This article was published on April 2, 2018, in Relevant Magazine.
Recently, hundreds of thousands of people took part in the March for Our Lives, the student-led anti-gun violence protest that held demonstrations in 800 cities in the U.S. and numerous sibling marches around the world. Most of the leaders and participants in this massive protest belong to a segment of the population known as “Generation Z.” According to demographic researchers, Gen Z is comprised of people born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, so somewhere from high school freshmen to mid-20s.
While many adults, including adults in the Church, are inclined to dismiss this young generation as not serious, selfish, lazy, unwilling to work and entitled—all terms which are frequently applied to my generation, the millennials—they do so at their own peril. The movement sparked by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, in the wake of 17 of their classmates being killed in a mass shooting, ought to tell us some things about Generation Z that church leaders should take note of if they want to reach this generation for Christ.
1. Gen Z is aware that the world is a mess.
Gen Z is defined by their access to the internet via personal computers and mobile devices. They have full access to a plethora of news sources that blast the death, violence and disarray of the world straight through their phones.
Gone are the days when parents could hide the darkest parts of the world from their children. Churches, unfortunately, have been complicit in a cover-your-eyes-and-it’s-not-real strategy when it comes to ministering to children. Reporting on the recent Barna study on Gen Z attitudes and behaviors, Jonathan Morrow, director of cultural engagement at Impact 360 Institute, writes: “With the best of intentions, we bubble wrap our kids and create Disney World-like environments for them in our churches, and then wonder why they have no resilience in faith or life … In short, teenagers need a grown-up worldview not coloring book Jesus.”
For decades, the Church in the West has done young people a disservice by not dealing with the world as it is, and pretending that a bubble-gum faith is all they need to make it in the big, bad world. Gen Z already knows the world is big and bad. It’s time for the Church to dust off the “whole armor of God” and start mass-producing it for this generation.