"Gen Z." "Generation Z." "Zoomers." "The least religious generation in history." You've probably heard or read all of these monikers for the up-and-coming generation.
I'm a Millennial. My generation was the least religious in history, with several articles, think-pieces, and hours of news coverage sounding the alarms about the burgeoning cohort of nonreligious young adults, dubbed the "nones".
Today, attention has turned toward the new rising generation, Gen Z, and all the data suggests this generation is even less religious, more diverse, and more socially engaged than mine ever was.
A lot of ink has been spilled about this generation, much of it expressing worry about their mental health, smartphone dependence, and religious affiliation or religious identity. I'll be addressing the latter to help you better understand this generation and how your church can reach Gen Z for Christ.
"Gen Z" is the term used to refer to the generation that followed Millennials. Sociologists differ on where to draw the line for when a generation begins and ends. For this article, we will stick with how Pew Research identifies Gen Z: Anyone born from 1997 and after, though some argue this generation ended in the early 2010s to give way to a new generation called Gen Alpha. The Gen Z age range today is pre-teens up to 26 years old.
What sets Gen Z apart from Millennials is 9/11. Millennials were old enough to not just witness that event, but understand its significance. Gen Zers either were born after it happened or were too young to remember and understand, therefore they were not shaped by it like the generation before them.
Also, this generation of emerging adults is the first to be true "digital natives." Baby Boomers witnessed the age of television, Generation X came of age during the rise of the personal computer, and Millennials grew up during the social media explosion. But those older generations had childhoods that were not dominated by technology. All of this tech was something we could walk away from, allowing us to experience the world directly and not filtered through a screen.
Gen Z came of age in a world where smartphones and social media were well established, so they were exposed to them at a very young age. They don't know what life is like without them. This has allowed them to remain connected to their friends at all times, no matter where they are. But it has also disincentivized them from going out and experiencing life more fully. Many are delaying some rites of passage, like getting driver's licenses.
The Cooperative Election Study of Harvard University released their 2022 survey results of how each generation identifies themselves regarding religious affiliation. I was surprised by what they found.
Gen Z is the least religious generation in U.S. history by far. The survey featured options for Atheist, Agnostic, Nothing in Particular, Catholic, Protestant, and Other. If we combine Atheist, Agnostic, and Nothing in Particular together, Gen Z self-reported as 49% without any faith in God. In comparison, 44% of Millennials and 35% of Gen X reported themselves as without any faith. It's possible that in the coming years, over half of this generation will officially declare no faith at all.
Many in this generation were simply never raised in Christianity or any other religion. They've never attended religious services, participated in any religious traditions, or were part of a religious community, Christian or otherwise.
However, this generation is also very open to spirituality and religious belief, so long as it's not attached to any rigid dogma. Most won't attend religious services weekly or pray daily, but many will be open to having a conversation about matters of faith.
Gen Z and Religion have a distant relationship with each other. In the broader religious landscape, they are the least familiar with what your church has to offer. As far as their knowledge about God and the Bible are concerned, they're as close to a clean slate as any generation has ever come.
However, a 2021 study by Springtide Research Institute found that 1 in 3 members of Gen Z say they believe in a higher power. This is up from 1 in 4 among Millennials. Many Gen Zers are open to matters of religion, even yours.
This generation is also ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse. This has helped make them open to religion because they have been exposed to so many different perspectives and they work hard to respect them all. But it also means they are closed off to dogmatic, rigid religious structures that don't make room for nuance or other perspectives. Churches would do well to keep this in mind as they minister to new adults.
More Gen Zers attend religious services regularly than Gen Xers. Yes, you read that right!
The Cooperative Election Study found that 30% of all Gen Zers surveyed attend services on at least a monthly basis. That's nearly 1 in 3! Only 28% of Generation X reported monthly or better religious attendance, or just a little over 1 in 4. That means that Gen Zers have a slightly better church service attendance rate than their own parents.
This presents your church with a unique opportunity. Because members of Gen X aren't taking over ministry roles from their Baby Boomer elders in all areas, this means there will be spots open for younger churchgoers to step in and take the reins. Going forward, a crucial way to make a positive impact on the changing religious landscape and keep Gen Z in the flock is to empower them to lead within your church. Activate their natural passions and watch them take your church far into the future!
Does your church have a heart for teens and young adults and want to reach Generation Z for Christ? Below are 5 ways your church can reach Gen Z in 2024.
This generation is inundated with curated social media feeds and a constant veneer of perfectionism over everything they encounter online. This has led this generation to become very risk-averse, preferring to avoid the appearance of imperfection.
They're starving for something that feels genuine. The best way to not scare them off immediately is to be vulnerable, and authentic. In other words, keep it real.
You don't need all the answers, your church doesn't need to have the best branding, and you don't need awesome programs. You just need authenticity and to give them the space to ask questions or pursue their passion.
Gen Z is very concerned about social justice, to the point that they desire as much of their daily life to align with their values, even their jobs and choice of employer. A staggering 70% of Gen Zers report being active in social or political causes. That's huge!
To reach this generation, churches need to show that their need to engage in positive social action and be a part of something greater than themselves can be fully met through the church. If your church has a community action program or a ministry that reaches a vulnerable demographic, the best way to get young people involved is to get them plugged into that program right away. Better yet, ask them for ideas and let them take the lead!
Gen Z is the most racially and religiously diverse generation in history according to Pew Research Center. That inherent diversity leads this generation to be more inclusive of all people and perspectives.
Gen Z's diversity means that they are typically very averse to moral absolutes, reliance on religious institutions, and anything that makes them feel they have to choose between their neighbor and their beliefs.
Keep this in mind as you interact with the younger generation. Their concern for others, especially the vulnerable, is incredible and the church could certainly use more of their enthusiasm. When reaching them, you and your church will need to help them see that love of neighbor is rooted in grace and truth.
For both better and worse, this generation is always online. 9 in 10 Gen Zers spend over an hour a day on social media, with 47% spending 3 or more hours a day on social media apps (source).
This means it's easier to get your message to them! If your church wants to reach this generation, consider creating an account for your church on every social media platform, especially TikTok and Youtube. Most platforms also offer the ability to make ads that will display for people in your geographical region.
However, their screen addiction has led to serious mental health issues. One component of ministry to Gen Zers must be to address their overdependence on technology, helping them break their addictions to social media and the need for constant stimulation. It would be worthwhile for your church to explore ways to help them with this struggle.
We live in an increasingly post-Christian era. The number of people who regularly attend religious services is at an all-time low. This means a large portion of Gen Z has little exposure to organized religion, Jesus, or the Bible. Your church needs to keep this in mind as you reach them.
Gen Z is significantly less likely to have any formalized religious beliefs. You will be talking to a clean slate, as far as Biblical doctrine is concerned. Much of your work will be to educate them on the basics of the faith so that they have a firm foundation.
Consider using their passion for the vulnerable as the starting point for their entry into deeper faith.
Churches can reach Gen Z in 2024 in beyond. But we must invest in them now or risk missing out on reaching these emerging adults.
If you remain authentic, help them find their purpose, and meet them where they are, your church could reach Gen Z for Christ!