The consistent decline in church attendance over the past few years has been largely blamed on a lack of faith among millennials. Nearly 4 in 10 young adults claim no religious identity. Six in 10 say they stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood religion, according to a 2016 study by the Public Religion Research Institute.
But there are signs that the 18- to 24-year-old Generation Z, the generation following millennials, might end the trend. At least the seeds of that thinking can be found across the pond.
A major new survey of 4,087 British adults on their attitudes toward religious people revealed that those of Generation Z are less likely to have a negative perception of Christians than millennials are.
Researchers found those in the ‘Gen Z’ age group—what many consider the first genuinely post-Christian generation—are most likely to agree that they have had a positive experience of Christians and Christianity (51 percent), are the most likely to report that they go to church services (33 percent), and also feel comfortable discussing their religious beliefs with people at work (62 percent).
Conversely, they are also the the most likely to report that being an atheist or non-religious is ‘more normal.’
“The churches are addressing basic moral and existential questions that are very important for people in their late teens and early 20s,” Simon Oliver, Van Mildert professor of divinity at the University of Durham, told the Telegraph, “questions about identity, meaning of life and vocation. We are addressing them in a way that they are not addressed in the current education system.”
The results have many believing Gen Z is showing the greatest openness and positivity towards faith.
Reaching Generation Z
Kolby Milton a youth worker in British Columbia, Canada, has written that Gen Z puts great importance on what their friends are talking about. That underlines the importance of Christian students understanding the gospel to influence their friends. And along those lines, reaching Gen Z means answering the questions they are really asking. Given the fact that Generation Z is the first post-Christian age group in America, that might mean answering a lot of questions.
Too many Christians view their young people as entertainment seekers, said James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. As a result, churches tend to over-entertain their youths.
“We thought if we could make church entertaining for kids we would keep them,” Smith said. “But really, I think all that means is we keep them in this sort of ‘Jesus club.’ I don’t necessarily think it means we’re making disciples.”
He encouraged youth leaders to honor the intelligence of their children and not “dumb things down.” Rather, believers should challenge their church’s youths and give them opportunities to serve.
Jaquelle Crowe, writing about her generation for The Gospel Coalition, provided a laundry list for reaching her peers:
“What we need is to see the church loving one another. We need to see Christians of all generations (especially older, wiser generations) in covenant together remaining faithful in an unfaithful culture. We need to see the church standing up for biblical truth and not compromising their convictions. We need the church going out to reach the lost and bringing them in to grow and be fed in the context of the community. What we need is to see the church being the church.”