Gen Z and the Need to Belong
This blog post is the fourth in a series on how churches can think creatively about addressing the needs of Generation Z. We are using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a springboard to consider how Christians can assess and address the physical, emotional, social, and aspirational needs of emerging generations, moving from the basics on up to the need for self-fulfillment.
Your congregation is committed to meeting basic needs of Gen Zers, increasing awareness of the physiological and the safety needs of emerging generations and implementing active measures that address those needs in the name of Jesus Christ.
According to Maslow’s model, the need for food, shelter, security and the like are foundational human needs that must be met before higher order needs can be explored and addressed. Once these basic needs are met, psychological needs are next in line, with the need to belong and be loved as the successive, logical step.
If you’re looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs through a biblical and theological lens, you should be able to make numerous connections. In Genesis 2, the first human being is placed in the garden and has companionship and intimacy with God, work to do, and resources available to sustain him, including food and water and the means of building shelter. But the man does not have another that is like him, a conclusion made plain to him and to God. After he names the animals, the man knows he is alone. So does God. The man needs community, companionship, and intimacy, so God provides a suitable and fitting companion, crafted and made from the side of the man, and the two are joined together to love, help, and serve one another.
But that isn’t the only instance in Scripture where God initiates, creates, cultivates, and commands the practice of community. God makes a promise to Abram to give him descendants through whom God says the whole earth will be blessed. Abram, known better as Abraham, becomes a people. His offspring increase. Abraham’s grandson Jacob has twelve sons, who later become known as the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. And after Israel is delivered from slavery in Egypt, God gives the commandments through Moses that help form and shape God’s covenant people as a community.
This theme continues in the New Testament. Jesus calls and gathers disciples. He speaks of “the kingdom of God,” a collective kinship of brothers and sisters who seek the will of God and do it, demonstrating the reality of the reign of God. The earliest Christians become known as the church, the “called out ones,” the fellowship or congregation of those in Christ. It’s a community.
Communities form around a common purpose or common associations. But there must also be belonging, love, intimacy, and acceptance if that community is going to be rich and life giving. Does your church welcome and invite those in Gen Z to belong, to take part, to find, build, and foster friendships? Does your community help those in Gen Z feel secure and safe in such a way that they can be vulnerable, speaking plainly about struggles and challenges? And when they are vulnerable, are they received with love and with acceptance? Are they received in the same manner in which Christ receives us, just as we are and with love?
Conduct an audit. Ask Gen Zers if they feel as though they belong in your congregation. If they say yes, ask what it is that makes them feel that way. If they say no, ask them what your congregation could do better to help them feel a part of your common life. Then, get to work. Reinforce and refine the good habits, and address your growth points. As Gen Zers feel welcome, loved, and discover a sense of belonging, you can then build on that foundation to help them grow as human beings and in the faith.