For decades, research groups have been evaluating the differences between generations. Of specific interest in recent years has been the millennial generation. It is no secret that millennials continue to pave their own way in thought and life. But a recent Barna study has drawn new and alarming attention to the generation following the millennials. In a comprehensive research investigation studying their experiences, motivations, and perceptions, a report published last week finds Generation Z (also called “Gen Z”) to be the least Christian generation in America’s history.
According to Brooke Hempbell, senior vice president of research at Barna, “This new study shows that Gen Z has a highly inclusive and individualistic worldview and moral code.” Which leads to three key questions:
Who is Generation Z?
Currently, no specific birth dates exist for who makes up Generation Z, but researchers typically agree on including individuals born between 1999 to 2015. This group has been influenced by a heavy increase in Internet usage, cell phones, and social media. They have been shaped by events such as terrorism, school violence, and the economic recession.
But what impact do these findings have on Gen Z and Christianity? A recent issue of LifeWay’s Facts & Trends referred to Generation Z as a “post-Christian” generation. Specifically, the article is quoted as saying, “Today’s generation has little to no acquaintance with the gospel.”
What Trends should be Noted?
Here are two important trends to consider:
First, according to the Barna Group, Gen Z teens are twice as likely (if not more) than today’s American adults to openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Specifically, nearly a third of Gen Z teens know somebody who identifies as transgender, and according to Barna, 69% of Gen Z teens believe it is acceptable to be born as one gender and yet to identify as another.
Second, they are twice as likely to identify as atheist. According to the Barna study, 35% of Gen Z teens identify as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated. For the previous two generations, only 30% identified in this way, and only 26% of Baby Boomers identified as one of these.
59% of Gen Z identifies as Christian, compared to 68% of today’s adults. Note: For this study, Barna makes the distinction that identifying as “Christian” means having personal beliefs and life practices that are shaped by the Christian faith–as opposed to being Christian in name only.
What Are the Ministry Challenges?
As with every generation, Gen Z poses new and unique ministry challenges for those who would wish to reach this generation with the love of Christ.
One thing to note is that today’s teens are not content to avoid the topic of sexuality. Sexuality has always played a role in Church youth–whether it’s a strong emphasis on chastity or a push for better dialogue at home–but Barna believes Gen Z to be the most open and transparent about sexual identity. Today’s teens are talking about it at school and among friends, so to avoid it at church is antithetical.
Further, today’s teens are statistically likely to have seen pornography, and are aware (if not experienced) with sexting. Meaning student ministry leaders, in particular, must be prepared for how to handle frank dialogue around complicated-but-relevant issues.
Also, today’s teens are less likely to take by faith what their parents and/or church authority believe. Today’s teens think for themselves. It is imperative that church leadership, in particular, start at square one. Who wrote the Bible? Why does it matter? What does it say? How does it apply?
The good news? Barna’s Study found that–while only 4 in 10 Gen Z’s faithfully attend church–78% believe in God and view church leadership as good role models. Researchers believe this generation is spiritually hungry. According to Hempbell, the Barna study data indicates Gen Z is a “spiritual blank slate. For the first time in our nation’s history, that is more and more common.”
Equipping teenagers to respond correctly in a world that isn’t kind to Christ has always been the mission–but today, perhaps more than ever, teens need to be taught how to think and respond biblically in a world that is increasingly hostile to Truth.
~ Christian Patriot Daily