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How Gen Z Is Changing the Church for the Better

How Gen Z Is Changing the Church for the Better

Amid the myriad of digital distractions, a significant number of Gen Zers are increasingly drawn to God and the Church, seeking authenticity and deeper, more meaningful spiritual connections.

In many ways, Gen Z is bringing a fresh wave of enthusiasm and engagement to the Church. That’s what Jennie Allen sees. Allen is an author and speaker who has spent the last few years investing in the next generation, seeing their strengths and encouraging them in their weaknesses.

We sat down with Allen to talk about the future of the Church and how Christians can encourage Gen Z to take charge.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

You’ve spent a lot of time at conferences and events speaking with and to Gen Z. It seems like they’ve got an exciting energy about the Church. Do you see it from that perspective?

Yeah, I do. You know, a lot of times, a lot of people have compared this generation to what happened in the 70s, and the movie that was just made about the Jesus movement, specifically called “Jesus Revolution,” was the name of the movie. But the Jesus movement was famous, and is famous. I mean, I grew up hearing about it. My parents were a part of it and a product of it. In fact, I found out the other day that my home church’s pastor had traveled to a conference in California and had specifically been there, so I’m a direct result of that.

They were all in college when it happened. So they were, they were in the seventies. They were young adults, and they wanted God. And one reason they wanted God then is because of the chaos of war, the chaos of giving their lives to sex and drugs. I mean, that was happening on a scale that had not happened in the sixties and the fifties and prior to that. And so I think, to some degree, I remember hearing someone say once, it is a mercy of God to get everything that the world says will make you happy and to realize it doesn’t. That’s a mercy of God. Because you actually understand, yes, there are consequences in that, but to get to your desperate place of, “Oh my gosh, I just got the whole package.”

I just got everything that I thought would make me happy and it didn’t. And what else is there? That’s a gift because then you want God in a different way. And so I really believe, to some degree, they are that generation, right? They’ve gotten everything the world has to offer through the little screens that they’ve held since they were born, you know, and the way the world works, whether it’s sexual gratification through pornography, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, I mean, the things that my aged kid’s friends are into and what they’re able to get is just so different than the way I grew up. So what that means is they have tasted it all and they realize that it’s hopeless and they want something to mean more than the world that they’re being offered. And, and so when you say, “Hey, this is God’s way, this is God’s love. This is the hope that you can have,” they’re craving it and they’re ready. I mean, at Jaywalker’s Conference in 2023 — really, any event because I could tell a dozen stories — but Jaywalkers specifically, they all came forward because I did an altar call while my eyes were closed.

I opened my eyes and there were hundreds of them in the front on their knees. And then I thought, “Okay, well, gosh, that was very quick.” And so many of them came. I didn’t even see them come because I was praying. And so I did a prayer and I heard their voices out loud repeating back to me the simple prayer I was giving them to say. It was so sincere. It was so simple. It was so pure. They just want God. And I think it’s because they’ve tasted the world and it has not met their needs.

What can we do to encourage Gen Z and keep lifting them up?

I think two things. I think one, to believe in them. I think to follow suit of believing that they really want to be successful and have meaningful lives. They’re not shallow, they’re not completely checked out. Look in their eyes and go, “You know, they’re pretty smart.” You know, I think of technology like this: old money and new money. People from old money, they’re kind of settled with it. They’ll say, “Yeah, I don’t need the newest car. I don’t need the fancy everything.” People with new money, they really get into it and they show it off.

I think it’s the same with technology. I think they’re old technology. They’ve seen it. My kids look on their phones — they don’t have social apps on their phones. They take breaks from them. Not that they never get on Instagram, but they will take it off and then add it back. They are measured and they aren’t sitting there obsessed with technology. They actually have seen the damage it’s caused in their lives and other people’s lives. I think we are putting our view and our struggles on them rather than saying, “I actually see that they have matured with this.”

They want lives that are present. You see it because so many young people are moving to the country, so many young people are moving to small towns, young people are going to small churches. They really are looking for and hungry for community and authenticity and something to be real for them. And I don’t just mean honest, although that’s a part of it. I mean something that feels like dinner and looking at eyeballs across the table. I’m not saying they’ve arrived there and that they’re all good at it. I’m saying they’re craving it — and to see that potential in them and encourage it and to help it and to model it, right? Because some of us got the phones and we remember life before it and we haven’t been the best with it either. So let’s not shame them about it. Instead, let’s raise them and help them to see the hunger inside of them even if they can’t articulate it yet, even if they can’t tell you “I want God.”

Give room for that, and space for them to wrestle and to process. I remember my daughter in middle school, she walked through a pretty severe season of doubt where she was like, “Mom, I don’t think it’s true. I don’t believe in God.” And rather than freak out, I sat with her in that and I said, “I want to be here with you. I think this is good. I think it’s good for you to wrestle with this.”

I think that’s the role we can play, is to just be beside them as they come into their own and as they embrace and find their way to God. Because I can promise you this, it’s not up and to the right. It’s not. Now what I’m talking about are moments of harvest that are beautiful and powerful, and God says those things are gonna happen. But the process to get there, the tilling of the soil and the cultivating of the soil, all that takes a little while. We’ve got to do a really good job of that above them and as local churches.

What is a message that you think Gen Z needs to hear right now?

I’m actually going to say the gospel to be preached. I say that because I think we’ve preached a lot of things. I think we’re very loud about a lot of things. And I have tried to make it my pursuit to till the soil with conversations around important topics like community, like emotions, like our thought lives, and to address the felt need.

Every time I’m doing that, it is so that they want God, so that the reader or the person that I’m speaking to wants God. So yeah, we can talk around subjects, but we better have an end goal, and the end goal is to introduce them into a relationship with Jesus, because that is how lives are changed and formed until they are connected in relationship with Jesus.

Not in indoctrination into a religion, but a personal relationship with Jesus. When that happens, lives change and everything about your identity shifts. And the way you think and the way you feel and the way you work and the way you live and the way you parent, all of that changes.

We need to be winsome and I would dare say relevant in the sense of knowing the needs of the day and being able to speak to the needs of the day for the purpose of an encounter, a personal encounter with Jesus. And the gospel, that’s what they’re responding to. I mean, in every situation that like whether it’s a public confession of sin that I’ve seen, the altar call at Jay Walker’s, the, you know, what happened at Asbury. All of it is in response to the gospel that Jesus died for their sins, my sins, and is their hope, and that He is extending a relationship with them forever.

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