Postmodernism, pressures and prayer
New research offers insight into Generation Z. By Kira Taylor
Young people are open to the idea of faith, but lack a personal relationship with God. They are facing increasing pressure from social media and school - and churches need a rethink on how best to engage them.
These are some of the findings of new research commissioned by Youth for Christ into Generation Z, which comprises those born from the mid-1990s onwards. The research explored the impact of culture, influence, priorities and religion on 1001 young people.
'Our heart was to put some facts and figures behind much speculation surrounding Gen Z and their world,' wrote the report editor, Laura Hancock. 'Whilst some of the findings were as you would expect, some also offer much valued insight into the effects and behaviours of this generation.'
The impact of postmodern society
The report, called Gen Z: Rethinking Culture, highlights that some ways churches communicated with young people in the past may have lost impact. This is due to the shift into a postmodern society, where technology, immediacy and a focus on multiple views is the norm.
The report found that postmodern culture has a significant impact on Generation Z’s interaction with the church and their faith. While those with Christian friends wrote positively about them, only 18 per cent of these young people said they would be interested in finding out more about God. Many stated they saw their Christian friends as “normal”, not standing out from the cultural norm.
'There may be an issue surrounding peer evangelism and faith sharing among Christian teens, particularly if very little difference is seen in their life styles,' the report states, suggesting that, in a postmodern culture, there is a growing acceptance of different beliefs. Each person has their own belief and accepts another’s, but does not seek to pursue it.
The report also suggests that, in a postmodern age, young Christians may not be properly equipped or proficient enough at sharing their faith. It points to the culture of sharing on social media, where it has become common practice and is done at a fast rate, at the click of a button.
Youth groups and personal walks of faith
Alongside these factors, the report highlights how many churches attempt to tell young people about the Good News through youth groups. However, it suggests even doing this may not be enough: only 21 per cent of those asked have access to a youth group. This may be because only 6 per cent stated their favourite activity was a non-school related club.
Instead, the report emphasises the need to make use of the platforms young people use, such as social media. It found that young people were generally driven by something worthwhile and fun, perhaps giving churches ideas as to how to present themselves.
Postmodern culture also seems to affect how young people experience God. The report points to how 32 per cent believe in God, 59 per cent of these following Jesus. Yet of them, 53 per cent don’t pray, suggesting a lack of personal relationship with God.
This lack of personal relationship with God is what the report really highlights. Whether Generation Z are aware of God or not, most do not seem to engage with Him. The need for a personal relationship is missing.
Pressure points and positives
Ninety four per cent said they use social media daily. However, 67 per cent put social media in their top three reasons as to why they feel bad about themselves. This reveals a complex link between engaging with the world and the negative impact it can have.
Alongside these new ways of life, there is a significant pressure from education with young people citing it as the first or second most thing they worry about. A lot of what young people enjoy and spend the most time doing (social media and friends), is also what was cited as the reasons young people feel bad about themselves.
'This is an interesting connection when we consider the drop in what would be consider ‘risky behaviour’; activities such as smoking and drinking … yet links are being made between social media and dopamine hits that lead to addiction on a platform that is much more widely accessible to a greater number of individuals,' the report states.
Yet the report highlights the positive aspects of this generation. Family values and friends are ranked high as key influences. 59 per cent stated family as the thing that made them feel good about themselves.
'It is also a generation that communicates and filters information both digitally and publicly, expects to be entertained and desires to make a different in the world,' said Neil.
There is a desire to push for social justice with 54 per cent wanting to change war and terrorism, if they had a chance, and 41 per cent wanting to change poverty and people being poor (they were allowed to choose more than one answer). This shows a generation engaged beyond the reach of their smartphones and one that is very much aware of the conflict of the world, heightening their need for a loving God.
The report therefore had several key takeaways: the report emphasises the need to use social media in reaching out to young people, turning it into a positive platform for Generation Z; it highlights the strength of friendships and family seen in Generation Z; and it highlights the need to support young Christians in their evangelism to their friends.
'What is clear is that Gen Z needs Jesus,' YFC National Director, Neil O’Boyle said, 'They may look at the world differently but still seek love, desire to be valued and ask the same universal questions of identity and purpose.'
YFC is now seeking the views of those who engage with young people from a faith-based perspective. Join the conversation here.
The report is available to download and view at yfc.uk/rethinkingculture
Analysis from someone in Generation Z
The report is fascinating, reading it as someone who has only ever known the technological age. Many of the findings seem quite normal to me, discovered from conversations with friends and classmates. This is perhaps something that needs to be highlighted when talking about the report: people of my age are used to this culture and a culture that is growing increasingly secular.
In a world where Jesus is as common a swear word as it is said meaningfully, church is a strange concept to most people. Although I’ve found most people are open to hearing about Christian faith and most will gladly accept prayer, I’ve also rarely managed to persuade someone to accompany me to church.
Talking to one friend about this, I discovered she appreciated the prayer I offered because it was something that was close to me. Therefore, it was something that was meaningful, but not necessarily holding any power.
I attended a thriving youth group, but this can’t have touched on all the youth of my city. I’m not sure how many teenagers would even consider going to a youth group now. There are many more opportunities to connect with people, both physical and over the internet.
Certainly, the need for churches to use social media is key. Before going anywhere, most people my age will look up the place on the internet, especially Facebook. In my own church, I have been very vocal about the need to create a church Facebook page, even if it is not updated regularly. Simply a location, picture and information about what the church does persuades someone of my age that the church is socially engaged.
Yet there is also something I didn’t see in the report, which is the time pressure. Alongside the pressure of education and exams, there is the added need to exist in a constantly moving world. For someone who wants to compete in sport, for example, most training and competitions happen on Sunday.
The report highlights one key thing: churches need to be flexible and listen to the community around them, whether it is calling for a community café, a service during the week or just a little more engagement on social media.