Have you heard about Generation Z? Generationally speaking, they are the new kids on the block. Despite what some believe, today’s children and teenagers are not just young Millennials, they are part of a completely new generation.
Generation Z are children and youth born between 1996 and 2010. Though there is debate on the specific date ranges (some extend the range to 2015), most agree they were born after 1990. There are about 1.8 billion Gen Z’ers worldwide—the largest youth population ever.[i] They make up 25.9% of U.S. population.[ii] Research on this new generation so far has centered primarily on market and educational research.
Here are few of the findings:
As researchers learn more about Gen Z, they are discovering some interesting statistics regarding their faith and religious practices. Seventy-eight percent of Generation Z believe in God and 41% attend weekly religious services.[xv] However, they have a pluralistic ideology and superficial theology.[xvi] In addition, they are twice as likely as adults to be atheist.[xvii] They have a hard time believing in a good God who would allow evil and pain in the world.[xviii]
According to Barna, the worldview of Generation Z is Post-Christian.[xix] Barna defines Post-Christian in terms of declining spiritual indicators such as church attendance, belief in God, prayer, and Bible reading. The percentage of people with a biblical worldview declined with each generation: Boomers 10%, Gen X 7%, Millennials 6%, Gen Z 4%.[xx]
Is there hope? How can we connect with Generation Z and help today’s young people develop maturing faith? The answer lies in a commitment from church leaders to focus on relationships, parents, and integration into the church.
Jesus emphasized relationships. When he called his disciples in Matthew 4:19 it was a relational invitation—follow me. It was an invitation to be in a relationship. In fact, true discipleship can only take place in the context of relationships. Church leaders must be willing to take the time to develop caring relationships with students. Richard Dunn calls this “pacing.”[xxi] It means coming alongside young people in their journey through life. Pacing takes time, but it pays off allowing you enter the world of a young person to demonstrate the love of Christ and share the gospel. God-centered relationships produce faithful and mature disciples.[xxii]
The single most important influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents.[xxiii] This means leaders need to influence the influencers. Leaders must not only spend time with students but also with parents. A focus on parents involves: parent bible studies, support groups, family outreach activities and service project. The result is a deeper and broader perspective on what it means to be in youth ministry.
A community of believers is essential for spiritual growth. Leaders must help students see the value of being part of a community of believers in a local church. Community provides social settings for teenagers in which transformation can take place.[xxiv] When students make relational connections in the congregation, they are more likely to value the place of church in their lives as adults.
A renewed focus on relationships, parents, and integration into the church can help Generation Z develop a lifelong faith. Prayer, preparation, and implementation of these elements can lead to effective ministry leadership with this new generation.
David Odom is associate professor of youth ministry at NOBTS and the director of Youth Ministry Institute.
[i]. Steven Edwards. “10 things you didn’t know about the world’s population,”
United Nations Population Fund, April, 13, 2015, https://www.unfpa.org/news/10-things-you-didn%E2%80%99t-know-about-world%E2%80%99s-population.
[ii]. Sparks & Honey, “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials,” LinkedIn SlideShare. N.p., 17 June 2014.
[iii]. Barna Research, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation. (Barna, 2018), 16.
[iv]. Sparks & Honey, “Meet Generation Z.”
[v]. Anthony Turner, “Generation Z: Technology and Social Interest,” Journal of Individual Psychology 71, no. 2 (2015): 105.
[vii]. Amanda Lenhart, “Teens, Technology and Friendships” Pew Internet August 6, 2015. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/06/teens-technology-and-friendships/.
[ix]. Sparks & Honey, “Meet Generation Z.”
[xiii]. Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, Generation Z Goes to College (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2016), 10.
[xiv]. Ibid., 44.
[xv]. Ibid., 43.
[xvi]. Tim Elmore, Marching off the Map (Atlanta, GA: Poet Gardener Publishing, 2017), Kindle.
[xvii]. Barna, Gen Z, 14.
[xviii]. Ibid., 38.
[xix]. Ibid. 24.
[xxi]. Richard Dunn, Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 16.
[xxii]. David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church . . . and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 206.
[xxiii]. Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University, 2005), 56.
[xxiv]. Sharon Galgay Ketcham, “Faith Formation with Others,” in Teaching the Next Generations: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching Christian Formation, Terry Linhart, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 101.