There is old saying, “The human race is always one generation away from extinction.” Meaning, if we don’t reproduce, then we die. Of course, we know that God is sovereign and that He has a will, a plan and a purpose that He will see through. However, on a practical level, the same can be said for the local church. We are always one generation away from extinction. If we don’t reproduce, we die. If we don’t reach the next generation, we cease to exist.
With this in mind, it brings us to the generation that churches must turn some attention to—Generation Z.
Who is considered Generation Z? Most researchers say anyone born from the year 2001 on is now currently a part of Generation Z. However, others believe that September 11, 2001, was so profound on the psyche of all who were alive at the time that they believe a new generation should be marked after that date. I personally tend to agree with this view. So, according to this definition, Generation Z would include anyone born from September 12, 2001, to today—roughly those who are currently in high school and younger.
Of course, like any generational assessment, this extremely broad group will be vastly different in a lot of areas. However, after being in front of tens of thousands of these students every year, I want to offer a list of 10 defining characteristics I’ve seen in them. Keep in mind, the jury is still out: while these attributes are on the radar screen now, the students are still young, and change is always a reality.
- REALIST – Most students I’ve met are “down-to-earth” and very “self-aware.” They are not as overly idealistic as their older Millennial brothers and sisters. They are aware to the reality of ever-changing threat levels caused by terrorism, the ups and downs of the economy, and they don’t want to carry the same generalized labels of the previous Millennial generation.
- VISUAL – For most students, the most preferred communication method has become more and more image-based: emojis, logos, GIFs and memes. The most popular social media platforms for this generation are Snapchat and Instagram—completely image-based. Images break down language barriers. Visuals are also the way in which the brain processes information best.
- TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN – Most students are completely reliant on technology. If you thought Millennials were bad, you haven’t seen anything yet! Most students would rather have a digital conversation than a real-life discussion. They’ll respond to text-messages before they return a phone call. Handwritten notes are torture! Because they’re always online, they can find answers to questions in warp speed. These students can multitask across a few different screens or monitors at once. It’s a challenge to put down our phones, even for 10 minutes to eat lunch. Their smart-phone is equivalent to food, water and shelter. They cannot imagine living without being connected all the time. When you pull their phone away, you have just pulled away their complete source of knowledge and connectedness. They have never known a world without a smart-phone or tablet. It is their pacifier.
- CREATORS – According to Business Insider, 76 percent of Gen Z members are aiming to create jobs out of their hobbies. For this reason, we may see a lot of entrepreneurs come out of this generation. This generation will be open to established careers, if they have the freedom to invent, customize and feel like their career will help change the world around them. In an EY.com interview, Walsh spoke of the gig economy: “One of the most profound changes for organizations is that most people will not be working for any particular company full time. In the United States last year, some 15.5 million people declared themselves freelance. By 2020, some 40 percentof the U.S. workforce is expected to be freelancers.” This changes the way organizations communicate with their hires, as well as the reliance on external resources.
- STRESSED – These students seemed to be more stressed at an earlier age than previous generations. They worry about their online persona, the environment, their education, obligations and hobbies because ultimately that’s how realists operate. However, Generation Z is willing to do something about it. They’d choose stand and do, rather than sit and listen.
- SEEK QUALITY – Quality over quantity is the name of Generation Z’s game. Less is more. They’re incredibly selective in the products of choice, making it painstakingly tedious for advertising marketers to get through to them. They’re likely to know ratings of products, restaurants and movies before adults do. They’ve already seen an Amazon add or YouTube video about it, before they ever head to the store.
- TRANSPARENT – In the minds of these students, there is no room for a lack of authenticity. They have no patience for slick presentations and false personas. They can usually spot exaggerations, inaccuracies and “holier-than-thou” attitudes. In preaching, the more raw, transparent and vulnerable the communicator is, the more Gen Z will connect. There was a time when preachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations; however, this generation wants to hear those personal stories as long as you don’t always make yourself the hero in your stories.
- CHALLENGERS – This generation is pushing the boundaries in nearly every area of life. At the same time, they seem to be more respectful than their older Millennial siblings. They want to work hard and see results, but they also want to make a difference. These students are breaking the stereotypes and reacting against the negative generalizations given to Millennials. They care more about the mission of the organization, business or church than they do anything else.
- ACCEPTING – Most of these students are growing up in an era where social norms have shifted dramatically. Gay is no longer secret and taboo. Transgender is no longer an urban legend or myth. They’ve seen it, are surrounded by it, and it has become personal. In the eyes of this generation, you’re not talking about issues and agendas, you’re talking about Sarah and John. The playground bully is “uncool” and not tolerated, while the “nerds and geeks” are the “cool kids.” It’s more about how culturally aware you are, how many followers on social media you have, what online celebrities you know, and what social causes you support.
- GOSPEL-HUNGRY – This generation is globally minded and want their lives to matter. They are fully aware of their imperfections, evil, hate and injustices. They are an addicted generation, and are looking for solutions, answers and impact. They’re not scared to die young; however, they are terrified to die at a ripe-old-age and have done nothing significant with their lives in their own eyes. As with every generation, the gospel is the answer, and nothing is more impactful than kingdom living!
Generation Z is a hopeful generation. They’re realists, influencers, transparent and hungry for something more than what they have. These have the best of the best at their hands, and they’ve had it their whole life. However, they’re also seeking something more. At the end of the day, Generation Z represents people made in the image of God that desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be discipled by older brothers and sisters in the faith. Titus 2 can be our guide.
This article originally appeared here.