It’s a new week and I’d like to introduce and welcome another one of our newest writers to Vital Signs & Statistics, Rev. Lee Yates!
Rev. Lee Yates is pastor of Covina Community Church and Managing Editor of InsideOut Camp Curriculum. He also serves as a communication consultant for the Southern California Nevada Conference and does consulting with www.FaithShaping.com. Lee is the founder of the VBSCoOp, and one of the authors of Faith Formation With a New Generation. Creativity and authenticity are part of Lee’s ministry as he blends trauma-informed care, social justice advocacy, and faith formation into traditional ministry tools. Lee is the father of two teenagers and married to an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He credits them for most of his good ideas.
A massive research project by Barna, featuring those born between 1995 and 2015, was published in 2018 under the title, “Gen Z.” Due to their evangelical world view, analysis of the data scared the researchers and their funding partners at Impact 360, leading them to make broad sweeping statements about the lack of faith and troublesome worldview of our youngest generation. The good news is that those findings were all grounded in the assumption that relative truth is a bad thing. When we strip away evangelical assumptions, we see a group of people who are pragmatic, diverse, compassionate, and advocates for others. They experience digital communication and relationship building as authentic. I cannot think of a better generational profile for the leadership needed in our Churches.
Diving a little deeper into the study, we notice that technology is not a big deal to Gen-Z. It is simply the reality they have known. They are the first generation to ask their grandparents to get off their phones and play. While they love their screen time, it is not always the distraction we assume. It is often a platform for checking on a friend, following the news or learning something new. Of course, it does have fun games too. Gen-Z is always connected. This relates to their worldview too. Gen-Z are inclusive and think about those whose experience is different from theirs. They are hesitant to define anything as flatly right or wrong but recognize that ethics are situational and that things change over time.
As for their personal identity, this new generation is very different from those who came before. While family and faith are part of their personal identity, they are much lower in their priorities. Personal achievement, hobbies, gender identity, and cultural background are all more influential at this time in their life. Their sense of accomplishment comes from independence and security. Their pragmatic world view even applies to their understanding of adulthood. Being an adult isn’t about a certain age or relationship status. Being an adult, for Gen-Z, means you are financially independent.
As we face a global pandemic and try to find ways to connect, we are pushed to look with new eyes on this generation that we have pegged as technology addicted and socially isolated. Our judgment shifts as we look at them in a new light, seeing they may have been prepared “for such a time as this.” We realized they are prepared to teach us how to build authentic relationships across multiple devices and platforms. They are prepared to model reasoned decision making that includes the needs of others. They are emotionally and socially equipped to show us how to be community in a time of quarantine and fear. On top of all that, they are great tech support!
The challenge is trying to find ways to connect our youth. They have been, too often, left in the basement, told to wait their turn, or only connected to the church by part-time staff who are often not as connected to the Church community as we would like. Suddenly, we are seeing the value of mentoring and sharing leadership with youth, but that doesn’t solve the problem of connecting their gifts and vision into our current understanding of ministry.
Here are some suggestions for utilizing the gifts of youth in the weeks and months ahead:
- Greeters for Zoom worship or other online gatherings
- Recording stories to post and share with children of the Church
- Helping older members access online resources
- Setting up group chats for Church leaders
- Recommending apps and other resources to match new needs
If you want to see more practical applications to faith formation, you can read Faith Formation with a New Generation.