How Are Millennials and Gen Zers Different?


“Millennial” is often code for “young person,” but as years pass and Millennials age, a younger cohort has been identified: Generation Z. They share common traits with Millennials. But there are distinctions. What are they?

First, Millennials are ages 22 to 37. That means they are likely older than you think. Michael Dimock of Pew Research Center remind us: “Turning 37 this year, the oldest Millennials are well into adulthood, and they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born.”

Gen Zers are next up. They are your youngest adults, college students, youth, and children. Their views, beliefs, moral framework, and social preferences are nascent and still under development. They are more racially diverse, independent, and technologically savvy.

Ryan Jenkins of Inc. Magazine notes eight additional differences between the generations:

  1. Gen Zers are Realistic; Millennials are Optimistic

  2. Gen Zers are Independent; Millennials are Collaborative

  3. Gen Zers are Digital Natives; Millennials are Digital Pioneers

  4. Gen Zers are Private; Millennials are Public

  5. Gen Zers prefer Face-to-Face Encounters; Millennials prefer Digital Only

  6. Gen Zers seek On-Demand Learning; Millennials seek Formal Education

  7. Gen Zers like Role-Hopping; Millennials are open to Job-Hopping

  8. Gen Zers are Global Citizens; Millennials are Global Spectators

Jenkins elaborates on each category, and reading his explanations are illuminating. Generally speaking, it can be observed that Gen Zers are seeking stability, person-to-person connections, are more adept with technology (and more protective of their privacy), and more likely to engage in public activism. Millennials are team players, generally positive in outlook, more comfortable with sharing their lives online, and more mobile. Millennials are more comfortable with loose ties in relationship, while Gen Zers are seeking stronger bonds. This infographic from SocialMediaToday further illustrates the differences between these generational cohorts.

In your ministry, this may mean that it is more challenging to move Millennials toward joining your congregation as a member, thereby establishing a formal, strong tie. You may need to be more patient with Millennials in building relationships, and growth in discipleship may take time.

The desire among Gen Zers for face-to-face encounters and experiences may present opportunities to deepen friendships and strengthen your fellowship. In my past experiences in youth and college ministry I often found that students were thankful for the opportunity to be together. And as global citizens, Gen Zers may be enthusiastic about congregational efforts to make a real, tangible difference in the world. If you are part of a global denomination, the connectional nature of your church may be of interest to Gen Zers.

Further, Gen Zers’ pursuit of on-demand learning may mean your church needs to develop online discipleship resources they can access and search to answer their most pressing questions. Millennials, however, may be looking to take part in a class or course.

While these general trends may be helpful in forming your evangelism and discipleship strategies, engage in some local research. Talk to Millennials and Gen Zers, ask them what they need, invite them to help you (collaborate with Millennials, give responsibility to Gen Zers), and design a local approach. Then, share what is working with us. We want to know!