What Will “Generation Z” Look Like?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations with different people about generational differences between Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millenials (Generation Y). The conversations have centered around how these different generations “do church.” As the conversations continued, I realized, very soon, there will be kids from “Generation Z” in our youth groups.

So I began to ponder, what will Generation Z look like? What will be their quirks, worldview, connection with technology, felt needs, and attitudes? So this post is completely speculation:  my prediction of what the next wave of students will look like. My opinions are based on my experiences with the last wave of Millenials (who I think will be very similar to the first wave of Gen Zers) as well as where I see technology and culture going.

Defining Generation Z

Different sources date generations differently. For the most part, however, I will define Generation Y (Millenials) as those born between 1982 and 2001 (I chose 1982 because it’s the year MTV came out, and 2001 because of 9/11). Paul Jensen, the author of Subversive Spirituality, has a similar definition of Generation Y.

Generation Z, therefore, are those born 2001 and later. For now, I haven’t decided on an end date for Gen Z, thought I would expect it to be between 2015 and 2020 (about 20 years, the same length of Gen X and Y).

So, for the most part, Generation Zers will have always lived with:

  • the war on terror
  • the progressive legalization of gay marriages
  • ubiquitous high speed internet
  • touch screen cell phones with photo and video cameras
  • text messaging
  • social networking (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube)
  • easily accessible personal photos and videos via social networking sites
  • cutting on an epidemic level
  • access to anything via the internet

Characteristics of Generation Z

Mobile social networking – If the fear of Generation Y was that they would stay home on the computer doing MySpace all day, Generation Z will take social networking with them on the go on their cell phones. If social networking websites want to continue to be relevant, they need to adapt to mobile devices. More than ever, people will be “connected” via mobile devices.

Implications for ministry – There are times when we need to turn our phones off, yes, but maybe we can also ask the question:  How can we use the students’ phones and iPods as teaching tools? Perhaps we can use these tools during the week as well, and make discipleship more mobile. Having a Bible app on their phone means they always have access to a Bible. Text messaging allows us as youth leaders to send out encouraging notes or reminders to spend time with God. Taking photos on a phone during a youth event can be immediately viewed by parents at home. What other ways can we utilize mobile devices in ministry?

High sensory interaction with technology - The iPhone and the Wii are simply precursors to technology that will become increasingly more sensory-based. Students even today are used to using touch, sound, and sight when interacting with technology. It will become an expectation.

Implications for ministry – Because of the Incarnation, our Lord is very tangible, “Behold!” “Hear my words,” “Put your hand in my side.” Yet sometimes our ministries are not very tangible. How can we make our programs more interactive? I don’t mean discussion groups or creative prayer experiences, but how can we lead students to place their hands into the side of Jesus?

Knowledge will be more about the ability to find relevant answers rather than actually knowing answers – Don’t know something? Google it. Google it from your computer, your phone. Don’t know where that one verse is in the Bible? Biblegateway it. Retention of knowledge is more for presentations and tests than for longterm knowledge, so long as that information is readily available.

Implications for ministry – As much as we press for Bible memorization, I don’t think kids will value it as much if they have a Bible on their phone or iPod. Is Bible memorization important? I think we should shift our focus from memorization to practical application. Can kids read the Bible for themselves and have them interpret what it means for their own lives?

Little distinction between the online world and the real world – There used to be an unwritten rule, “What happens online, stays online,” but that is no longer the case. Soon, it will be, “What happens online is just as good as happening in real life,” especially if we primarily access the internet from mobile devices.

Implications for ministry - Ministers will need to learn how to do ministry online with those who they minister to in real life. Yet, they will need to maintain a balance because there are some types of ministry that can only occur in face-to-face interactions. Shane Hipps offers a lot of resources on the connection between faith and technology.

If Generation Y sought after authenticity, then Generation Z will seek after intimacy – That is, to connect authentically with one another. Changes in society and technology is continually requiring us to reinvent how we do relationships. Generation Z will long for intimacy because technology will not satisfy that sort of longing on its own. They will care less about how many friends they have on Facebook and more about how often they connect with those friends.

Implications for ministry – For mid- and late adolescents, they will be less concerned with the size of the youth group and more concerned about the depth of the youth group (depth in a relational sense, not biblical). Depth will mean a place where people can come and be real with one another and be able to connect to one another on a real level.

In Conclusion…

The main similarity of these characteristics is convergence. Technology, experience, time, and space are coming closer together. These characteristics might already be present in the world today, especially among younger students, but I believe they will become more pronounced as time goes on.

So what do you think will be characteristic of students in the future? How will it impact how we do youth ministry?

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9 Responses to “What Will “Generation Z” Look Like?”

  1. Well said, I think we are already seeing the move from “numbers” to “depth.” As a youth worker who has been working with High Schoolers for more than 25 years, I have seen a huge shift of late. I also have seen the youth desire, not someone who looks and acts, or even speaks their language, but someone who willings speaks the unchanging truths of God.
    <>< Craig McCourt

  2. Craig, I appreciate your feedback. You've been doing ministry longer than I've been alive!

    Your observation that kids are looking for someone “willing [to] speaks the unchanging truths of God” is an interesting one. I wonder if it's a response to our pluralistic culture? Maybe they long for the truth of God but need someone to show them what it looks like in our culture? I've also noticed a need for consistency in kids' lives anyway, and I wonder if there is a connection here.

  3. I loved this post. I think that youth today are seeking God through people that are leading godly lives and reaching out to them to have a relationship like Jesus Christ would. I agree that kids are seeking consistency, but I would add that they are also seeking someone who is genuinely interested in them and will pursue them.
    I enjoy your writing and your insight, thank you so much for writing!
    God bless,

  4. Thanks for your compliment! :)

    Yes, there is certainly something to be said about teens longing for adults to be genuinely interested in their lives. How can we show that we are interested without patronizing?

  5. I know that what I do is find out what the kids are interested in and try to meet them where they are at, which I think is easier for me since I am a younger youth worker. One teen that I work with applied to two different colleges, when I found out that the colleges would be playing each other in football I asked her if she knew about it and if she was interested in going to the game with me. She and I went and spent the time talking about school, friends, and just life in general. I let her talk and I listened. I think that is the key to not being patronizing. Even though it's hard to just listen to people, especially youth sometimes, that is really what they are seeking.

  6. That's a great story, what a great idea . :)

  7. Nick,

    I was wondering if you might be interested in contributing to the resource library for the website of the ministry that I work with. I enjoy your insight and your writing style. I would love to get your work out there to more youth workers! If you are interested you can check out our website's resource library (http://www.calledtoyouthministry.com/resources) and you can add a contribution on our contribute page (http://www.calledtoyouthministry.com/node/add/r...). It would be great if you were able to put a few of your past blogs up there, I think you have a lot to offer to others in youth ministry.

    Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
    Thank you again for your work,
    God bless,

  8. I like your implications for ministry sections. As you pointed out, what the next generation will look like is all speculative. But, the key is that whatever they look like, we adapt to meet them where they are at. Not sacrifice the Truth of Christ, but adapt so that we can reach them for Christ. Great post.

  9. I appreciate your thoughts, Tom. Even since writing this post, my speculations are shifting slightly!

    Also, I checked out some of your entries on your blog and I like what I'm seeing. :)