Is Gen Z a lost cause for the church?

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Is Gen Z a lost cause for the church?

December 12, 2023 -

A group of four Gen Z young adults sit next to each other, each one looking at their phone, and each person's head is covered by an emoji. By rzoze19/

A group of four Gen Z young adults sit next to each other, each one looking at their phone, and each person's head is covered by an emoji. By rzoze19/

A group of four Gen Z young adults sit next to each other, each one looking at their phone, and each person's head is covered by an emoji. By rzoze19/

According to the teenagers I’ve served through youth ministry, I’m a very old Gen Zer.

Born in late 1996, I’m either a last-second millennial or an ancient Gen Zer, the generation defined as having been born between 1997 and 2012.

I can relate to both generations. I grew up in an internet-driven world, but I also recall how life looked before smartphones and social media took over the culture.

And so I am writing this—apparently as an elder statesman—out of concern for my generation.

Gen Z is the least religious generation.

According to the Survey Center on American Life, “More than one-third (34 percent) of Generation Z are religiously unaffiliated, a significantly larger proportion than among millennials (29 percent) and Generation X (25 percent).” They are tragically falling away from the church and into the many false hopes the Enemy dangles before our eyes.

But Gen Z has so much potential to impact this world for Christ.

How drastic is Gen Z’s disaffiliation with religion? What are its causes? Where are they turning to for their spirituality? Are there any solutions?

Is Gen Z a lost cause?

Why isn’t Gen Z going to church?

Gen Z’s lack of religious affiliation has led to a steep decrease in their church attendance. In research noted in the Christian Post, “Only 28 percent of Generation Z Americans say they’re committed to attending religious services at least once a month” and only “thirteen percent of Gen Z respondents said they attend services once a week.”

In fact, the decline in church attendance isn’t just beginning. It’s been on a downward trajectory for the last half-century. As noted by Gallup, “​​Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66 percent of traditionalists—US adults born before 1946—belong to a church, compared with 58 percent of baby boomers, 50 percent of those in Generation X and 36 percent of millennials.”

Born to parents of those hailing from the last two generations, Gen Z’ers are more likely to have grown up with minimal church attendance, if any. This lack of exposure and discipline has led to a spiritually uncommitted generation that looks for community and divine enrichment elsewhere.

Additionally, the COVID pandemic resulted in many Gen Z’ers losing touch with their communities, both at school and at church. Many were not eager to return to church when in-person services resumed. According to Pew Research, “The share of all US adults who say they typically attend religious services at least once a month is down modestly but measurably (by 3 percentage points, from 33 percent to 30 percent) over that span, and one-in-five Americans say they now attend in person less often than they did before the pandemic.”

However, while these issues may be catalysts for their religious decline, deeper social issues may be even more to blame.

The social issues—and social media—plaguing Gen Z

Arguably, Gen Z is a “post-truth” generation.

They’ve grown up in a hypersensitive culture, causing some to denigrate Gen Zers as weak when challenged or unwilling to stand behind their beliefs when told they’re offensive to others. Gen Zers are influenced into believing that feelings trump facts, evidence, and faith. Consequently, this sways their stances on crucial moral issues such as marriage, abortion, and LGBTQ lifestyles—and often in direct opposition to Scripture.

This post-truth mindset often stems from the classroom (and particularly at universities) but buries its deepest roots through social media. TikTok’s popularity with Gen Z has specifically given headway to deeply influential voices and ideologies (e.g., “wokism,” CRT, gender fluidity, etc.) that directly contradict absolute truth.

Naturally, this affects how Gen Z views the church, an institution many consider to be a hub for intolerant language and beliefs. They question not only pastors and church leaders but a whole body of believers who would stick to such “hateful” values. And they are keenly aware of various failures and abuses among faith leaders and institutions.

Since many Gen Zers don’t look to the church for guidance, they seek purpose in New Age Spirituality such as astrology. According to Harper’s Bazaar, “62 percent of Gen Z and 63 percent of millennials say their zodiac sign accurately represents their personality traits, with many also leveraging astrology to help make life decisions—from dating to career direction and even finances.”

Others are enmeshed in the trend of believing they can “manifest” whatever they want through the power of positive thinking. The hashtag manifestation has garnered an unbelievable 48.2 billion views on TikTok.

Can churches win the war for their attention?

How to get Gen Z back to church

How can we attract a generation that seems to look anywhere but the church for hope and believes the Bible is outdated?

1. Don’t sacrifice the truth of Scripture.

It may be tempting to adjust our stances on controversial truths in order to get them in the door, but that will inadvertently do more harm than good. Instead, stand strong on biblical truth. Lovingly show them what God says about the tough topics prevalent in their daily lives such as pornography, gender confusion, and the weight of opinions.

2. Meet Gen Z where they’re at: online.

In-person ministry matters deeply, but we must adapt to technology. We now have the ability to reach millions from our desks and phones, so let’s take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

3. Pray and think through unique ways to connect with Gen Z.

How can you get Gen Zers involved in your church community? If your church does not already have a college or young adult ministry, consider what it may look like to launch one. And explore specific service opportunities Gen Z may be inclined to take an interest in (e.g., mental health, digital ministry, music, media, etc.).

Gen Z is not a lost cause

Gen Z’s trust in the church may be damaged, but it is not irreparable.

Just because they’ve largely neglected Christianity does not mean we should give up on Gen Z. Rather, we should be inspired to pray for and equip Gen Zers who are involved in the church. We should be motivated to reach more of this energetic group that’s next in line to lead the church.

God has given us digital tools, his timeless word, and the Holy Spirit to empower us to reach out to a hopeless generation with a hope-filled message.

Gen Z is not a lost cause.

Even if they were, Jesus loves lost causes.

A parting word for the Christian Gen Zer reading this

If you’re feeling helpless for your generation, don’t.

God still does big things. When the disciples had a moment of weakness (a regular occurrence), Jesus rebuked them by saying, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41).

Yet we know he continued to reveal himself to those young men and used them to share the gospel with the world.

Your generation needs you.

I challenge you to pray through how God can specifically use you to lead your peers.

Live out your faith such that others will know something about you is different.

You have the opportunity to display your real hope to a generation in deep need of the love and peace that cannot be found anywhere else but in the truth of the gospel.

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