How to be an authentic and appealing church for gen z
Joseph I. Lee | SEPTEMBER 4, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
High media exposure, 15.4 hours of smartphone usage per week, and glued to their games — all describe Generation Z, which is now the group that youth pastors are ministering to in their churches.
With this new generation, there are new difficulties when it comes to raising this new generation to love Jesus, die to themselves, and carry their cross daily. But we also know that the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The Word cuts through all cultures and generations and teaches how we can love God, have a change of heart, and place the Kingdom of God as a high priority in our lives.
Forging an authentic relationship with Gen Z-ers might seem like an uphill battle for many pastors. We fear to have this authentic relationship with our students because we are afraid that our students might “shoo” us off or outright ignore us. While we may think that Gen Zers are completely alien, they are actually quite similar to the Millennials than we ever thought.
When I was a Millennial and attending youth group, my pastor spoke into my heart, encouraged me, and drove me home after our fellowship gatherings. Those moments shaped who I am today. While striving to forge this type of discipleship, counseling, and relationship with a Gen Z-er might seem, daunting, scary, and ineffective, Gen Zers are actually craving for this type of authentic relationship in their lives.
One of the biggest consequences of Gen Z’s digital presence is that they are tethered to their phones and have fewer opportunities to have face-to-face interactions. But Gen Zers crave authentic relationships. Any current youth group pastor can testify their student's frequent use of FaceTime and video calls through Facebook, Snapchat, or Kakaotalk.
I do not think the answer is for churches to focus on just flashy events or sports activities. Studies show that overall, Gen Zers just don’t go out of their houses, even if they have the opportunity to do something else. But the church can be appealing to our youth in other ways. That’s because the church has something that it can offer to students that nothing else can: authentic relationships that are open to everyone.
So what does an authentic relationship even look like? How does that play out between the local church and our students who follow Jesus? How can the church help facilitate and foster these authentic relationships?
In John 13:34, Jesus employed a new law to his disciples and declared, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Love is the base of all authentic relationships, and Jesus had commanded all believers to love one another just as He has loved us. Since Jesus had proven His love through His divine sacrifice, all believers are commissioned to emulate His actions to build relationships within the church. Here are some questions to help us gauge where we are in forming relationships with and among our students.
1. Are we as a church encouraging one another to love and worship Christ?
2. How often do we go out as a group and enjoy simple fellowship such as eating together?
3. Are we as a church rejoicing the success of one another?
4. Is our church fulfilling the law of Christ by carrying one another’s burdens and forgiving one another? (Colossians 3:13, Galatians 6:2)
5. Are we as pastors, leaders and fellow students encouraging the disheartened, helping the weak, and being patient? (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
6. Are the members of our church being transparent by confessing and rebuking their sins and praying for each other? (James 5:14, 1 Timothy 5:20)
7. What time and space does my church allow the students to share deeply regarding their lives and their relationships with God? If our churches enjoy Small Groups, what types of open questions do we prepare?
Pastors and leaders, we are called to study, preach and share the Word of God faithfully to our beloved students. God has also given us a beautiful command to love one another that will strengthen us in Christ. Gen Zers are more than willing to open up their hearts if they value their relationship with the person or group they are sharing with. Therefore, I hope you will not neglect the importance of fellowship that comes through eating, exercising, counseling, small groups, discipleship training. Take every opportunity to support your beloved body by attending their life events such as graduations, baptism, and even funerals.
In Psalm 145:4, King David praises, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” I pray that our churches will always exemplify His calling by sharing our lives with one another and serving the body of the church. Truly, Christ’s church is an appealing church when we love authentically like He does.
Joseph I. Lee is currently serving as the high school pastor at Disciple Community Church in Irvine, CA. The year 2019 has been a big year for Joseph since he received his M.Div from Talbot Seminary in spring 2019 and married his wife Shardae in the summer of 2019. Although he enjoys various hobbies, he loves playing and watching basketball and football.