COVID-19 opens avenues for ministering, connecting with Generation Z

The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some churches to think outside the box and reconsider how they use technology to reach the community. For seekers in the range of Generation Z, these changes have been right on time.

Reaching Generation Z presents a challenge to those of earlier generations but according to Sean McDowell — author, speaker and apologetics professor at Biola University — wisdom and understanding as recommended in Proverbs 24:3 can help parents and church leaders influence this generation for Christ.

Born between 1995 and 2010, Generation Z members comprise roughly 25% of the current population and range from early elementary age to those just entering the workforce.

Understanding Gen Zers is crucial, McDowell said at the 2020 Alabama State Evangelism Conference in February. Keeping a positive attitude, remembering that everyone has a unique story and realizing that generations share more in common than they have differences can open the doors of ministry.

As digital natives, this generation “puts technology in the same category as air and water,” he said. Approximately 79% have symptoms of emotional distress if their phone is taken away.

Relationships are key

Gen Zers are racially diverse and most have a “post-Christian” worldview, with less than 4% holding a biblical worldview.

Technology shapes them, McDowell said, blurring their view of concepts like family and gender that were fixed for previous generations. The constant stimulus of technology, specifically social media, leaves Gen Z feeling overwhelmed, as if they can never escape their problems, he said.

“We have to be prepared and willing to deal with the brokenness manifesting itself today,” McDowell said. “The key is to build relationships with them, so we are there to listen, encourage, discipline and love them. Much of the stress is exacerbated because students don’t have healthy relationships.”

According to David Evans, author and senior pastor of Springfield Baptist Church in Springfield, Tennessee, efficient use of technology and social media has always been necessary, but many churches are just now beginning to realize what a tremendous tool it can be.

Expanded use of social media has helped to engage young people. Evans said his church has seen increased engagement through social media platforms as well as an explosion of online giving and a shift toward younger-aged giving through online contributions.

‘Lack of community’

Evans added that the positive outcomes go hand-in-hand with the fear, isolation, depression and anxiety that have manifested during the quarantine. Those challenges can help mature believers relate to the loneliness felt by many Generation Z members.

“The lack of community and seeing people’s faces along with the lack of intimacy is a huge struggle now,” Evans said. “Although social media is playing a wonderful part in connecting generations, we have to understand that we are trading intimacy for technology, convenience and expedience. Nothing replaces human interaction.”

Evans noted that increased reliance on social media has multiplied the traffic of communication and relationships far beyond the level of stress humans are created to process. The current situation puts believers right in the middle of understanding the technological stressors common to Generation Z.

“In Genesis God said it was not good for us to be alone,” Evans said. “Face-to-face interactions take all that noise out so we can focus on one to three relationships at a pace we can handle. I believe all generations are starting to feel what it’s like to be Generation Z social media individuals.”

A culture of individualism has pushed Gen Z towards a “post-truth” mindset with the belief that everything in life can be conformed to their preference. Many are psychologically numb, feeling as if they can have whatever they wish, however they want it, with whomever they choose.

‘God is good’

“Our task is to help them see their Christian faith makes sense of everything,” McDowell said. “Not only is it true, but God is good, and Christianity is good.”

According to Brett Kunkle, founder and CEO of Maven, an apologetics ministry, awareness of the issues that technology and sexuality present to Gen Z members is vital. Kunkle said technology is isolating, leading to loneliness with a lack of accountability and presenting a vision of sexuality in contrast to the biblical view of relationships.

“We have to equip them by expanding the way we think about [technology], giving them better categories,” said Kunkle. “It is not good or bad, moral or immoral. It’s always moving, and we need to help them see that by using it, it can shape and influence them.”

Wise management of technology is important, Kunkle said. Alternatives like books, games, and family time coupled with smart phone boundaries help to mitigate technology’s impact on the generation.

“We are the parents,” Kunkle said. “We are in control and can set standards to create the culture by showing them we are different, and we flourish because of it.”

David Evans agreed and said parents have a duty to disciple Gen Zers.

“We have a job to throw in other stabilizers, to help them,” Evans said. “Church leaders can be spiritual stabilizers. Nothing replaces parental discipleship.”

McDowell added that older generations can use technology as a tool to connect with Gen Z. Asking questions and enlisting their help creates buy-in and helps to foster relationships.

“Technology is a tremendous tool for our time,” Evans said. “The Roman roads helped to spread the gospel. Technology is like the Roman road part two. We can reach the globe faster than ever in history. We need to disciple [Generation Z] and send them out to reach the world.”

‘Be the church’

Evans advised churches and families to learn from the pandemic, implementing balance among church attendance, social media and activities, intentionally discipling young people to go out and be the gospel.

Most Generation Z members are value driven, Evans said. Churches can utilize this opportunity to engage them in servant evangelism by guiding them to help deliver groceries to the homebound or perform service projects in the community.

“The church can be the church, even during this time,” Evans said. “If we are unwilling to stand up during this time, just like [Gen Z] can sniff out false advertisement, they will sniff out a fake church. We can use this time to serve our community where they are.”

For more tips on reaching Generation Z, visit www.seanmcdowell.org or www.maventruth.com.