Reaching Gen Z
Most churches are familiar with the concept of “Millennials,” but the next generation is right on their heels, Generation Z. This demographic of young people, born between the years of 1998-2016, present both unique challenges, as well as opportunities for youth ministry. Russell Martin, Director of Student Ministry at Williams Memorial UMC-Texarkana, believes churches will need to be both intentional and innovative to reach this generation for Christ.
Who is Generation Z?
“(They are) Millennials on steroids,” said Michael Wood, of research firm 747 Insights. Like their millennial predecessors, Generation Z is technologically savvy, and active on social media, but they take it all a step further earning them the moniker “screen teens.” Unlike Millennials, Generation Z can’t remember life without personal computers or cell phones. Our “plugged-in” culture is all they have ever known. As a result, they are accustomed to accessing information digitally, and at the swipe of a finger. This constant barrage of information and stimulus presents unique challenges to ministry because teen’s attention spans are shorter.
But there is a silver lining. The same technology that distracts, can be a powerful tool for teaching God’s word. Leaders can use YouTube lessons and Skype sessions to bring new life to Bible studies. Social media offers youth ministers valuable opportunities to stay connected with the kids they serve.
Another defining characteristic of Generation Z is their “DIY” approach to life. Generation Z is inspired by the idea of individual empowerment, fertile ground for the development of the church leaders of tomorrow.
Russell recently discovered three questions, through the work of Wes Henson, @3QLeadership, that have changed the way he leads the teens of Williams Memorial UMC.
- “What needs to be done?”
- “What can I do?”
- “Who can I get to help me?”
In structuring his teaching around these three questions, and then challenging the teens to come up with practical steps for meeting the needs they see, Russell is tapping into Generation Z’s concept of individual empowerment, and encouraging them to use it in service for the Kingdom of God. The impact of his teaching isn’t lost on the teens he serves.
“We need a way to show our community that our generation is not broken,” said Sophie Lower, high school senior, “We are lights. We just need a way to show it.”
Shining the Light
The youth of Williams Memorial UMC is serious about shining their light for God, and Russell is excited to empower them as leaders in any way possible. Each month, the youth group holds a worship service in the chapel which is almost completely led by students in grades six through twelve. During the Wednesday night service, Williams Memorial UMC teens are busy leading worship, and small groups as well. The students serve in ministries throughout the church each Sunday including the adult service as worship leaders, technical support, and ushers. The teens serve in the children’s ministry as well.
Ministering to Generation Z in the midst of their cultural landscape, and helping them navigate it with the love of Christ, isn’t easy. “Just like with any mission,” Russell said, “you have to be willing to go in and learn their culture and their language. They don’t give you authority just because you have a degree or a position.” But the hard work is worth it. Generation Z is our future. They are the innovative, independent thinkers God is preparing to lead the church of tomorrow.