A few nights ago my daughters were watching one of their favorite cartoons. I am pretty strict on what they watch, and this particular show has been pretty harmless. So I thought. My wife happened to be in the room when this cartoon, written for preschool age children, introduced the concept of two mommies. Taken slightly by surprise, my wife redirected the girls onto another activity. While I am not entirely surprised, this was a great reminder that the world our students are growing up in is far different than yours and mine.
A different world means different questions. Or some of the same questions with vastly different implications. Children and youth ministries are entirely made up of Generation Z kids. Which means an entirely new set of rules, questions, circumstances, challenges, and future. So whether you are a parent, volunteer leader or pastor, it is critical that we all stay ahead of the curve and ready ourselves for the coming shifts in how we do ministry for this new generation. Research is beginning to look specifically at how this generation is unique and what questions they are asking. There are many, but here are three of the biggest questions that are helping shape how they see the world and react to it.
How can I be sure?
Every generation possesses a degree of uncertainty. But it seems Generation Z has a particularly hard time. Our world has a much higher degree of uncertainty than generations before. The sheer amount of information available to them is astounding. On the one hand–as I have mentioned before–because of technology and information we have a greater opportunity for knowledge and greater access to the world. Which when it comes to the gospel, equals an opportunity like none other. On the other hand, the more information, the more opinions, and thus the greater chances for confusion.
Students today are looking for certainty. They are looking for assurance. They are looking for mentors that can guide them through the mud. They need leaders and parents to clear the water with truth.
What is my identity?
I remember when I was in high school my biggest identity issue was whether I wanted to play football or stay in band. I made a choice, and that became my teenage identity. Sure there were those in my school that through various interactions and circumstances helped shape that identity. But for the most part, we rolled with it. It seemed complicated and treacherous then but now seems so much simpler than what students face today.
Research shows that the majority of identity issues are now focused on issues of sexuality. Not STD’s or teen pregnancy, but gender identity. Our politically correct culture has inadvertently taught students that if you are not questioning your gender identity, then perhaps there is something wrong with you. This narrative is causing confusion. It is easy to tell students that their identity rests in Christ, but it is much more powerful, as a leader, to be their example.
Who can I believe and trust?
Every generation has to grow up in the midst of some sort of change. For some it was war, others it was civil rights, and others, economics or technology. Every generation has its challenges that shape that generation forever. For Generation Z, it just might be all of those lumped into one. This new generation of students is growing in a world of distrust on all kinds of levels with competing narratives and ideology causing violence and arguments worldwide.
So who can students trust? Politicians? Media? Teachers? Parents? Youth leaders and parents need to earn trust through unconditional love and a community that looks like and represents God himself. Students want to feel safe. They want to belong. And they want to be a part of something greater than themselves. In previous generations, the responsibility of role models seemed to belong to athletes, actors, musicians, etc. But research is showing students are returning to their roots for their role models. They are looking for trust within family and close friends. What an incredible challenge before us as youth leaders, but what an amazing opportunity.
This year cannot be ministry as usual. Generation Z is going to change the game. Our students are looking to you to walk with them, do life with them, and help them make sense amid cultural confusion. But most of all, they need you to be the example of Christ and guide to go and make disciples.