By Thom S. Rainer
It is way too early to say we know definitive truths and trends for Gen Z.
Though different demographers put their birth years at slightly different points, I have settled for birth dates from 2001 to 2019. That means the oldest Gen Zer is 18 years old, and the youngest will be born in the next few weeks. A lot can change as the Gen Zers get older. We need to hold “facts” about this generation loosely.
I am willing, however, to offer three issues that are likely to be a pervasive reality for churches as they try to connect with Gen Z. My confidence is predicated on interviews we have done with the youngest Millennials (almost the same age as the oldest Gen Z) and some early research on Gen Z.
Churches that are negative and fight often will not even be considered by Gen Z. One of the more significant early studies of this generation is the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study. Nine out of ten Gen Zers in this study said they are sick and tired of the divisiveness of our culture, media, and institutions. That is an overwhelming number! Gen Z will quickly walk away from churches fighting over such trivia as times of worship services, styles of music, and facility preferences. They hate the divisiveness and pettiness they see when church members complain about their pastors. They’ve had enough negativity! They are wondering if any church members really remember the gospel is good news!
Gen Z will strongly prefer churches that are focused and simple. Though the members of this generation are digital natives, they prefer a world and a church that is simple and clear on its purpose. They look at the calendars of churches and wonder how they expect anyone to keep up with all the functions and programs. They detest activity-driven churches. They will not hang around long if you ask them to attend a plethora of events and activities that make no sense to them. The simple church will be the church of choice.
Change-resistant churches will not attract Gen Z. As a redundant reminder, this generation is a generation of digital natives. They understand constant change. They live in a world of technological disruption. Change is their norm. Gen Zers, therefore, have no concept of the pettiness of many church issues. As best I can remember the conversation, these words came straight from the mouth of an 18-year-old Gen Zer. “You won’t believe what happened at a church I visited, Dr. Rainer,” he began. “They had a business meeting right after the worship services. During the meeting, some of the members started fussing about screens in the sanctuary. One of them demanded the church only use hymnals. She called the screens ‘the tool of the devil.’ I promise I’m not making this stuff up,” he said, wondering if I really believed such things happen in churches.
Yes and sadly, I did believe it. The young man insisted he would never set foot in the church again. “They seemed like a church determined to stay in the past and never change,” he told me with incredulity.
The Gen Zers are here. I have many reasons to believe it will be a great opportunity for congregations to reach a new and, possibly, receptive generation.
Stand by for more updates.
If you are interested in learning more about Gen Z, join me for a free webinar, “Seven Critical Ways Gen Z Will Shape the Church in 2020.” Click here to register.