Q: How is this generation different in their approachability for the gospel?
A: “I’m not an expert in this. I’m a student of the generations, and particularly Generation Z.” I began researching Generation Z because I am a millennial creating camp programming. I want to reach students with the gospel and engage them in living out their faith well.
Generation Z – those born between 1996-2012
Technology: Usually everyone’s first thought about Gen-Z is their technology. They are the first generation of digital natives. They do not know a life without screens. Technology is a part of who they are, so if you say that all screen time is bad, they will put up walls. We need to show them balance. Teach them that their phone could be a great tool for Christ, but that they also should sometimes put down their phones and have real conversations.
Generation Z knows their phones are a distraction and they do not like it, but they do not have the discipline to put it down. We saw evidence of this in the Word of Life Bible Institute students when they cheered after being asked to put their phones aside during meals. Many students at camp love not having their phones toward the end of the week, and some do not even want it back right away when they leave camp.
Another Point on Technology: Barna’s book called Gen Z talks about how Gen Z is the Google-it generation. They are used to answering their questions by pulling out their phone and finding an answer. This is great for looking up facts, but is scary when asking questions about faith, life and how to live. It is important to create a culture of transparency where students will feel comfortable asking us those questions. Creating that culture will be hard and takes work. You will have to bring up awkward topics, but it is not as bad as them learning about important things from the world wide web.
Technology is changing the way Gen Z’s brain’s work. Since they can answer questions quickly, they do not retain information. At camp they do not have their phones, so they have to process the question differently and find out the answer on their own, ask someone, or look in the Bible. This helps the students learn more about the question asking process and how to get good answers.
Q: What is the biggest struggle working with youth today?
A: Teen suicide is trending at the highest it has ever been. The research in the book, iGen, says it is directly related to social media use.
Q: Why do those two (teen suicide and social media use) parallel?
A: Teens see everybody else’s best, which makes them feel like nothing great is happening to them. This compounds the issue if someone is already in a low place.
Q: What can we do about this? How can we encourage students?
A: Help students understand that what they are seeing on social media is not real life. However, at the end of the day it does still affect them, so limit their time spent on social media. Post honest stuff on your own social media. I call it my honest Instagram, like the time I posted a picture of me falling off my wake board. Do not be so guarded that when you interact with your students you contribute to the idea that others are perfect. Share about how you have experienced both highs and lows and go through difficult seasons, so they see that both are a normal part of life. Be honest and let them know when you are struggling, so they know there is hope in the hard times.
Be encouraging and lift them up as parents and leaders.
I am encouraged by Gen Z. On the Multiply!’s podcast, Mike Calhoun was talking about how Gen Z has the potential to start the next great revival after looking back at the trends in history. One trend was the fact that Gen Z can influence huge audiences, and it is a normal thing for them. Gen Z is also interacting with people on different continents on a daily basis. These connections are how they can share the gospel far. Gen Z is also very cause-driven and wants to have a positive influence.