Data can tell a story but not the full story. It might be a good starting point but often there is more than meets the eye.
Approximately 48% of Generation Z believe that homosexual marriage is good for society. About six-in-ten feel that official documents should include gender options beyond “male” and “female.” In 2018, 57% of Gen Zers were enrolled in college, putting them on track to become the most educated generation yet. They are more likely to want an activist government than previous generations and some 45% of teens say they are online “almost constantly.” And as a whole, they are the most racially, ethnically, politically, religiously diverse demographic in history.
These statistics, reported by the Pew Research Center, are just the tip of the iceberg. The Pew Research Center, the Barna Group, Institute360, and other organizations have published a wealth of research on Generation Z in recent years. And the data will only continue to accumulate as the youngest members enter college and the workforce. Already, some 24 million Gen Zers are eligible to vote in the upcoming election -and that’s only the 18- to 23-year-olds.
Generation Z can be described by this mountain of data. But people are more than data.
For every trend — whether toward sexual fluidity, political liberalism, or moral relativism — there are exceptions. My experiences as one of the oldest members of Generation Z are vastly different than those of my 12-year-old sister. A Gen Zer on the East Coast will not think the same as a Gen Zer raised in the South. Different ethnic backgrounds, family cultures, and economic statuses will likely result in contrasting worldviews.
The point is this: Data, while incredibly helpful, can only reveal part of the picture. And the church has the beautiful, weighty responsibility of looking beyond the numbers to see, know, and love diverse individuals.
While there are research trends that shed light on some of the more prevalent themes emerging in Generation Z, each member is different. So as you pray for, minister to, and serve with members of Generation Z in your homes, your communities, and your churches, remember that they are unique people with distinct hopes, dreams, fears, and beliefs that may not fit your expectations.
One of the easiest ways to alienate a teenager or young adult is to make assumptions about them, to look at generalizations or data and think you know who they are and what they’re about.
But, then again, isn’t that true for all of us, regardless of our generational characteristics?
Perhaps this discussion can be a word of admonishment for the church at large. When we see people as individuals instead of trends, statistics, and research, perhaps we might love them better. Perhaps we will truly see them and hear them. Perhaps we will more effectively serve them.
At the end of the day, people aren’t data. And while we can look to research trends for beneficial insight on how to better understand and serve certain demographics, we must do the labor-intensive work of getting to know the individuals in our spheres of influence. Relationships are how we will make a gospel impact on today’s teenagers and young adults.
Generation Z, like every other generation before us, cannot be stuffed neatly into a box. And that’s a good thing!
God can and will use the diverse interests, backgrounds, and gifts of Gen Zers for His glory, to make the name of Jesus known and build His kingdom. We need only to unbox Generation Z by integrating them into our churches and homes, giving them a place to learn and grow and flourish.
Tessa Landrum is a Kentucky Baptist who is a member of Unity Baptist Church in Ashland and a senior at Cedarville University.