by Carter Brinkley, Student Minister
Who doesn’t love a good statistical breakdown?
Over the last couple of years, researchers have been coming out with statistics regarding our youngest generation, labeled "Generation Z." This group of people is defined as persons born around or after 1995, so these folks are children, teenagers, and those in their very early 20s. To be clear, this is considered to be a generation that is distinctively different from the “Millennial Generation” before them. (We Millennials are already out of college and are now writing blog posts about the people after us.)
As a student minister, I am interacting and doing ministry with Generation Z on a daily basis, so it is important for me to understand everything I can about them and how they are growing up. But this is also important for the church as a whole to understand because we are all responsible for building up disciples in this very generation. These are your kids, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews, and the part of the church that has the most opportunity still in front of them to fulfill God’s call on their earthly lives!
So I pulled some of the facts and statistics about Generation Z that I think help us as a church to both increase our understanding and focus our approach to helping them become who God has created them to be— “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Let me say that my intention is to provide insights that are both encouraging and concerning. However, I want to present this through the lens of our hope that is in Christ alone so that we are driven toward neither complacency nor defeatism, but rather towards engaging Generation Z effectively with the Gospel.
A Different Demographic
One of the most important differences between Gen Z and previous generations is how different they are demographically. For starters, this generation is the largest in U.S. history, already making up over 25% of the population and counting [click for source]. So 1 in every 4 people you interact with every day belongs to Gen Z. This makes understanding how to interact and share the Gospel with this generation highly necessary for us who should be viewing our community as a mission field.
Generation Z is not only the biggest generation, but also the most diverse our country has ever seen— 47% of Generation Z will be comprised of ethnic minorities [click for source]. This means the church in America can no longer afford to lack understanding and interaction across ethnic divides. Ethnically homogenous churches will likely make less sense and have a far smaller impact on future generations than ever before because of their inability to truly reach so many of the people around them.
Gen Z is defining their identity by a different set of standards than any generation in the U.S. before them. Things like mobile technology, postmodern sexual ethics, and heightened social conscience are having an increasing impact on how individuals are framing their identity.
Most of Gen Z has been exposed to mobile devices, social media, and content streaming since they were very young. Studies show 1 in 3 children are learning to operate functions on a smartphone or tablet before they learn to talk. Children in our digital age are considered “digital natives,” and each use on average 5 different electronic screen devices. So it is no wonder that many Gen Z-ers consider their smartphone to be a part of them. As a result, 79% show signs of distress when separated from their personal mobile devices [click for source].
It is no longer news that American culture has been rapidly changing its views on human sexuality and gender. It is also no secret that sexuality has become a much bigger part of personal identity than before. Gen Z is the first generation produced entirely in the wake of the new sexual revolution, with only 48% identifying as exclusively heterosexual [click for source].
How is the church to respond to such startling statistics on technology and sexuality? The first step is not to panic. After all, the Bible still reports that God is still 100% sovereign and unchanging. Second, it is imperative that we know not just what God says about our true identity, but also why it is good for us. Sexuality and technology are only two of the many things we are tempted to run to in order feel complete. But Scripture is clear that God has given us every bit of true completion in Jesus!
Hope for the Future
I’ll wrap up with some encouraging numbers: out of Generation Z, 81% aspire to be leaders, 60% want to make a positive impact on the world in their job, 42% are likely to follow guidance from their parents (up from 36% of Millennials), and 26% are currently serving or volunteering in some capacity [click for source]. With numbers like that, it is hard not to get excited about the opportunities to reach Gen Z with the Gospel!
Generation Z, like any group of people, is far more complex than one can write on a single web page or blog post. It is made up of individuals who long to be known and understood. We serve a God who not only created each one, but who knows them far more intimately than we can imagine. While it helps to know what the larger trends are within our culture, the true impact the church has on Generation Z will be defined by our ability to love each individual we encounter for no other reason than this— Christ has first loved us!