3 Key Markers Of Generation Z

3 Key Markers Of Generation Z

This past week Barna, in a partnership with Impact 360, launched a critical study about the trends of the newest generation of students we are ministering to: Generation Z. It seems like just when we thought maybe we had ministering to Millennials figured out, that generation ended and a new one took their place. Just when we thought maybe we all had a handle on the latest cultural trends, the challenges students are confronted with, and the overall direction our culture is headed; we were handed an entirely new set of rules to play by.

This study should be considered the new rulebook. No, it is not the definitive research project. And yes, things are going to continue to change faster than we feel we can keep up. However, the insights of this study point out some important and fundamental changes that are happening in youth culture, and although we cannot necessarily see what is over the horizon, Barna and Impact360 are helping to point us in the right direction.  

But don’t just take my word for it. Get the study.

But in the meantime, I wanted to offer a few critical take-a-ways from David Kinnaman and his team; and what it means for those of you with your boots on the ground. After looking at the study, talking with Barna and Impact360, there seem to be three key markers or trends that not only introduce us to Generation Z but also provide for youth leaders the necessary knowledge to help all of us best walk alongside our students and build relationships that translate into discipleship.  

Quiet down their lives, and you will find that they open up.

Big surprise. Students are busy. But it is not just busy. Students are consumed. And let’s face it, screen time is not going to decrease. The digital world is more a part of their lives than any generation before them. Not only are they native users, but for many of them, their millennial parents were as well. Lightening fast technology, face recognition software, voice commands in the home are all part of their lives. These are not revolutionary—they are normal.

These students are more connected than ever, but they are also lonelier than ever. However, all this tech means students are beginning to once again find value in just hanging out. Many of them are rediscovering the advantage of the organic community that we created because we had nothing else to do. When we show students how to disengage with tech, quiet their lives down a little, they begin to find community in more traditional means, and they start to open up.

They have to figure out faith in a post-Christian culture

For the first time in history, the United States is post-Christian. More people identify with something other than Christianity than those who do--which means that many more students today have never even been exposed to church. Now before you go and lament about the moral decline of our culture, there is a positive here. Maybe more now than ever, our students are coming to us with a blank slate. They have far less information about the church, which can mean far less baggage, hurts, or hang-ups about the church. We can introduce them to biblical and authentic gospel. They have a chance to see Jesus for who he really is.

They have a high view of justice, yet most deny the existence of absolute truth

Now you might not see that see this as all that surprising. And to some degree you are right. I wasn’t surprised to see GenZ’s high value of justice. The same is true of Millennials. And that is encouraging. After all, God is justice. And the very notion of justice speaks to a high sense of moral calling and responsibility.  

But what is surprising is that although they value justice, the majority of students do not believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Yeah, you read that right. They value justice but deny truth. And my guess is that you see something incredibly inconsistent and contradictory in that idea. To seek the concept of justice, you have to assume an absolute standard by which to judge what is just and what is not. No absolute truth, no justice. 

But just look at the culture they are interacting with every minute of every day. Whether it is the sheer volume of information, the media, entertainment, or just the greater socio-economic and racially diverse world they live in. Truth is hard to come by much less nail down. So for youth leaders, it is not only about being sure that we communicate truth, it is making sure that we are careful about how we communicate it.  

These are just three insights that I found helpful. But there are so much more. These students are finding their sense of self in vocation, rather than in family. They are dealing with issues of gender identity, and are incredibly motivated by achievement. They are more skeptical, embrace diversity, and cherish friendships. And as with every generation, they are unique. At first glance of this report, it almost appears dark and depressing. But the more I dug in, the more hopeful I became.

Our calling as youth leaders is the missional responsibility of bringing the gospel into the lives of students. That means wherever they are, our lives and our ministry must serve as curators of the gospel message into their culture and context. Embrace the challenge. It is kingdom work. It is why we do what we do.

Steve Kozak

Executive Director of AwanaYM

Steve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology and apologetics from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters degree in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve is also an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak


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