About Generation Z

A summary of findings from New England’s Gen. Z Summit

Summit #1 October 27, 2021

This Gen. Z Summit was put on by the Cecil B. Day Foundation as a result of having recently narrowed their focus toward discipleship in the local church, especially when it comes to Gen. Z. In their own words, “The hope for this summit [was] to explore ways to build bridges between Generation Z and the local church in New England. Specifically, the desire [was] to move toward substantive action steps to help jump-start Generation Z and discipleship efforts in New England in 2022.” In attendance were Kyler Barr, Tori Hammond, Colby Hammond, Andrew Johnson, Derek Lirange, Andy Needham, Tommy Sewall, Benji Suprice, Griffin Towle, Rick Francis, Dennis Gill, and Paul Johnson. Due to the weather, Shaina Morrow and Kristi Peck were unable to attend.

It was established at the beginning of the meeting by the director of the Day Foundation, Rick Francis, that Generation Z is generally classified as 8-9-year-olds, through 25-year-olds. Kyler Barr calls this generation, “those who are transitioning from childhood to emerging adults.” 

Throughout the meeting, the How To Life Movement was mentioned – a ministry founded on the desire of its founder, Jordan Whitmer, that he and his friends would have opportunities to lead. Attendees Benji, Griffin, and Kyler attended a recent How To Life conference event. They came back with several insights into the ministry opportunities that have stemmed from the movement, including Instagram influencers, training opportunities, and opportunities to lead. HTL has spread to many places throughout the world and is planning on coming to New England in the near future. Jordan has been in touch with the Day Foundation about a conference in either February or June. 

Kyler Barr, the facilitator of the meeting, came to us with a few of his insights and burdens at the beginning. His vision is to begin to “bridge the gap” from the Church to Gen. Z, starting in New England, and reaching throughout America. He believes that this has to be done intentionally, together, and inter-generationally. 

Kyler touched on an interesting both/and concept. In one sense, Gen. Z is becoming adults, but in another sense, they are the present generation. Again, in one sense, they may not “feel like they’ve met the marks of adulthood,” but in another sense, they are meant to be part of the Church right now. 

Kyler had us read, talk about, and pray about Psalm 100. For months, it has been an important psalm to him, and he wanted to honor what the Holy Spirit might be bringing to mind for a reason. Psalm 100 is a psalm of praise, joy, and thanksgiving. And it ends with the statement, “His faithfulness continues to each generation.” This discussion lead into the next topic through reflection on the fact that “the Lord is the primary actor” (Benji). God is already working. Starting with praise, we can ask the question, “where is God moving and how can we join” (Dennis)?

One of the topics of conversation revolved around what the church should know about Gen. Z. In summary, our thoughts came down to the fact that this generation is hungry for knowledge, mentoring, reform, belonging, community, identity, and healing. It is not our job to get them to want good things – they already want them. It is our job to direct them to the Source. For this generation, social media and anti-depressants are sources of dopamine, CrossFit is a source of “community,” and YouTube is a source of “truth.” Gen. Z is not looking for the wrong things; they are looking in the wrong places. We have the opportunity to redirect.

In their search for knowledge, Gen. Z values multiple perspectives. As opposed to the more black-and-white thinkers of past generations, Gen. Z is more nuanced in their ideas – even when it comes to understanding orthodoxy. Oftentimes, this is because they value the perspectives of multiple voices. As far as their preferred medium for receiving knowledge, “Storytelling is the primary metric of this generation” (Kyler). 

Gen. Z tends to appreciate a kind of mentorship unfamiliar to the generations before them, but similar to the mentorship style of Jesus. This kind of mentoring could be called an apprenticeship, an internship, or even a coaching relationship. Kyler used the term, “adventure guide,” to describe a mentor who empowers and equips their mentee for servant leadership.

Griffin spoke of the movements close to the heart of Generation Z as “Kingdom principles, ripping out the King.” Gen. Z knows the world is broken and wants to fix it. We don’t have to convince them. What we do have to do is provide the Answer – put the King back into the story. The answer is not to join the movements that the world is starting, but to lead the world to the solution to their concerns – the gospel. Culture can inform our conversations, but our job is to conform the narrative of the culture to meet the gospel. Inspired by the Apostle Paul’s commitment, “we preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). This should be our main focus. Our gospel-centered message is relevant to specific issues of the culture, and it goes eternally beyond those issues. And when it comes to side issues that are nuanced and often misunderstood, it may be a good idea to make those conversations one-on-one rather than group-focused. 

What is the Church providing in terms of truth, belonging, community, and healing that distinguishes itself from the world? Kyler put it this way: “The things being sought are the things that the Church can and should provide.” As far as providing truth, we don’t need to avoid talking about the hard stuff and the complicated topics. Gen. Z is already getting the perspectives of their coworkers, YouTube, Instagram, and college professors. We need to have the same conversations. But when we do, it needs to be done with the intent to understand the perspective of the younger person. Non-judgmental listening may prove that younger generations have more in common with older generations than we think. After all, human beings as a whole are the same at the core. As far as healing, mental illness is a main concern of Generation Z. As a result, counseling is in high demand. Because counseling is holistic, it requires a spiritual aspect. The Church has a responsibility to take part in providing it. We have the answer – the Healer of our souls. Gen. Z already knows that people are broken. We have the opportunity to offer the hope of the Redeemer. As far as community, the answer may be in the church becoming less singularly Sunday-focused.

As a team, it is our desire to help churches understand the need to recalibrate. Local pastors need to feel the burden we feel. We need to help them see it. Rick believes that pastors need to feel the pain we feel for this generation: “Real change follows real pain.” It is important to remember that the desire to get youth involved in the church is not one-sided. As a generation that doesn’t “feel like they’ve met the marks of adulthood (Kyler),” the issue is often that Gen. Z tends to feel like they don’t have a place in the church. We can create opportunities for leadership for Gen. Z in the church, encourage youth toward leadership, and empower Gen. Z voices in the church. While all tasks that belong to the church are necessary, and none are below a true servant of God, it is important not to reserve only the easy or “unimportant” tasks for young people.

Before we ended, we formed into small groups for a time of prayer. It was refreshing to feel along with each other our burdens for Generation Z, and to be able to bring them to the God who holds them. In light of Psalm 100, our prayers could be hopeful and expectant that “God is faithful – He will do it” (1 Thess. 5:21).

What does Gen. Z need from our group? One of the attendees, Tommy Sewell, the Ambassador of Fun at the Word of Life Island, said that the motto of the island is this: “It’s the responsibility of each generation to lead their own generation to Christ.” One idea that we have is that we can help host events at churches that integrate Gen. Z leadership – a catalyst for leading in their own churches on a regular basis. Two ways to do this came to mind. We could join forces with the How To Life Movement or with the ministry of attendee, Colby Hammond, called “Rogue.” Rogue is an annual conference meant to give young adults the opportunity to lead and serve. More broadly, it is meant to be a catalyst for Gen. Z ministering to Gen. Z throughout the year, and an encouragement to young people to get more involved in ministry and more active in their individual churches. The purpose for the name is that those involved are going “rogue” against the low expectations the church has for Gen. Z. 

This Generation Z Summit was the first of many to come. Our vision is that we would continue to be a resource for the group as well as for the church in NE in both the sharing of ideas and practical ministry partnership.

Resources mentioned:

“The Great Opportunity” by Pinetops Foundation

“i-Gen” by Jean Twenge

“Spiritual Leadership” by J. Oswald Sanders

“Evangelism in a Skeptical World” by Sam Chan

NAE podcast episode: nae.org/james-choung-generational-approaches-for-gospel-understanding

Culture Translation: axis.org

Summit #2 February 2, 2022

  • Kyler Barr
    • Reaching Generation Z is not the top felt need of the Church – not because we don’t care about this generation – but because we do not yet have the tools to care for this generation.
    • One way that the Church can be helped is by listening to Gen. Z-ers.
  • Griffin Towle
    • Instead of reinventing the structure of the Church to meet the needs of Gen. Z, we need to focus on “changing the story – not the structure.”
      • “How can we help the Church see Gen. Z as part of the story” in order to help Gen. Z see the Church in a different light?
  • Gen. Z Panel Discussion
    • Based on your knowledge of your personal friend groups, how important are the following issues to Gen. Z (on a scale of 1-5/least-to-most)?
      • Pressure: 4.4
      • Uncertainty: 4.2
      • Sexuality/Gender Identity: 4.1
      • Anxiety: 4
      • Racial Injustice: 3.9
      • Fear: 3.9
      • Political Divisiveness: 3.8
      • Relational Pressures: 3.6
      • Depression: 3.3
      • Substance Abuse: 3.3
      • Money: 3.3
      • Family Issues: 3
      • Self-harm: 2.9
      • Lack of Opportunity: 2.2
      • Environmental Concerns: 2
      • Bullying: 1.9
    • Where and with whom do you feel like you really belong?
      • Smaller groups
    • What is something that people seem to care deeply about?
      • Mental health
    • Why is mental health such a big issue?
      • A cycle: There is such a focus on preaching “self-care” that it has become the main “solution” to mental health issues. In actuality, people with mental health issues can’t take care of themselves; they need group-care/Church-care. When someone with mental health issues tries to help themselves, they are inevitably going to fall into greater depression and anxiety when they are not enough for themselves.
    • What did we miss that we have to talk about?
      • Pornography is no longer something that requires seeking-out. It seeks you out.
      • Everything is at our fingertips except for much Christian fellowship.
      • People don’t know why modesty matters.
      • Gen. Z won’t care about truth until they have an experience with it.
      • Gen. Z is not hungry for “fluffy” messages or “flashy” experiences. We need to meat of the gospel.
    • Does the church address the concerns of Gen Z?
      • No – 8/9
        • The Church is not always aware of the issues that Gen. Z cares about, but when they are, their message is not helpful because it is only an echo of what the world is already preaching. Gen. Z needs the gospel in order for the message of the Church to make a difference.
    • How do you know if a church actually values Gen Z? 
      • If Gen. Z-ers are serving in the church.
    • What should this kind of service look like?
      • Serving alongside – not just doing the jobs reserved for older people
      • Being trained in the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12)
    • How do you know someone from an older generation genuinely cares about you? 
      • Listening
      • Mentoring
        • Training
        • Life-on-life
        • Serving alongside
    • What is your wish for the future of the Church in New England?
      • Church outside of Sunday morning
      • Community rather than mere ritual
      • Bible-centered messages rather than “fluff”
      • Knowing God and making Him known
  • Inspirational People and Organizations in Gen. Z
    • How To Life Movement
    • Word of Life (Tommy Sewall)
    • Rogue Ministries (Colby & Tori Hammond)
  • Discussion Groups
    • Group 1- Equipping & Mobilizing the Church
      • How can we help churches recognize this opportunity and respond well?
        • Identify people (and organizations) who are already “bridge-builders” between the Church and Gen. Z.
        • Make strategic partnerships with these people (or organizations) and our churches (not outsourcing, but joining forces).
    • Group 2
      • How can we provide opportunities for Gen. Z and empower them to thrive?
        • Gen. Z can be the ones to reach Gen. Z.
          • “There is no Junior Holy Spirit” (1 Tim. 4:12).
        • Gen. Z leaders can be supported by older generations through mentorship that is empowering.
          • Training
          • Serving alongside
        • Rogue Ministries
          • A “pan-church” ministry (for the Church)
          • Once-a-year-conference
          • Weekly Bible study
          • Seeks to train young adults for the work of ministry and the building up of the Church
          • A place for community for an age-group without it
    • Group 3
      • How can we catapult missional engagement throughout New England?
        • Draw out from potential Gen. Z leaders what their interests and giftings are.
        • Introduce them to inspirational examples of Gen. Z servant leaders.
        • Day of Hope International Day of Serving
        • Do it inter-generationally.
  • Final Thoughts
    • Relationships are Gen. Z’s driving force for connection.
    • One-day-a-year events should not be the focus, but should be catalysts for ongoing ministry.
    • Churches would do well to consider writing grant proposals for parachurch ministries.
    • Our goal is to ignite leaders to ignite leaders.