Discipling Generation Z in a technologically challenged world

HE WAS EXCEPTIONALLY QUIET, seated at the end of the sanctuary without his friends. He needed his space to soak in the sermon through prayer. Just the day before, he did not turn up for a Youth Ministry event because he spent time ministering to his classmates who wanted to hang out in a cafe. He is 17 years old. She laughed out loud at the illustrations pelted out in a youth workshop, responding on many occasions “How true!” After the session, she doodled on her journal as she dreamed about the chef that she wanted to be. She is 15 years old.

He stared into the deep end of Sentosa Lagoon. His divorced parents had an argument about him and the comments stung. He concluded he would rather remain single all his life than inflict emotional pain on his children in an unhappy marriage. He is 14 years old.

Meeting them at different places made me realise that I am in new territory. is generation is so different from the previous generations. They have a heightened maturity in their ideas, concerns and questions about life and God. I am humbled by the different, yet authentic, spirituality of these young people. Before I can engage them, I first need to pause, listen, learn, respect and be authentic to connect with them. ey are Generation Z and they are in our church!

Mark McCrindle (2010) observes that every generation is distinct in characteristics. Generation Z is defined by three factors: age and life stage (ontological factors), times and technology (sociological factors), and events and experiences (historical factors).

Several common traits of Generation Z include:

• Born approximately between 1993 and 2012,
• Two income-earning parents and smaller families,
• Growing up in a world that is all about connecting through technology,
• Friendships are quantifiable by Facebook and they search for answers through Google,
• Smarter, tech savvier and great multi-taskers,
• More self-directed and individualistic, and
• Demand that we take them seriously.

This is the generation over-stimulated, over-exposed and over-informed by technology. If Generation Z wants to know everything about spirituality, they can do so with a click. Understanding their world will help us turn challenges into favourable opportunities and build bridges to minister to them.

Creating a special environment for spiritual growth

Generation Z is also called the new silent generation. Most of their conversations take place through SMSes and social network portals. We do not hear their voice, yet they are texting to be heard. Although they are predominately silent, they are not predominately passive. They do dream and think a lot in that virtual space. We can hear their uncensored views and raw emotions on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs. The key is to be someone whom they respect enough to be allowed into that space to lovingly affirm, correct and guide them to be youths of integrity online and offline.

Generation Z are anti-religion. They refuse a faith that is institutional or legalistic. Highly intolerant of hypocrisy, they are turned off by people who do not walk the talk. They can endorse opinions with a simple “Like” button (e.g., on Facebook) and bring either scrutiny or praise to the Christian faith at incredible speed.

What is this implication? We do not need to defend ourselves and mask our failures. Instead, take the right risks to admit mistakes. Relate to them how our relationship with Jesus helps us through our inadequacies and defeats. By modelling humility and honesty, we help them to do the same towards their unbelieving friends. is builds their credibility to win their peers for Jesus.

Generation Z can have 500 friends on Facebook but severely lack the interpersonal skills necessary for close friendships. They are highly individualistic, self-directed and opinionated. While they may be comfortable with virtual work teams when they step into the labour force beyond 2020, the lack of relational skills may hinder them from succeeding in certain professions and in bringing up future generations.

Small groups in Youth Ministries are invaluable to equip youths to learn to listen, negotiate, problem-solve and manage conflicts with each other. Youth leaders can intentionally use good and bad Bible characters to relate the importance of relational skills. Explore with them why Jesus, fully deity and fully man, needs his 12 men. Examine with them the importance of a real community. If they love playing PS3 at home, why not arrange a PS3 competition in our Youth Ministries? Organise experiential games in church to promote virtues like cooperation, patience, kindness and forgiveness.

Interestingly, Generation Z are parented by Generation X who load them with many ex-curriculums. And the introduction of gadgets at a young age conditioned them to be great multi-taskers capable of coping with a high volume of tasks. If they can step back and critique, speed is not equivalent to accuracy. Teach them to invite the Holy Spirit to help them discern the truthfulness of information that they are downloading. Direct them to schedule time to slow down so that they can catch up with what they are becoming and who they are aspiring to be.

Unlike their older siblings who may be more self-absorbed in their career or studies, Generation Z are revolutionaries who dream about doing something to change their world. However, they do not necessarily know what this something is or where to start. Teach them habits of growth like keeping journals, observing silence and seeking spiritual direction so that they can discover what their God-given purpose is at school and at home. Invite them to join us when we serve our church, community and the world to make a difference. Motivate them to be change agents for Jesus and steward social technologies for worthy purposes.

One wise Christian educator, D. Jacqueline, sums it up aptly: “Relating to Generation Z will demand that we love them deeply, be willing to accept uncertainty, acknowledge our fears, expose our ignorance, read our Bible, develop a rich hermeneutic, explore different theologies and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our believing and acting and grow our relationship in relating to them.”