Gen Z 101: Introduction to Generation Z
Chris Li | October 1, 2018 | 7 MIN READ
Millennials step aside — Gen Z has arrived, and this generation has taken over our middle schools, high schools, and universities.
The Barna Group, a research firm that specializes in studying the American religious faith, published a book on Gen Z and defined this new generation as anyone born from 1999 to 2015. Just like every generation before them, Gen Z are part of a generation that is unique with its own desires and obstacles.
That means the church must be equipped to minister to Gen Z.
“But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (Psalm 79:13).
All generations should give thanks to God. But in order to do so, they must first know Him. One of the best ways to make God known to a generation is to first understand its members.
Barna synthesized their research and came up with 5 key variables that shapes and makes Gen Z distinct.
Gen Z are digital natives. From birth, they are interacting with smartphones and tablets. In schools, they are not just learning how to type but also how to code. Their future will involve more and more digital experiences.
We know technology can foster and facilitate community. It also increases exposure, and without protection, children and teenagers are exposed to the world’s pitfalls at a much younger age than before. In addition, Gen Z is also exposing itself to the world in potentially dangerous ways through digital footprints that are not easy to hide nor erase.
Gen Z in America is predominantly non-white. This means the group is exposed to different beliefs, cultures, perspectives and backgrounds in the surrounding community.
These diverse experiences lead the group to value equality because Gen Z learns that certain experiences or traits are not better or worse, but just different. Gen Z also has increased empathy because the group has heard the unique stories, narratives and testimonies that people share.
On the other hand, Gen Z’s tendency toward tolerance can be a hindrance in holding onto and defending strong beliefs. “Their collective aversion to causing offense is the natural product of a pluralistic, inclusive culture that frowns on passing judgment that might provoke negative feelings in the [person being] judged.”
The members of Gen Z has grown up in an age in which they feel incredibly insecure. They have grown up with news of constant war, global injustice, local violence, and school shootings. This has led many of them believe that security is found in career and academic success, especially for Asian Americans.
More than ever, Gen Z members are driven to succeed in school not by parents but for themselves. If they do well in school, they believe the have the greatest opportunity to make money, which has become their security net and safety blanket.
We know their passion and drive to succeed is amazing, but it can be misdirected. Their desire for security is universal, but can be misplaced.
Gen Z has the lowest percentage of people with a biblical worldview compared to previous generations. In Meet Generation Z, James Emery White says that they are the first “truly post-Christian generation.”
Without a biblical worldview, morality becomes subjective. When it comes to issues like politics, sexuality, marriage, abortion, and race, Gen Z sees truth and morals as more grey than ever.
For teenagers who are constantly on social media and seeing news in real time, it can incredibly difficult to know how to interpret everything without having the right foundation and lens.
Gen Z builds its identity on fluidity. While millennials say that family and faith are crucial to their sense of self, Gen Z members says that gender and sexuality is how they determine their self. Gen Z is the first generation to say that family is not a top-three variable when it comes to identity.
What precedes family professional/education achievements, hobbies, gender/sexuality, and friends. But is that what they really need to feel like a person who is loved and known?
God has made this new generation unique, and I believe that understanding what shapes them and forms then can help us reach them more effectively.
For leaders who work with Gen Z students or who will, we must know how to use the power and potential of technology to connect with them and to connect them with one another. We also need to see the opportunity in the shift of diversity to empower those who have a new and emerging voice.
Furthermore, Gen Z craves a security that transcends economy and academics, wants a worldview of truth and conviction and seek an identity that is assured only in Christ. Church, we must meet those needs.
Let us faithfully give them the gospel and point them to Christ so they can give thanks to our Lord forever, joined with all other generations.
Chris Li has been doing youth ministry for the last 5 years and got his M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology. He and his wife, Jessica, live in Orange County where he serves as the Director of Student Ministry at Living Hope Community Church in Brea, CA.