It was a fine day for researching church topics when suddenly I came across this article, Forget millennials. How will churches reach Generation Z?. Are you starting to feel generationally challenged like I am? As a Baby Boomer, I was just beginning to understand the generational differences between my generation and Millennials. Now I will have to add a new column to my generational research notebook that explores Generation Z.
Let’s start by agreeing on a common definition of the past generations. Barna defines previous generations as follows:
- Millennials: Born between 1984 and 2002
- Busters/Gen-Xers: Born between 1965 and 1983
- Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964
- Elders: Born between 1945 or earlier
We now are adding a new Generation Z. There is some disagreement as to when to start this generation, but generally it begins in early 2000 through today. As with all generational transitions, there is not clean break.
The article included an interview with the author of a new book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World by Pastor James Emery White. He notes in his book that millennials “are no longer the only ‘young people’ that churches must consider. A new cohort has risen: ‘Generation Z’.” White believes that Generation Z members differ from previous generations and present “unique challenges and opportunities for churches who hope to capture their attention.”
In another article reviewing this book, Meet Generation Z, Jaquelle Crowe summarizes 5 factors that White believes characterizes this new generation:
- recession-marked – growing up in a post 9/11 world
- Wi-Fi enabled
- Sexually fluid
I liked some of Crowe’s commentary, especially when responding as a Generation Z member to White’s content, “at the end of the day our spiritual hunger is not satisfied by what’s ‘cool’ or relevant. What we need is to see the church loving one another. We need to see Christians of all generations (especially older, wiser generations) in covenant together remaining faithful in an unfaithful culture. … What we need is to see the church being the church.”
How do we respond to the continuing complexities of age group differentiation, desires, and levels of interest in organized religion. Let me suggest a few action steps for your consideration:
- Continue to read and study the current and emerging research on generations and their diverse relationships with church
- Use generational focus groups to define the current state of your church’s ministry in meeting the needs of each generation (be sure to include non-member and unchurched groups)
- Reflect on the value of generational diversity in all your church communications and homiletics
- Ensure that your church leadership reflects multi-generational representation and engagement
- Seek multi-generational membership in your ministry planning and participation
As church leaders, we know that change is a constant factor in our leadership roles. Rather than remaining generationally challenged, I encourage you to be proactive in understanding and engaging all generations. Continuous learning and improvement is the hallmark of a thriving church.
I look forward to hearing about your ideas and successes in providing a welcoming faith home for multiple generations within your church. If The Center for Parish Leadership can help you with this or other leadership and staff issues, please contact us.