of a more contemporary worship style than my wife, for example, but the reason is not just personal preference.
I favor a style of worship that embraces the next generation. I firmly believe that churches which are intentionally intergenerational will survive over the next 25 years.
Arguing over the style of music in a worship service is majoring on the minors, and apparently toxic to Gen Z. The song below is an example of an old hymn in a more contemporary style which crosses the intergenerational barriers.
Finally, Rainer notes that Gen Z are service oriented. They are focused outward and they want to make a difference in the world and their community. This alone may signal a change in paradigms of the church. They want to be involved in the community, so a missional church may be more attractive.
While writing this post, I have been at a dude ranch in Wyoming. Most of the staff are either members of Gen Z, or are the youngest millennials. It’s been an interesting time interacting with them. My wife has told me that I interact with younger people better than anyone she has seen.
They are very career oriented. I’ve spent some time with a couple of them who wanted insights into either a career path or possible post-graduate work, such as whether to get a law degree or a joint JD/MBA (I voted for the latter,where you graduate with a law degree and an MBA in 3 years).
The challenge here is that we are on the cusp of a new opportunity with Gen Z – we need to be thinking about how to reach them, guide them and engage them. The time for engagement is now, not later.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Engaging with Gen Z is not all that difficult, but you must be prepared to change some of your traditional forms of communication. You need to adapt to them, not the other way around.
WORSHIP: Listen to Chris Tomlin sing Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.
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