-- by Dr. Jerry Johnson, CKNB Collegiate Ministry Specialist
This generation of college age young adults, Generation Z, born between the years 1996-2010, represents almost 30% of the world’s population and is having a significant impact on the world as we know it. When we look at the rapidly changing world around us, it is easy to be discouraged. The good news is that this unique group offers real hope for the future of our churches.
Reaching and engaging this next generation with the old, old story is our great challenge. To do that, we may just have to learn to speak in new ways, listen like we have never done, step out of our preconceptions and, more than ever, love with the heart of Jesus.
This Generation is filled with both fear and yet… hopefulness.
Terrorism, financial collapse, wars, natural disasters, political, racial, social, and cultural unrest has always been part of their life experience. And, of course, the worldwide pandemic has affected just about everything… jobs, families, society, morality, values…
Students are worried about what comes next. “I’m scared that I might end up unemployed and living in my parents’ basement” is a common sentiment for students (and their parents) and a current reality for many recent graduates.
And yet, precisely because of all these crises, Gen Z’s experience, though limited, may have prepared them for such a time as this. Though no one could have predicted the coronavirus pandemic, America’s college students and early twentysomethings somehow aren’t as surprised or taken off guard as the rest of us.
Generation Z is technologically savvy, globally minded, and purpose-driven. They are accustomed to change and they hunger for global experiences. Gen Z wants to change the world for good, and they have every confidence that they can! Generation Z is engaged with contemporary issues and can bring new energy and optimism to churches.
Hope For The Future Church
In order for the gospel to be advanced, we need to be willing to share Christ with those who are different. Who are we bringing into our churches who are different from us and who need to hear the gospel? Generation Z is comfortable with greater diversity and desire to relate to those who are not just like them. This includes multi-generational relationships! The church, ages 0-99, has the potential to connect with Gen Z in significant ways.
College aged young adults are seeking TRUTH.
A consistent worldview centered on unchangeable truth is exactly what the church has to offer. Most Gen Z young adults are open to spiritual dialogue and listening to the gospel message.
Young adults are examining the most important questions of life: Where did I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? What is my purpose? The church is positioned to address the deep questions of students needing authentic relationships and biblical wisdom.
They want their lives to matter and are willing to sacrifice for what they believe.
Gen Z’ers say purpose, values, and mission are vitally important. They expect and want the church to be making a significant difference in their community. However, all too often these young adults have seen institutions abuse their power and are more than a bit skeptical that the church cares or that it is relevant to today’s world.
Ethics, leadership, and engagement are important to them. The church offers an eternal perspective from which to navigate and direct our actions.
They want to see practical impact.
Gen Z are drawn to tangible ways they can impact those around them and the world. They are super connected, internet savvy and social media driven.
This group isn’t lazy. They are not necessarily after the American dream as you and I may understand it, but they do want to work and make a difference. In fact, they can be amazingly creative leaders and problem solvers. Gen Z students can infuse our churches with vital new vitality and enthusiasm.
Gen Z desires authenticity and vulnerability
The overall message through the Bible is one of grace and redemption in the face of sin and repentance.
To be heard, we must be open to questions and admit our own struggles. Most unchurched people today come with questions that seem weird to those of us who spent a lifetime in church. Churches who understand that while we stand on the truth of the gospel, embracing questions is almost as important to reaching this generation as providing immediate answers. As we walk with Christ and grow in discipleship together, answers eventually find their way into our lives.
They want consistency. .
Students want to see lives of grace well lived over various seasons of life and hear biblical wisdom of how to navigate the troubles that will inevitably come.
College age young adults need someone in their corner. They want to know that you will continue to love them in their triumphs and in their failures, as Christ has loved you. Many are looking and longing for genuine family, even if they don’t know it. Having a ministry of love, hugs and biscuits would go a long way. They aren’t afraid of older and wiser, they are attracted to them. Value them as an individual, help them to find belonging, Help them find a place where they too can contribute.
What Can We Do To Reach This Generation?
Don’t compromise the gospel. Speak the Truth, without mockery or ridicule.
Learn to speak their language and appreciate them for who they are, even when that is different from you. Get to know them and let them get to know you.
Have an outside focus. Churches who become passionate about people outside their walls will be far more effective than churches who are passionate about keeping the few people they have inside their walls.
Make connections and give belonging. Raising children is a lot about making memories. Reaching Gen z is about making experiences. Find a way to share your experiences.
Bigger is not necessarily better. Being a smaller church might be just what they are looking for!
Allow them to lead and help them find ways to join you in living out the gospel.
As students return to schools and college campuses this month, will you join me in praying for each student in this amazing, potential-filled generation that they will come to know their Creator who gives them hope, purpose and peace?
Dr. Jerry Johnson has spent the majority of his life reaching the college campus. Having served as Campus Ministry Director at multiple institutions, Jerry now serves as the BCM Director on the campus of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. Jerry also serves as the Collegiate Ministry Specialist at the Central Kentucky Network of Baptists.