They are described as the loneliest, most socially awkward, identity-confused, and least religious generation America has ever seen. Yet, on the flip side, they are the most educated, diverse, and justice-driven generation that America has ever seen.
Earlier this year, The Asbury Revival took place. From everything I have looked at and read about this revival from people, pastors, and sources that I trust, it appears this revival was unique. It was not a revival filled with the more extreme outer gifts of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t feature great world-class preaching or even stellar worship performances.
It has been called a “repentance” revival, and it was entirely led by Generation Z.
Celebrity pastors and news media stations who tried to participate in this revival have not been welcome. This was not a time for others to make a name for themselves. Instead, it turned into a sweet time when there was a genuine, authentic pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Generation Z.
Jon Tyson, a man who has studied revivals for years, said, “It is a revival from Gen Z, for Gen Z, to Gen Z.”
And, frankly, I’m really encouraged by this.
Amid all this beauty, it’s been met with as much cynicism, skepticism, and unbelief that God is at work in Generation Z. Frankly, these sentiments double down on what I’ve been feeling for the better part of the last few years.
Overall, the church — and those in the church — badly misunderstand Generation Z.
Not only this, but we are not doing our part to build them up in the way they ought to be built up. Furthermore, we are doing far more damage than we may perceive.
For my part in that, I want to join with the repentance revival of Gen Z and say, “I’m sorry. I want to do better. I want to change.” And I want to do everything I can to stir up other older generations like me to join me in repenting, changing, and doing better in the future.
My goal in this blog is that you believe in and fight for the next generation. You might think they are uninterested in having you fight for them. The popular opinion is that Gen Z wants to be independent and do their own thing. The truth is that this generation wants us to fight for them. I’ll show you that in this blog through a rather painful research project that Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL, commissioned. Then, I’ll share with you four practices, or ways, that you can fight for the next generation.
We all have a role in fighting for the next generation, whether we are 12 or 90.
Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a neighbor, a fellow church member, a pastor, or a student, everyone has a part to play in pouring into, developing, and believing in the next generation. So how do we fight for this generation? What does it look like for each one of us to faithfully steward the next generation to become world-changing disciples of Jesus?
Here’s a guide to the birth years of the generations in America today:
If you still think Millennials are the young up-and-comers, they’re not. Millennials have already started to turn 40. I’m raising my hand on that one and soaking in the last few months of my thirties right now!
Gen Z is one out of every four Americans — 74 million people.
Here are some statistics about Gen Z when it comes to faith:
- 2 out of 3 are currently leaving the church or have left the church.
- They are twice as likely to become Atheists.
- Only 9% of Gen Z youth read their Bibles regularly.
Those statistics could look better.
Here’s the truth: we don’t just have an obstacle but also an opportunity.
It’s time for the church and the people of God to step up into this moment.
We were born for such a time as this. The Bible is filled with opportunities and people stepping up at the right moment. One of those is Nehemiah. I’m grateful for Pastor Chris Hodges opening my eyes to his connection to this moment we are in when he preached a sermon entitled, “They Want us to Fight for Them.”
Nehemiah is not the last book in the Old Testament. Still, it is the last story in history recorded in the Bible before Jesus came. To frame it into context, Israel was taken into Babylon exile or captivity, beginning in 605 BC and culminating in 597 BC. Israel was decimated; the walls were torn down. Babylon was then conquered by Persia in 537 BC by King Cyrus. In the first year of his reign, he allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. Ezra and Nehemiah were the prominent leaders in this temple rebuild.
Nehemiah is the cupbearer to the king. And, on most days, that’s an excellent profession, but think about it… there were lots of plots to kill and assassinate kings, and one of the ways in which this could have happened was by poisoning the king. And so, it’s actually a dangerous job. But, anyway, Nehemiah had favor from his king. He was allowed to go back and rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah is a book about rebuilding a broken nation, a nation. Is this a picture of our country? The tendency is to look at the next generation and those who are younger and either blame them for everything you think is wrong or just let them figure it out for themselves. Neither is appropriate. It’s time to rebuild what was broken and fight for them. As Nehemiah says in Nehemiah 4:14
“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.'”
I love the order of this. Nehemiah starts by looking and recognizing there is an issue. Rather than freaking out, panicking, and getting discouraged, He remembers that God is on His side. And then, after acknowledging God, He fights. That order is essential. God is with us, and so we fight against injustices, and we fight for the broken-hearted.
A study commissioned by Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL, opened my heart and ears to this more than anything. The study, which received thousands of responses from Gen Z’ers, was simple. It was one statement:
“I wish my parents knew ___________.”
Here are a number of their responses:
- Even though my actions don’t always show it, I desperately want to please them.
- How much I love you even though I don’t always say it.
- How much I treasured their advice even when I acted like I couldn’t care less.
- My dad knew how much I loved holding his hand, even when I would act like it embarrassed me in front of my friends.
- When they wouldn’t let me date a guy, and I acted mad, I was really thankful that they were fighting for me.
- Instead of threatening to punish me, I needed them to do it.
- When I saw them fight all the time, it really messed me up.
- Their words impact me more than any others. Things they don’t remember saying have changed my life.
- I wish I could be open with them about my mistakes.
- The evils I face every day.
- How hard it is to stay pure.
When I read these repeatedly, how can my heart — how can your heart — not stir for this next generation? It’s time for the spirit of Nehemiah to rise up in all of us as we fight for this next generation.
As Chris Hodges says, part of fighting is building a plan and educating everyone involved.
So, what’s the plan? What practices can we all participate in some way, shape, or form?
I suggest four ways we can fight for Generation Z.
- Be Positive
Every generation is made fun of and mocked when they are young. Yet, as they get older, they become extremely worried about the next generation, possibly even making fun of the generations younger than them, in turn. Why do we tear down what is coming?
We should be excited about what is coming next and do our part to make it better.
Our opportunity here is to be optimistic about our words for the next generation. When something exciting happens like an Asbury Revival, rather than jumping to cynicism and skepticism, can’t we celebrate it?
The one line of the study that stuck out to me the most was this one:
” I wish my parents knew their words impact me more than any others. Things they don’t remember saying have changed my life.”
Our words have power. So, why would we want to discourage the coming generations? Don’t you care about the faith of those that come? If you did, then why would you like to undercut them? Just because they do things differently than you? Just because they are younger?
Be positive about them; tell them who they can become. I remember a little book by John Eldredge. In it, he talks about the one phrase every father needs to tell his sons, but this extends generationally. So here it is…these five words, “You have what it takes.” Please do whatever you can to tell them they have what it takes.
Gen Z places a high value on mentorship and adult role models with one caveat: they need to trust the older adult. They want us to fight for them. They need our positive words.
Biblically speaking, there is nothing better you can do for the next generation than prayer. God isn’t worried as He looks down on His world and the coming generations, thinking everything is doomed. God’s in control.
Prayer is not a last line of defense; it’s a first line of offense.
The moment we see injustices, hear of brokenness, and our hearts are stirred, all of these are opportunities to give it to God and put it in His hands.
The most significant difference you will make in this world is by your prayers. Why? Because then it’s not in your power but God’s power. We can’t save the next generation; only God can.
There are many things in the next generation you can pray for:
- More family brokenness
- Less church than ever before
- Less Bible reading
- Increasing pace of culture changes
- Increase in technology
- The loneliest generation to live
- Anxiety levels that rival psychiatric patients in the 50’s
Just think of how confusing it is to live in this world as a child or teenager right now. They’re the most diverse generation in American history, racially, sexually, and theologically. With that comes higher regard for pluralism, tolerance, and equality. Confusion exists regarding LGBTQ rights, immigration, the environment, and women’s and gender equality. They’ve grown up with a mass school shooting every single year of their life. That’s just normal for them. That shouldn’t be normal.
God, we need you.
Directly after the first temple was built by Solomon, the Lord appeared and said this, from 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Unfortunately, the people of God didn’t do this. And that’s why they needed a temple rebuilt. That’s why a Nehemiah was required. I don’t know or care exactly how we got here, but America is far from what God wants from us, and it’s time we rebuild. And it starts with prayer.
3. Prioritize church*
We need to prioritize church, but I have an asterisk by it. So, let me tell you about the asterisk first. The following is from Relevant Magazine, talking about Gen Z and its relationship with the church.
“Of Generation Z — people born after 1996 — 34 percent identify as atheist, agnostic or non-religious. It’s the highest figure of any generation ever.”
When naming key components of their identity, only a fifth of Gen Zers name religion… Young people are drawing back from — if not running from — church as their predecessors know it.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
Here are more numbers: Nine out of 10 people say the American Church is too judgmental, and 85 percent described it as hypocritical.
A third of people said the American Church is characterized by “moral failures” in leadership, and a startling 70 percent found the Church “insensitive to others.”
The question here isn’t, “How can we draw the next generation back into church?” The question is, “Can we blame them for not showing up?”
So, my asterisk is I don’t want to draw Gen Z into a “normal” church, or church as it was.
The model of church in America from Gen Z’s perception is broken.
Rather than blaming them, can’t you see that Gen Z is not necessarily fed up with Jesus, but they are fed up with inconsistent, inauthentic, monotonous churches. And they run from things, especially institutions that are hypocritical.
If you are a church leader reading this, here is my plea. You don’t have to be — and ought not to want to be — the church of the past. Authenticity, honesty, and transparency are better than creating a fancy building that is inauthentic, new, and shiny that they can see right through. Let’s admit we haven’t had it all together and won’t have it all together in the present and future.
Churches are places where it’s okay to not be okay. We trust in the power and grace of God to not only help all of us and still make beauty out of the mess.
If you are a parent or guardian reading this, here is my plea. Your child, the next generation, needs to see you model what faith looks like and be a consistent example. Part of keeping your faith primary is choosing a church and attending regularly. Having that rhythm that no matter what happens in the world, you come and hear the Good News of Jesus in your lives. You have to prioritize church, attending regularly, and living it out.
Attending and being a part of a local church, while not the only spiritual discipline to model, is still crucial in the next generation’s lives. It’s so essential for your kids to see you worship.
Too many Millennial and Gen X parents choose other good things over the best. There is nothing wrong, inherently, with children’s sports, activities, and hobbies. But, if these are taking precedence over regular church attendance and faith rhythms, you have disordered loves in your life. It’s a weird witness to Generation Z to show up half-heartedly and infrequently to church and expect them to love the church.
If the world and the next generation are riddled with anxiety, what is the antidote to all of this? It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. They live in a world filled with negativity and bad news, (which, again, is why we need to be positive). The church is where we can consistently put ourselves in a place to hear the excellent news of Jesus. Over and over and over again.
4. Provide Opportunities
Lastly, here’s something about Gen Z that is incredibly intriguing. More than any generation prior, they want to be producers, not consumers. This generation loves experience and challenge. Don’t be afraid to ask them to give, love their neighbor, and memorize a verse.
Gen Z has an incredibly high turnout for volunteering regularly. They stand up against injustice better than any generation. And, because of how they are growing up, they will likely have the ability to do more than any generation prior. These kids are smart, they’re savvy, they’re helpful. They’re creative. There’s a study that 72% of high schoolers want to be entrepreneurs. They’re different. And that’s a good thing.
Statistically speaking, this may shock some of you, but Gen Z drinks less, smokes less, and has less sex than any previous generation.
The best way to lead this next generation is not to suppress the evil out of them but to elevate the good in them. The way we can disciple them is to provide opportunities.
What if, rather than telling them not to date someone else, we can get them thinking about smuggling Bibles into foreign countries? What if, rather than limiting their screen time, we encourage them to think about how to build an App that can help fight human sex trafficking? What if, rather than telling them not to drink alcohol, we can spur them to think of how to build water wells for those who don’t have it?
Let’s turn things over to the next generation. Let’s stop holding on, give them opportunities, and see what God does in and through them. Let’s be cheerleaders.
Suppose nothing changes, and we keep going. In that case, the church and Christianity in our state and nation will continue to decline and lose their influence. Pretty soon, we will be in the minority because of our beliefs. That’s where all the graphs are trending, by the way. It should happen sometime between 2050-2070. You might think that’s far off, but it’s not. It’s one or two generations away. And truthfully, the most critical generation to combat this trend is Generation Z.
So, as I watched what happened at the Asbury Revival, I was excited to see them stepping up. The Holy Spirit is stirring inside of them. Part of me really wanted to be there, but it wasn’t for me. It was for Gen Z. So, I’ll keep sitting on the sidelines and playing my part to encourage the next generation.
Gen Z, despite all the hands that you have been dealt, you are now leading the way for the rest of us. Well done.
So, yes, I’ll keep cheering for you. But I’m not just going to cheer. I’m going to fight for you as well. Will you?