RELEVANT CONNECTION WITH THE CHURCH: A GENERATIONAL SERIES (PART 4)
While the differences between the current younger generations — millennials and post-millennials — may seem blurred and in flux, the cohorts are uniquely distinct.
Generation Z (born between 1999 and 2015) makes up 18% of the U.S. population and 32% of the world’s population. By the end of 2019, they were expected to outnumber millennials.
The majority of Gen Z range in age from four years to 20, so their habits and beliefs are still forming. But some common traits already show in children, youth and young adults shaped by their Generation X parents.
Early studies predict Gen Z to be self-reliant, innovative and goal-oriented. Generally, they appear to be pragmatic, practical and risk-averse.
“Gen Z is a very old group of young people,” according to marketing consultant Bryan Gildenberg. “They drink less, take fewer drugs (except for pot, which they don’t view as harmful) and have less sex.”
This generation seems determined to avoid what they perceive as the excesses and mistakes made by millennials, including job hopping. Consequently, Gen Zers are seeking careers in durable sectors that provide a stable financial future. While most will surpass the educational achievements of millennials, Gen Z places higher value on success through the paycheck rather than vocation. In their eyes, pursuing a passion isn’t worth less income.
True digital natives
Generation Z has only known a digital world. As the first digital natives, they’ve been hyper-connected from a young age. (The average Gen Zer has a tablet by age three and a mobile phone by age 10.) They prefer using a smartphone above other devices, but a tablet is preferred during car rides.
More than half of the teens in this generation consume content on mobile devices four or more hours per day, earning them the designation “screenagers.” Media and market researchers note absurdly short attention spans among all ages comprising Gen Z, but this is a mischaracterization. According to Fast Company, their short attention span is an efficient filter to sort the blizzard of information they experience daily.
Content, especially video, must catch their attention (or that of trusted peers or influencers) in less than eight seconds or this generation moves on. Once engaged, however, they demonstrate deep commitment, loyalty and focus.
Gen Zers abandoned Facebook (if they ever bothered to join) because it’s deemed "too old." Instead, they turn to mobile apps such as Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube to stay connected with peers and to find information and entertainment. Messages and ministries developed for this generation will miss the mark if your church website isn’t mobile responsive or if your church isn’t active on social media beyond Facebook.
Gen Z is more focused on the quality of their friendships and social connections than their metrics. They use messaging apps like Slack or Islands to connect privately with people who share their affinities rather than broadcast opinions publicly.
The key to the church reaching this generation is finding a way to tap into their desire for authentic, deep and meaningful connection. Technology and platforms are important in their everyday lives. If the church isn’t there among them, everybody else is.
An emerging group for the church
A new Barna study offers insight and guidance for ministry outreach with this generation.
- Atheism is on the rise among the largely unchurched Gen Z. Truth and morals are considered relative. Judgment and absolutes are thought harsh and narrow.
- A diverse generation, they seek to be inclusive of all people, practices and perspectives.
“Churches can help Gen Z with developing a Christian worldview that exemplifies Christian virtues that sustain their compassion and concern for others,” say the sponsors of the Barna Generation Z study. “Gen Z can teach adults about the importance of loving those who are different from them.” Churches need to demonstrate how genuine Christian love is rooted in truth, charity and grace.
Their need for community, security, compassion and connection creates a perfect opportunity for the church. Give Gen Zers a safe place to ask questions, express doubts and walk with them as they enter adulthood. Churches must invest now or miss this critical opportunity.
This is the final part in a series about how the church can tailor its approach to reach across the generations in relevant and meaningful ways. Read my take on connecting with baby boomers, Generation X and millennials.
Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at brokensheep.com. He leverages his 20+ years of marketing and consulting experience to help churches "baptize" and use secular techniques to be more effective at reaching the lost, the least and the last for Jesus Christ.