Gen Z and the Need for Safety
This blog post is the third 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.
Feeling safe and secure is a basic human need. When Gen Zers participate in your congregational life, do they feel safe and secure?
Maslow places the need for safety and security one rung above food, water, warmth, and rest. In order to grow as human beings we need to feel free from threat, whether real or imagined. As followers of Jesus, we should be committed to helping people flourish not only with regard to the spiritual life, but physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. We are called to help people fulfill the great commandment: to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves.
Researchers have found that members of Generation Z experience high levels of anxiety and depression, maladies that are variously attributed to intense pressure to perform well academically, information overload from too much time online, and a generalized “fear of missing out“ that can stem from exposure to “idealized” lives on social media.
When Gen Zers encounter your Christian fellowship they may already feel unsafe. They may have been bullied, either in school or online. They may suffer from a mental illness that has not been diagnosed. They may not have a stable home environment or may lack esteem and confidence. They might just be surviving, making it through, fighting to get by each day.
Emerging generations experience pressure to conform socially with their peers and to meet the expectations of their elders. Many are learning that life can be difficult and challenging. Those of us who are older can forget that being young can be hard.
How can your congregation help?
Here are a few ideas:
Implement policies that make sure those who serve with youth have a clean background check and have been trained to observe proper boundaries when working with minors. Make sure your congregation puts leaders in place that young people can trust.
Make sure that your youth spaces are welcoming. Ask members of Generation Z to assist you in designing a space or a room that their peers will find hospitable while also serving the students in the task of Christian education.
Create an environment where young people can ask difficult and challenging questions without fear of judgement or condemnation. Offer answers with gentleness and respect, and remember that for some coming to know salvation will involve both a process and an event.
Learn to recognize signs of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Contact a local seminary for training resources on how to best respond pastorally and professionally when a young person is experiencing a crisis.
Train students on what to do if they are bullied online.
Help students find healthy ways to cope with stress.
Refer to a counselor in difficult situations. There are people in your community who are trained to help young people deal with emotional or psychological stress in ways that you, as a minister, may be unequipped to handle.
Ask your local school how you can help ensure your congregation is doing its part in eliminating bullying, and equip your students so that they can stand up with courage in difficult situations.
Offering a secure environment for Gen Zers isn’t about creating “safe spaces” or offering “trigger warnings.” It also isn’t about being politically correct or retreating from difficult and challenging topics of conversation. Instead, it is about love. It is about creating an environment where Gen Zers gain first-hand experience with “the reckless raging fury/That they call the love of God.” It is about embodying Christian commitments to unconditional acceptance and love, proclaiming the gospel in a way that is truly gracious, and by rejecting all forms of works-righteousness. It is about loving all people because God first loved us.