Gen Z: A New Generation Rising
Matt Wells, Assistant for Media
Just when you finally started to understand millennials, there’s a new generation rising up.
Some are calling them Generation Z.
We had Generation X (born from 1960-80, give or take). After them came Generation Y (1980-1995) – but that’s too mainstream, and so that generation became known as the “Millennials.” We’ve already written plenty about them and their role in missions. We want to end our series on “Millennials in Missions” this month by looking beyond to the next generation.
Do you remember 9/11? A day most of us could never forget if we tried. If you remembered 9/11 vividly, then you are a Millennial or older.
If you don’t really remember much of the details of that day, you are likely part of Generation Z, born from roughly 1996 until the current day. Instead of 9/11 being the pivotal moment of your young life, you are more likely to talk about the “Great Recession” of 2008 – the day your dad might have lost his job or your family started a very hard financial path that they have still not recovered from.
This generation is just beginning their college and adult years. And researchers and marketers are just starting to figure them out. Are they like millennials? Are they going to vote more conservative or liberal? Are they going to be as global as millennials or more “home-focused”?
Well, no one quite knows yet. Your best bet is to just get to know a Gen Z-er. Perhaps you have one living in your house or you work in a youth group full of them. I was born on the tail end of millennials and have many younger friends of the more Z-stripe, including the middle-schoolers I teach at church. Through these experiences and research, I have been trying to figure out my younger brothers and sisters in Christ.
How will God use this generation? I’ve seen how God is starting to use those of my generation to reach the 10-40 window, to plunge into nations that were traditionally closed to missionaries, to bring glory to Christ by the spreading of His name in very dark places. It’s been exciting to watch.
But when I’m older (and hopefully wiser) and observing the next generation engage in missions, will I be excited? Or disappointed?
Here’s a few very tentative observations about this new generation and how missions might continue with them:
1. They could be more home-focused.
Millennials are notoriously global, as the Internet grew up with us, connecting us to people all over the world via social media. It’s natural that we wanted to go visit the people and places we discovered on the Internet. This interest in foreign traveling has of course been helpful for missions (although time will tell if our global perspective keeps us on a hard field for the long haul).
But Gen Z grew up in the era of the Great Recession. Even if they desire to spend money, they had to go through their parents (likely Gen X) who are a lot more frugal and “safety-conscious.” They grew up in the heyday of “helicopter-parenting.” Go read your typical thirty-something mother’s blog, and you will find a great concern for safety. Gen Z has been raised to wear seat belts, sit in the right car seat, not drink out of BPA-filled water bottles, etc.
The question is – will this safety-trained generation be willing to get outside their comfort zones to share the good news in dangerous places? Perhaps a better question is – will their parents let them go? Only time will tell, but I am confident God will continue raising up missionaries to carry the Gospel to faraway lands.
But there is a reason many are calling this the “Homeland Generation.” In the post-9/11 world, perhaps this new generation will be more focused on the close-by than the far-away. Some would see this as a negative for missions, but it could also be a positive development, because…
2. They will grow up in the most diverse America.
Even if they are more home-focused, perhaps it won’t matter as much. Like no time in history, global is becoming local. And I’m not just talking about the Internet.
America is perhaps more diverse than ever. We are certainly becoming more ethnically diverse with the Hispanic and African-American populations increasing. This is great news for the cause of missions in our homeland, as Gen Z reaches out cross-culturally within their own city.
But at the same time, America is becoming more diverse ethically. Same-sex marriage is barely even questioned by the younger generations, and the transgender movement is gaining traction. Simultaneously, the tumultuous 2016 election cycle proved that America is still a country full of diverse opinions on any number of issues.
Gen Z will come of age in both a divided and diverse country.
What an opportunity for missions and evangelism! We will still need members of Gen Z to leave America for foreign fields where people have never heard of Jesus. But we also have a unique opportunity for Gen Z to step up here in the “homeland” and evangelize an increasingly un-Christian America.
3. They appear to be more individualistic.
One of the reasons demographers are having such a hard time nailing down this generation is because they are so individual. They refuse to be stereotyped.
And they refuse to be like millennials. It’s amazing – when I ask my church’s middle-schoolers if they have Facebook, I get blank looks. Gen Z has either fled Facebook or never gotten on at all. It’s too public. It’s too “old.” Same thing with Twitter. Then what platforms are they using? Well, YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram are all on the rise. Those forms of social media are much more individualistic. You don’t have as many followers and have the chance to send media directly to your close friends.
This is troubling for parents who want to keep their children out of the garbage that can be found on these social media sites. And it may also be troubling for missions. Individualism and self-reliance are great attributes in areas like economics and education, where hard work pays off. Indeed, Gen Z are “early-starters” and are interested in starting their own businesses to raise funds necessary for the increasingly-debt-ridden college experience.
But Christianity does not lend itself well to individualism. Christ saved us to place us in a community of believers for accountability and growth (Heb. 10:24-25). And relationships are necessary for spiritual growth and evangelism – relationships beyond an Instagram “follow.”
Still, time will have to tell whether this generation will be individualistic in a way that cuts off other relationships. Or if they will follow a path closer to millennials where their individualism may drive them to build fewer but deeper relationships. Perhaps all the shallow interaction online will drive them to seek out deeper relationships in-person – like the kind they can experience with Jesus and with His church.
In the interactions I’ve had with Gen Z, I am confident that the latter will be the case.
In a world that is changing as a new generation arises, let’s remind ourselves that nothing really changes for us as believers. The Great Commission is still before us – as Boomers, Xers, Millennials, or Generation Z.
We are still called to make disciples of every nation (Matt. 28:19). Christ is still firmly in control – He has the authority (vs. 18).
And who knows what generation will come after Gen Z moves on! We’re at the end of the alphabet – does that mean the end of the world? They’re going to have a hard time coming up with a new letter for the next generation!
Regardless of what happens or what name they’re given, we know one thing will not change – Christ will be with us, even to the end of an age.
 Some would disagree with me on this. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-beall/8-key-differences-between_b_12814200.html
Nick Mauer, Coordinator of Outreach & Evangelism
I’m a millennial. I was born in the 80’s, grew up in the 90’s, and saw the original Toy Story in the theaters (like 516 times—everybody had a Toy Story birthday that year). I watched 9/11 news footage live, and felt the great recession hit during my junior year of college. I’m on the older end of the millennial generation at age 28, but I try to stay in touch. I want to see fellow millennials fully-engaged in Christ’s mission for His church.
As you can imagine, Satan is not big on the idea of our generation of believers taking missions seriously. In fact, I’m sure he is dead-set on sapping us of drive, strength, and vision for the work that God has called us to. Here are some missions-zeal-killers that we need to viciously uproot and destroy in our lives if we are going to live for Christ's mission:
1.Thinking We Are Something New.
“There is nothing new under the sun.” What does that mean for a discussion of millennials in missions? First, it means we millennials are not substantially different from other generations. We may differ from them in many social, intellectual, and interpersonal ways, but at the end of the day, we are essentially similar. Differences are primarily cosmetic. Solomon said it first, and others have echoed the point more recently. The more we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule, the more we isolate ourselves. Paul spoke into this when he said, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). Application: there are no unique “millennial temptations.” We struggle with the same flesh that every generation before has battled.
Having said that, we do face common temptations in new ways. For example, we especially struggle with…
2.Loving Our Lives
We are the “Life is Good®” generation. Literally. You’ve seen the shirts: “Happiness consists in sunshine, bare feet, and bacon” and all that. I love all three, and we all know we’re just kidding, right? Right? The danger is that, in saying such things, we might actually come to believe them—even just a little bit. The problem for missions is that such thinking destroys self-denying zeal for Jesus’ mission.
Nothing will kill the missions-usefulness of the millennial generation faster than clutching our lives. Life is something you can’t hold onto. It flies away. Poof. Done. Over. And if you live with it clutched in your hand, you actually lose it in the end. Jesus said, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). Jim Elliot understood this when he penned his most famous words, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
There is plenty of stuff out there to scare us away from giving our lives for the mission Jesus gave us. You want to go to Europe? Terrorist bombings. Asia? Political instability. The Middle East? ISIS. South America? Zika. The neighborhood down the street? Gangs. I could go on.
Here’s the bottom line: living your life for Jesus’ mission will cost you. And as long as we love our lives, we are going to struggle to hand them over—piece by piece—to the Lord.
3.Spurning the Wisdom of the Past
One of my professors from seminary likes to talk about the “Whig fallacy”—the misguided tendency we all have to assume that we are the pinnacles of enlightenment. We all tend to think we’re right about most things. Interestingly, when we grow up around a view, we become expert critics of it, and often begin to look down our noses at those who hold it.
But here’s the problem: We can’t do missions on our own. God didn’t make the church to be one generation deep; He made it to be a like an ancient tree, with deep, old roots and an aged trunk holding new shoots up to the sky. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants. Some of those giants are figures from Church history, while others are our own pastors and parents. We owe them more than we know.
Usually, this generational arrogance cures itself somewhat as we age. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Let’s avoid this error.
What is entangling you? Here are a few things I have seen entangle my own soul or the souls of others I know and love:
5.Giving Up Too Soon
“In due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal 6:9). I think this will be a key verse for millennial missionaries in the coming years. We’re young and idealistic, just like every other generation before us. Each of us will have “Elijah moments” where we realize, “I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). When that happens, we will need to pause, remember 2,000 years of missionaries who have gone before, believe His promises, set our hand back to the plow, and soldier on. The most Ritalin-dependent generation will need to become the most grace-dependent generation if we are to endure until the harvest.
Reaching the unreached peoples of the world, translating the Scriptures into every tongue, and training the global church are attainable goals for the millennial generation with God’s help. But we will need to take care that we guard ourselves and keep our hearts hot for the Lord and for His work.
May He receive the glory due Him—through our generation.
 The origin of this quote is debated, but it makes the point. See http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/10/10/twain-father/
 The song “O Zion, Haste,” by Mary A. Thomson, has encouraged many mothers with this stanza:
Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious;
And all thou spendest, Jesus will repay!
Millennials in Missions, part 2
Mark Vowels, CGO Director
“If you can’t beat them, join them.” Okay, two questions.
Why would we want to beat them? Millennials are the future!
And why would we think in terms of surrender rather than engagement? The truth is, for a variety of reasons, millennials offer great hope for the future of Gospel ministry.
Because millennials value authenticity, they are prime targets for discipleship.
They want to talk, to listen, to be coached, and valued. They want to know you and understand how you make life work. They want to experience your walk with Christ in the same satisfying way you do.
So be open. Be transparent. Be welcoming. Show them what’s under the hood. Let them into your life. They will expect to be treated as an equal – a true brother or sister in Christ – not like a project, but like a friend.
I know a man who is twenty years older than me who is personally discipling around twenty millennials. He devotes most of his time to pouring himself into this generation. They know everything about him and he knows everything about them, and they are growing together into Christ-likeness.
Then, millennials make great disciple-makers.
They thrive on relationships and networks. That spells evangelism and discipleship. By their very nature they make good missionaries. I know a millennial couple here in Greenville that has hosted forty different people in their home this year, just to get to know them and to pursue the chance to show them Jesus.
We don’t have to teach millennials the importance or the methodology for building relationships. It’s in their DNA. No previous generation has such potential in doing the basic work of the Great Commission – making disciples.
In my last post, I said that millennials are disruptive. But that doesn’t mean they are provocateurs. No, they are creative. They are entrepreneurial. They are change agents.
In church, in school, in the work place, or in society, people can see that as a threat or they can see that as a doorway to new ideas, new approaches, and new blessings. Listen to them! Don’t dismiss them! Don’t let cultural or generational differences cause you to miss the gold nuggets in their gravel-filled pans.
Last, millennials are optimistic.
That’s why they leave our churches for places that vibrate with hope. So often we give them a steady diet of gloom and doom.
On the one hand, millennials will shed what seems like an empty shell of tradition in a heartbeat, but on the other hand, they will cling tenaciously to what they believe to be true. They will give of themselves sacrificially to causes in which they believe.
So let’s introduce them to good causes and good ministries. Take time to explain the value and benefit of investing themselves in your ministry opportunities. Don’t expect millennials to just volunteer. Recruit them with good stories and with avenues to contribute, have a voice, and make a difference.
If you just want to fix millennials, I have two responses. One, good luck with that. And two, please don’t tell me. I’m much too busy with a host of opportunities to partner with millennials for the advance of the Gospel.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.