Carey Nieuwhof recently posted on his blog “A Sneak Peek into 5 Characteristics of Gen Z Church.” It is a summary of possibly takeaways from the Asbury Revival that occurred back in February. Nieuwhof makes some interesting observations about what happened at Asbury during the revival and the rising generation of teenagers and young adults (Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012) and how they engage with the church. I’d like to take Nieuwhof’s five points and dissect them to consider what these characteristics might mean for us at Christ Lutheran Church and our ministries. I encourage you to read Nieuwhof’s blog post as well for more insight into each characteristic.
I’d actually rename this to “Less Performance, More Experience.” Everything in Gen Z’s life is a performance. They are full digital natives and so they have high quality performance at their fingertips every moment of every day via Tik-Tok, Instagram, or whatever the latest social media app is. They can be entertained by the best, 24/7. What they don’t have access to is experiences that connect them to something bigger than themselves and others.
This generation is longing for something real. If they come to church, they aren’t looking to be entertained, they are looking to participate, to have a real experience. They want to encounter God. The good news is our theology says that God is present and that we do and can encounter God in our worship and discipleship! The question we must ask ourselves is, how are we including young people in experiences that give them that tangible experience and participation with God?
This generation wants to act, to be involved. The media they consume is not always high-quality production. Most of what they see on Tik-Tok and Instagram are amateur productions from people using their iPhones and free software. There is a sense that they can produce the same type of content (and most probably can!).
This generation wants to be involved and feel like they can do what is being done up front. This means creating space for them to be involved. This means allowing them to step up in leadership. This means, letting go of the polished and perfect things that we are used to and allowing space for younger generations to put their own spin on it.
For some reason, silence in our society has become something to fear. When was the last time you just sat in silence? It can be uncomfortable, yes, but we also believe that God speaks to us in the silence and so if we aren’t being silent ourselves, how are we every hearing God?
Generation Z, I believe, is yearning for spaces of silence and rest. They are bombarded with noise, both visual and audible. To be silent, to find rest and space, is extremely counter-cultural. They might not be seeking it out, but when they do find this space, they discover it is powerful, special, and then they yearn for it. What might our worship look like with more intentional space for silence and reflection?
Anyone can be a trend-setter or star these days with social media. Young people have much more access to these stars than ever before. While there is still something captivating with fame, it seems this generation holds fame to a different standard.
Because of this, I believe the personality driven church is less interesting to this generation. They can access hundreds of the best pastors and speakers with one click. They don’t need that in their home church. They need to experience Christ. They want to know God.
This point sums it all up. Young people are looking for transformational experiences not information. Sure, they have questions and yes, they need to be educated about the faith, but for them the education comes through the experience. Most of the questions I hear from young people are driven with a desire, not to know, but to feel. They are asking questions like, “How is God real?” “What is grace like?” “How can I connect with God?” When we experience God, it opens a whole new avenue of knowing about God.
So, church, what might our ministries look like if we attempted to be a place for Generation Z to grow in their faith? What are the things that would need to change or let go of? How might these changes impact the rest of us? What might we gain from this generations approach to the spiritual? Let’s continue to explore this together!
Deacon Kenny Champagne