Small groups are critical to a healthy church. There we experience teaching, fellowship, prayer, and pastoral care. In that context, life on life occurs. —Dr. Chuck Lawless
Who is Generation Z? If there is one word to describe this current generation it would be diverse. Generation Z is varied in their views on religion, sexuality, and racial issues as compared to previous generations. For the purposes of this article, Generation Z is the group of young people born after the year 2000. According to George Barna, here are some insights on this group:
- 50% are of an ethnic minority .
- Only 4% claims to have a biblical worldview; atheism is prominent .
- Truth is relative; there is no “one true religion.”
- They feel science seems to be at odds with church doctrine, but the church is a place to get “answers for life.”
- Technology, school shootings, and activism are their “normal.”
Why not simply put these young adults in groups with other young adults? Studies show that young people need adult mentors to help them transition out of the youth group in an effort to “graduate” them into adulthood. Also, Maslow’s theory that all of us need a sense of belonging is worth exploring in the church, particularly as it relates to Generation Z and their need for relationships outside their former youth group.
If you are a current youth leader or small-group leader who desires to bridge the gap between generations, there is hope! God can use that desire to reach this generation for Christ (Psalm 71:14-18). A theologically sound small group has the opportunity to help them see church as a viable component of their walk with God. Because of their strong convictions to connect with meaningful organizations, Generation Z will make time for church if they see its importance. Consequently, small groups have the responsibility to ensure that Generation Z will be more excited to enter ministry as adults rather than wandering around in the spiritual wilderness of “What do I do now that all of the fun I had in youth group is over?” In this way, young adults will be less likely to fall away from the church.
What follows are eight thoughts to consider as well as practical ways to include Generation Z into adult small groups.
1. Do Your Homework
Pray, pray, and pray some more. Where is God leading this study? What is his agenda for this small group? While there is value in catering to trends and specific needs, allow the Holy Spirit to operate. Pray for wisdom and that all young adults in the group will have a hunger for God and his word. Ask God to help you lay down your own presuppositions about Generation Z; they need the Lord, even if they don’t know it yet. Share your personal testimony of how God is active in your life and why church matters. Your transparency is key in their quest for sincerity from those who seek their attention. To help them in their Christian walk and to gain insight about them, you may want to conduct a short, anonymous survey. Have everyone in the group fill out this survey and assessment. It will keep the young adults from feeling singled out and you might even learn some important insights about the older members of you group; this is nonthreatening and easier for those who are shy. A spiritual gifts assessment they can take at home will also help them further identify their places in God’s plan. If possible, pair Generation Z students with a former youth group leader who may know them personally. They are more likely to feel included if there is an adult whom they already know. A prayerful partnership with their current youth minister may serve you well in this capacity as small-group leader.
2. Create a Safe Space
In this climate of post-Columbine and post-911, Generation Z needs to be heard and to feel emotionally, physically, and digitally safe. Bullying and suicide are in their online and offline vocabulary. Your small group and ultimately their view of the church at-large loses credibility when these spaces are compromised. Welcome their doubts, anxieties, frustrations, and even their anger with God and the church. Embrace their tough questions and learn together. Share biblical examples of unbelief. Talk about how current Christians and missionaries of various people groups are working in tandem with each other to further the Gospel despite hardships and religious persecution; this puts a real face on human suffering. Keep in mind that social justice activism and protests are the fabric of this generation.
3. Stretch and Personalize Their Understanding of Faith
Introducing Generation Z to historians like Josephus while focusing on apologetics will further solidify the proof of the historical and personal Jesus. Moreover, discussions on how science and faith complement each other are valuable; help them understand that God and science are not enemies of each other.
4. Lovingly Challenge Them to Go Deeper in Their Quiet Time With God
As the small-group leader, you are the facilitator of learning who is pointing them to Jesus in more of a dialogue rather than a monologue of “churchy” anecdotes. You have the precious honor of helping them explore the spiritual markers of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
5. Generation Z Is Compassion and Cause Driven
Allow them to choose a charity or mission to support. Perhaps a study on the book of Micah can invoke their need to see justice in the world; the organizing of civil rights protests from the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may also pique their interests. Also, a study of our stewardship of God’s earth with regard to Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden is worthy of discussion. You could encourage them to start a new ministry at your church based on their passions. Generation Z is very entrepreneurial in their thinking; many are wondering how to “brand” themselves just like famous social media personalities. This creates an opportunity to direct them to Christian vocations; guest speakers who are unapologetically Christian can share how young adults might sync their faith with their livelihood or what college majors to pursue with Christ being their “influencer.” Have them consider, “What do I want to do for God?” This is also a great time for Generation Z to serve together in missions with older members of your small group; intergenerational camaraderie is vital to their spiritual growth, too. Linking Generation Z with more seasoned prayer partners is a way to foster this.
6. Technology is Their Lifeline
It has been said that the cellphone charger is the umbilical cord for Generation Z. In your approach, allow them to use the Bible on their phones. Digital, easy-to- read, quick-reference guides can be helpful, too. Assign a social media manager for your group to tweet a quote or Scripture from your time together. Let them lead a session using technology that is user-friendly for the older adults in the group. Some may want to create an app as well, or share photos on a group Facebook or Instagram page. Additionally, you can FaceTime or use Zoom calls and Google Hangouts to stay connected with those who miss a session.
7. Challenge Generation Z and the Older Adults to Step Outside of Their Comfort Zones
Encourage each age group to share their faith with someone outside of their peer group. Have non-digital days with group activities. Times of reflection may include journaling with those artifacts also known as pencil and paper! Possible writing prompts could include letters to God expressing their fears and anxieties about our world. To keep these relationships thriving after the small group has ended, appoint someone to be in charge of follow-up with reunions, prayer chains, and quarterly care packages for college students. The goal of this venture is to create lifelong connections and faithful members in the body of Christ. As you plan, think of the long-term reach of this ministry.
8. Trust God with the Results
Do your best, and let God do the rest! Your effort is the extension of the heart of every youth minister who desires to see young people serve. Even when there are setbacks in how young adults are engaging the small group, we can find peace in knowing that God is so sovereign that he cares about every generation, young and old.
-Mrs. Antoinette H. Mosley (MDiv), known as “Miss Toni” to her students, has served as a youth minister for nearly 20 years. She is the Developmental Editor for Urban Ministries’ (UMI) Jesus and Me (J.A.M) youth Sunday School curriculum. She resides in Cincinnati , Ohio with her husband.