Gen Z Ministry: 21st Century Faith

I put the stack of over 300 pictures on the table and addressed the group of teens at church.

“Come choose a picture that represents your relationship with Christ. Don’t over think it. Take the first picture you are drawn to, then return to your seat and I will tell you the next step.”

Once everyone was seated I asked the group to turn to their neighbor to share about what their picture meant to them. Here was the catch: They were only allowed you use three words. No explanations or details, just 3 words.

At first this group of youth let out a collective groan, but they were up for the challenge. A few moments later I continued, “Now turn to your neighbor once again and picking only one of your words use your picture to explain how you feel about Jesus.”

This was the launching point of our lesson that day in our youth group and an ease swept over the room as we continued on our journey to explore scripture and have a discussion about the Lord. I share this story to help you understand something important that is often forgotten as we discuss Generation Z ministry strategy:

Gen Z wants to talk about God.

We know this Generation lives in a post-Christian world, carries a fear of failure deeper than a black hole, and are technologically tethered. However, these truths do not define them. It is important that instead of becoming naysayers caught up in statistical analysis on how many are leaving the church, we focus on ways we CAN engage youth in Gen Z Ministry to know Christ intimately.

Here are some first steps:

Look Ahead in Gen Z Ministry

Often when we look to engage the next generation, we do just that: we engage the next. This can cause us to get hyper focused on what’s NOT happening in the hearts of youth.

Yet, if we really want to see Gen Z transformed in Christ, we have to look ahead. In other words, as we think about faith formation, we have to see how it will be affected in two or even three generations ahead: to the great- grandchildren of Gen. Z. When we do this we teach Gen. Z how to pass on their faith in a way that their children will pass it on as well.

We must stay grounded in the truth that the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection has no less power today than the day the veil tore and Mary encountered an empty tomb.

Gen Z Ministry requires Intentional Investment

This past summer through a series of events I had five out of every seven days with teens, for about three months. I noticed something infuriating. I would ask questions, even about their opinions, and they would just stare at me.

I hear this a lot about those who are working in Gen Z ministry. I hear a lot of frustrated youth pastors blame technology and the world they are growing up in for disinterested youth.

However, we are missing something vital in our complaints. If they truly didn’t care, they wouldn’t be showing up at all. Maybe everyone isn’t but some are.

Here is the truth I found in the reason behind the staring: They are so afraid of a wrong answer that they won’t give any answer. I also noticed if I ask in a large group where they feel exposed (remember this is a private generation) then it was difficult. However, if I paired them up to discuss something, and then asked them to share, every time I got answers. When I asked them individually, they always had thoughts.

It’s difficult for sure, but we can’t keep thinking that they don’t want to participate. They have deep thoughtful questions, and want more answers. This is a fact.

Start Fresh

We have been following a formula with ministry in reaching youth that looks like this: Games or events to draw them in, large group talk, food, then maybe small groups depending on the program.

There are so many reasons why we need to freshen our approach. However, our knee jerk reaction is to just add technology to the mix and believe this will help us reach Generation Z. Showing a video might draw them in, but it won’t keep them.

Instead we have to go back to the drawing board and be willing to innovate. This generation actually wants to go deeper and have a place to ask really hard questions. They want to know someone will look past the mask they wear and challenge them to be who God created them to be.

Maybe we actually do need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water and do something totally new. Get them talking, create interactions, do anything but don’t accept that they won’t engage.

Learn Culture But Don’t Get Hung Up On It

It is important for those of us in the church to learn about what is going on in the world around us. This is important always.

Yet, I often hear one of two extremes about the current culture. “It’s so debase we must avoid it at all costs,” or “We have to embrace everything about it and run head long into it.”

When it comes to Generation Z , I read an important statement recently in an article about marketing: They are in the middle of culture, but aren’t quite old enough to change it yet. In other words if we get so focused on current cultural trends, we may miss an opportunity to help Generation Z mold it.

So learn about it, this is important. We can’t ignore it because whether we like it or not, Gen Z is growing up in the midst of it. However, don’t get so focused on the way it is that we miss out on a chance to see it transformed for the Lord.

The bottom line in all we do with Generation Z boils down to this: Believe Jesus wants to make them a powerhouse to spread His glory to the rest of the world.

Learn more about Gen Z Ministry in our MasterClasses. 


Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution,The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.


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