Written by Jena Jekums, Compass Assistant + Writer

Each new generation is shaped by certain events in history, trends, and the generation(s) that raises them. Accordingly, each generation has challenges that differ slightly, or even drastically, then their preceding generation. As members of the body of Christ, the challenge is always how to meet the struggles of a generation and learn from their strengths. If you are close with a teenager, whether a friend or mentee or son or daughter, you already know many of the strengths and challenges of the generation termed, “Gen Z”.

Who is Gen Z?

Gen Z-ers grew up with instant access to technology and information. From birth, they have never known life without smartphones and social media. Along with this, Gen Z is the most racially diverse American generation. Gen Z is known for being a generation of creatives and activists. As online presence amps up, Gen Z craves human interaction and positive face-to-face experiences. Gen Z are also distinguished by their push for toleration and acceptance, and perhaps accordingly, their apathy towards religion.

More and more, Gen Z is becoming known as the “religious-less” generation. For better or worse, this is what the polls are saying. In 2018, 9% of Gen Z respondents reported having a strong Christian faith, while 34% claimed no religious affiliation. Sociologists say the trend toward non-religiousness is here to stay. Unlike many Gen X and Millennials, Gen Z doesn’t tend to have animosity towards religion; rather, they tend to be indifferent to it.

Disbelief in an Age of Information

I recently had a conversation with my best friend’s twelve-year-old sister, Joelle. She told me that it’s really hard for them to believe the stories in the Bible. “Especially the part about God stopping the sun…Like if someone were to tell me in everyday-life that that happened, I’d be like ‘You’re crazy.’”

Before we jump to conclusions, as many have, and make statements such as “Gen Z have no social skills” or “Gen Z are atheists”, we must step back. To be frank, Gen Z knows a lot more than you. Their heads are full of information because they are constantly consuming information. What is going on in Pakistan? What is the food like in North Korea? Another extremist religious attack? What is the latest dance move and how did JoJo Siwa respond to the latest gossip about her? That’s about five minutes of what a Gen Z-er may be exposed to. Among other things, all this information lends itself to a broad view of suffering.

When you consider all that’s in the news each day, it isn’t hard to imagine that Gen Z sees the problem of suffering as a deal-breaker. Gen Z is seeing the complexities of existence and suffering on a broad spectrum and cannot accept a faith that doesn’t acknowledge these. Gen Z values honest transparency. And if religious doctrine doesn’t reflect this while also dealing with the realities of the world, it’s hard for them to take it seriously, let alone ascribe.

Joelle is not crazy for having a hard time believing that God made the sun go out. Her story is reflective of many statistics regarding the objections Gen Z has to religion today. On a daily basis, Gen Z is bombarded with the bleak reality of suffering and indifference in the world. There is a perceived major disconnect between this reality and a loving God who can work miracles.

So what do we do about these data? Do we see the seeming lack of interest of Gen Z and shake our heads? Do we look at their informed doubts and tell them they must believe our specific doctrines and creeds?

Religionless Esthers

This is a bleak prospect. But I’d like to offer that there is a lot of hope in this generation.

Gen Z are advocates and peace-makers, and they inherently challenge our understanding of faith and religion. Their questions surrounding suffering are poignant and informed. We shouldn’t be afraid of Gen Z’s questions and seemingly flimsy understandings of right and wrong. As the leaders of this generation, they spur us not to provide easy answers to complex questions. In an increasingly polarized world, perhaps Gen Z is sort of “religionless” Esthers, called for such a time as this, to be able to see beyond black and white. Gen Z has the capacity to question animosity in order to find the connecting tissue which holds us all together. While millennials, Gen X, and Boomers yell at each other from their respective mountain tops, perhaps we can think of Gen Z as in the valley between us all.

More than anything else, what they need from us is for the church to be the church.

For a Generation to Thrive

All of us, regardless of which generation we’re a part of, need the church to be a place where we can love and be loved. Gen Z needs this too, and they need us to be creative about how we do it.

Gen Z will need to experience authentic Christian faith in many different environments and contexts. Our challenge is to give them real-life interactions and conversations that can give them the experience to match their wealth of knowledge, all with a loving embrace. As Tish

Harrison Warren so beautifully reminds us in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, we have to taste and see that God is really good if we are ever going to really believe it.1

As older members of the body of Christ, we have to create spaces and conversations where Gen Z can feel safe to voice the inconsistencies they find between the faith they’ve been given and the information they process on a daily basis. It is in that context of relationship and safety that they can receive the human interaction that they crave. Perhaps here, they can find space to hear the still, soft voice of God amidst the earthquakes, fires, and floods of this world.

Born on the coast of California, Jena has always been drawn to the ocean. She spent seven months on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, where she completed a Discipleship School with YWAM.  Jena recently completed her degree in Biblical Studies at Gordon College, and she now lives in Gloucester. Since fall of 2019, Jena has served at La Vida as the Compass Program Assistant.