I’ve been in young adult ministry for just about a decade. It’s obvious to me that many of the frustrations in our society are the direct result of how The Church mismanaged our opportunities to minister well to so many in the Millennial generation. That generation is getting older now, and Gen Z is starting to come into “young adult ministry” view. This short article is not a how-to, per se. But I’d like to go on record and say what I think are the coming challenges to ministering to young adults in our modern time.
Generally, the Millennial generation was appalled by the hypocrisy of the church. They believed what the church said about Jesus, about their uniqueness, and about community, but as they grew older, they didn’t see the church following what it taught, especially in the space of loving others. With some investment in Christ and his message of love, they decided to use their energy and communal voice to try to address this lack of Christian continuity on their own. At heart, they were rebels of the system, untrusting of traditional institutions to really help the world. They would change the system, reinvent it, and in so doing they would leave their mark and change the world. They were innovators and were, for the most part, communal doers and activists.
It is my belief and prediction that Gen Z will not follow this trend. Gen Z is not concerned with the church’s hypocrisy. They don’t have enough stake in the church’s messaging for a “hypocrite” charge, and so are not able to balance what they see coming from the church. In an era of declining church interest, and therefore shallower (or better, hollowed out) attractional church teaching methods, they do not have a strong idea of “Jesus” to dictate expectations. For them, it’s all about results.
With no investment to encourage protecting the church against its perceived failings, they will seek to expose what they think are the dangers of Christianity to society. They will do this using their minds and souls (not their heart and strength, like the generation before them). They will form old and new arguments against the Bible and the Christian religion altogether through deeper study and research than the generations before them. They will pick at them and attack their trustworthiness, validity, and authority through argumentation. This argumentation will not about intellectual prowess, and winning arguments. It will be about what can be trusted for the greatest good.
Most Gen X and Millennial Christians will not be ready and able to respond. Gen Z will not be impressed by the beauty of orthodoxy and theology, nor with the communal affections or emotional highs. Orthopraxy will be their concern. Unlike the generation before them, Gen Z will seek to master the institutions, not rebel against, or rebuild them. They will interrogate the past and present institutions, seek to stabilize them, and then find new, innovative ways to exploit them for their pragmatic, long term purposes.
Where the challenge for Millennials was failed because we refused qualitative relationships that communicate real value (which was the height of hypocrisy for those who follow a God who “so loved the world” through Jesus), ministerial success of Gen Z will not come from relational equity and value. It will come from a sort of moral, or dare I say, spiritual, pragmatism. They will be a generation willing to sacrifice for what they deem is worth sacrificing for: a pragmatic, moral cause.
Thusly, if we cannot answer these simple questions for Gen Z, then we will have failed to meet them where they collectively are.
- Is God good or is He not?
- What practical good is Christianity?
- Why is faith so important in the face of fragile material evidence?
- Is Christianity a viable pathway for a successful society?
- Why is the Bible something I should listen to?
- What is the practical outworking of this “Holy Spirit” in the lives of people?
- What does God and the Bible say about the proper use of systems and social power?
- Can we really trust Christianity?
I don’t see this as a hopeless scenario. It’s actually a great opportunity (as was the situation with Millennials). In many ways, if we can introduce Gen Z to the gospel of salvation AND provide clear pictures of the pragmatic good effects of the lived out sanctification process guided by scripture and the Holy Spirit in us, then it is my belief that they will be willing to sacrifice their lives to Christ in ways that could even surpass the legacy of the early Boomers, from whom we are still enjoying a sort of social foundation in the areas of passion, resources and influence.
But if we don’t embrace the reality that the Bible nor Christianity doesn’t have social benefit-of-the-doubt in this country, and continue our trajectory of protecting a preferred position, if we don’t understand that we no longer are entitled to be seen as the moral authority, that we will have to earn our authority in the court of public research and pragmatic opinion, then we will not only miss helping Millennials be ready to disciple Gen Z, but we’ll also miss the intellectual and pragmatic questions of Gen Z altogether, and lose them. And if that happens, we will have missed two of the largest generations our country has ever seen.
It’s a 1 Peter season we are going into. We should understand that and adjust accordingly. Or, we can keep ignoring these huge generations and continue complaining about how bad their choices are, while fighting for political power and relishing the “good ole’ days.”
This piece originally appeared on the Website for Wayhouse Media on May 31, 2021. Matt Allbritton, the owner of Wayhouse, has joined the contributing authors at Faith on View. Essays previously published by Wayhouse Media are being republished on Faith on View.