In January, the Barna Group released the findings from their latest study on “Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation”.
The Generation Z demographic is born between 1999-2015. In other words, they are roughly our current seniors in high school down to the kindergartners and according to the study; they are the least Christian generation in American history! (For a good summary article by The Christian Post click here.)
That general idea is not all that alarming considering the trend that we have seen over the last 30+ years. What is alarming is the absolute drop off in the statistic. Currently, only four percent of teenagers in America hold to a true biblical worldview. That’s quickly sliding downward from 10 percent of Boomers, 7 percent of Gen X and 6 percent of Millennials.
Think of it this way: out of a classroom of 25 tenth graders, it is likely that only one of them (only ONE!) believes that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and that Christ died for sinners and rose from the dead.
Brooke Hempell, Barna’s senior vice president of research, asks
“Where is that latent unbelief happening? We see a lot of it in science. Teens are beginning to feel like they have to choose between science and the Bible, whereas the Baby Boomer generation or Gen X said that they can see the Bible and science as being complimentary … When we get to millennials and Gen Z, they see them in conflict.”
What are we to do as a church? Our gut response might be to panic in despair, grab our kids, run for the shelter and hide them away from the world.
The truth is there is much to fear. Things don’t look good, but there is a wrong way to respond to the daunting statistics that are coming at us. We need to remember that there is hope. Jesus was clear when he said, “take heart; I have overcome the world” and as Rosaria Butterfield said, “Jesus is leading from the frontlines.” As we look at scripture we have already been given the answers to how we should respond. We as a church are to faithfully continue doing what the church has always been called to do, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).
What does this look like practically for families in the church? It looks like submerging your teenagers into the ministry of the church, specifically the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are the “means” by which Christ communicates the benefits of his mediation (WLC #154). He does this especially through the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer, but also through all his ordinances such as a call to service and loving community.
There is currently a healthy trend in the PCA youth ministry world. It is a shift away from the entertainment business to the actual mission of the church. Thereby, drawing kids into a much deeper ministry rooted in truth and grace and centered on the gospel of Jesus.
In his book “Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture”, Brian Cosby issues a call to churches to return to their primary mission. He cites the staples of modern youth ministry such as weak theology and lackluster bible study, smoke, lights and purpose-driven pizza parties as leaving students spiritually malnourished and unequipped to face the challenges of the world. He states that “Entertainment simply hasn’t provided meaning or answers to the ever-wandering hearts of America’s youth… America’s youth not only need a ministry that seeks to communicate God’s grace through the teaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, a life of prayer, gospel-motivated ministry, and grace-centered community – they actually want such a ministry”.
I wholeheartedly agree. So let’s give them what they want. Let’s give them what they need and what we have been called to provide.
Pastors should take a long hard look at how these truths are being communicated to the youth in their churches. Youth workers should evaluate why they do the things they are doing and the motivations behind them. Parents need to get involved and play an active role in submerging their students into the means of grace.
One out of twenty-five students seems bleak, but imagine the impact of one student sent out into the world with an unwavering confidence in the Bible and a firm understanding of the power of the gospel to save sinners. The Lord has done mightier things with a whole lot less.
So I have great hope for Generation Z. Just when things seem to be at their worst, God has a tendency to bring about mighty change through a faithful few.
May the Lord use our children in this way as they mature in Christ through the means of grace.
Author: Rev. Wes Andrews