December - January 2023
Lighting the Darkness
REFRESH | Reaching Gen Z With the Gospel
By Brad Ransom
It’s hard to believe, but 2023 is just a few days away. During the coming year, we will focus the Refresh column on reaching Generation Z. Gen Z ushered in a new set of beliefs, values, and worldviews sociologists and researchers are still trying to figure out. This generation made their entrance into the world between 1995 and 2010 (dates vary by sources). They are preceded by Millennials (1980-1994) and followed by the Alpha Generation (2011 to present). The earlier members of Gen Z have finished college, earned graduate degrees, and are solidly in the workforce. They are quickly becoming our bosses, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and world leaders.
Yet, most people barely understand them, how they think, and how to reach them with the gospel.
For many years, Millennials were described by some church leaders as the spoilers of tradition and everything holy. More laid back and casual than their parents and grandparents, Millennials ushered in a new age of business casual, blending the church with the modern world and technology.
Generation Z grew up in the shadow of this “infamous” Millennial generation and somehow slipped into adulthood without much being said about them by the church. Generation Z, children of Gen X and early Millennial parents, are the first generation to not remember life before touch screens, hand-held devices, and phones that aren’t attached to a wall. They care little for the formal and appreciate openness, transparency, and honest discussions about things other generations swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
In his 2017 book Meet Generation Z, James Emory White outlined five defining characteristics of this unique generation essential to understand if the church wants to reach them with the gospel. The following is taken directly from White’s book:
Recession Marked. The most defining event in their lifetime is the Great Recession. Beginning in 2007, this economic era is widely considered the worst global downturn since World War II.
Wi-Fi Enabled. While Boomers and Generation X don’t remember a world without modern inventions and Millennials can’t remember a world without computers, Gen Z does not know a world without constant, immediate wireless and convenient access to the web.
Multiracial. A record number of births were recorded in the United States in 2006, and 49% were Hispanic. Since the early 1700s, the most common last name in the United States was Smith, but now it is Rodriguez. Gen Z is the most racially diverse generation to date.
Sexually Fluid. Seventy-three percent of Gen Z favors same-sex marriage; 74% support equal rights for transgender people; and 49% between 18 and 24 identified as something other than 100% heterosexual. An increasing sexual fluidity refuses either the homosexual or the heterosexual label. According to the majority of Gen Z, both labels are repressive. They believe sexuality should be free from all restrictions, and people should be allowed to follow their moment-by-moment desires.
Post-Christian. While 78% of Gen Z believe in God, only 41% attend weekly religious services of any kind, and only 8% cite a religious leader as a role model. The largest religious category in the Harvard Crimson’s “by the numbers” survey of the class of 2019 was “agnostic” (21.3%). Generation Z is more than post-Christian, White says. They don’t even have a memory of the gospel. As a result, there is profound spiritual emptiness.
The characteristics of Gen Z are shocking, but truthfully, not surprising. However, these statistics should not lead us to believe Gen Z (and future generations) are beyond hope. We must never give up on a generation.
As I mentioned earlier, this generation is more open to honest discussions about the Bible and spiritual matters. They don’t want to be “told,” but they do want to ask questions and get honest answers. This will require a new way of thinking about how we present the gospel.
Over the next six issues, Refresh will present various articles and resources to help you and your church reach Generation Z.
About the Columnist: Dr. Brad Ransom is director of church planting and chief training officer for North American Ministries. Contact Brad: email@example.com.