Gen Z is Different
If you like scientific studies, you’ll want to pay for access to this paper by Jean M. Twenge and Heejung Park, “The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016.” Or, you could read this summary from Business Insider.
Twenge and Park have found that Generation Z is unlike previous generations in significant ways, avoiding many of the behaviors normally associated with teenage rebellion. Their study found Generation Z:
Does not obtain a driver’s license as early as previous generations
Is not as interested in trying alcohol
Does not date as frequently
Does not seek independence from parents as quickly.
They also found that among Gen. Z:
Fewer are having sex
They are waiting longer to get their first job, and
They spend a ton of time on their phones.
The last finding may be the most important. Smartphones create the illusion of connection. It is no longer necessary to hang out with your friends to chat, when instead you can share thoughts with your peers over Snapchat or WhatsApp. With a phone, you don’t need a car, you aren’t necessarily in the presence of peers who might create pressure to try drugs and alcohol when they are verboten, and there is less opportunity for sex. Further, spending time on the phone means skills in social interaction and conversation are not as sharp, which means there is less likelihood for a casual friendship to develop into a budding romance.
Some parents will think this is great. They don’t have to worry about their teens as much. But there are mental health risks associated with extended smartphone usage. While Generation Z may be safer and more risk averse to previous generations, they may be subject to other dangers.
Churches can respond by offering wisdom on how to use technology. But they can also create space for conversation and connection among members of Generation Z that is positive, safe, and filled with caring adults.
Traditional youth ministry programs have had a heavy focus on games, music, or Bible teaching. Those methods are still helpful. But if there are few spaces where Gen Z’ers can gather to talk, relax, tell stories, and interact with other human beings, churches who focus on hospitality may have an incredible gift to offer.
A great youth ministry may not need a lot of bells and whistles or a flashy program, but can instead thrive with a few caring adults who will teach Gen Zers how to care for and connect with one another. Some Gen Z’ers may even come to prefer the body of Christ to a smartphone.