Gen Z and Self-Actualization


This blog post is the sixth 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.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs begins with the basics and moves upward to higher needs. At the top of the pyramid is the need for self-actualization, which is an expression of self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment involves satisfaction within oneself, with one’s place in the universe, and clarity of purpose. A person experiences fulfillment when they are self-actualized. So what is self-actualization?

Saul McLeod writes that self-actualization means “realizing personal potential...seeking personal growth and peak experiences.” Maslow believed that self-actualization meant fulfilling one’s capacity, satisfying “the desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. .”(Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (Harper & Row, 1954), p. 46, accessed 2/13/18 here:

How do you help a person in Gen Z become everything they are capable of becoming? That’s a great question. The Westminster Shorter Catechism poses the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s an answer that has been learned and lived by for generations of Christians, and not only Presbyterians.

Your congregation likely has some vision of what it means to live a good and beautiful life, a way to know God and to live according to God’s commands. Your teaching and preaching can help Gen Zers understand and engage with reality. The doctrine of the image of God serves as a foundation for human rights and basic human decency. It also gives a basis for pursuing justice. Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God not only tells us that we are welcomed into fellowship with God through Jesus, but by learning from Jesus and trusting him we are inwardly renewed and training to live in accordance with the righteousness of Christ.

The great human questions address the nature of reality, who the blessed or well-off person is, the meaning of virtue, and how one becomes truly good. Christians answer each of these questions by pointing to God, whom we know most fully in and through Jesus Christ. Gen Zers can not only discover their unique strengths, gifts, talents, and passions while part of your congregation, they can also place their strengths underneath the umbrella of a greater purpose: to glorify and to live in glad fellowship with God.

Every human need falls within the purview of God’s care. God desires that his people would do justice and seek mercy, caring for the least of these by providing for basic physical needs. But God also desires that each person would find belonging and welcome, love and care from other human beings. Finding their place within the community, God then uniquely equips each person to serve, bless, and build up others by use of their natural and spiritual gifts. And finally, as people grow in their love for God, neighbor, and God’s good world, people discover meaning and purpose, self-actualization and fulfillment.

Gen Zers need wisdom on how to be kind to others, how to worship God, and how to stay away from trouble. But they also need a grand vision for life. Christianity offers that kind of vision. Preach the good news, invite Gen Zers to respond, and help them to walk the way of Christ.