By Aaron Earls
While many churches remain concerned about attracting millennials, a new generation of adults is emerging with their own identity.
Generation Z, also known as iGen, are more than 25 percent of America’s population. The oldest members of this generation turn 18 this year. Just who are they and what does the church need to know about them?
New research reported by The Washington Post reveals a complicated picture of the generation born since 1998.
1. First true digital native generation
Millennials often claim this title, but more than half of them grew up in the 1980s before being online became ubiquitous. It wasn’t until 2000 that a majority of Americans used the internet.
Since they were born, Generation Z has grown up connected to the web and social media. They are the first generation to have their parents post baby pictures and dance recitals on Facebook. Today Gen Zers are documenting their lives on Instagram and Snapchat.
In 2005, only 7 percent of Americans used at least one social media platform. Today, it’s 65 percent.
But this increased exposure has brought unintended consequences. More than 4 in 10 members of Generation Z (42 percent) say social media impacts their self-esteem.
Churches should focus on helping tweens and teens find their identity and self-worth in Christ, not in the online opinion of others.
2. Love to communicate, but not always with words
Generation Z wants to be constantly connected to their friends and have the ability to chat anywhere, anytime, at an early age. They think everyone should have a smart phone by the age of 13 and should feel free to use it anywhere—family dinners, church services, even weddings.
But just because they want a phone, it doesn’t mean they want to talk on it. They prefer to use fewer words and more videos, gifs (short animated image clips), and emojis (faces and other images included on the keyboards of most smartphones).
Instead of reading texts or blogs, they would rather interact with video and other visual forms. And they would rather do it online than with a television. Among 13- to 24-year-olds, 96 percent watched online video content over the past week at an average of 11 hours a week. By contrast, 81 percent of the same group watched scheduled TV for an average of 8 hours weekly.
You can also see Generation Z’s preference for visual interaction with their top three social media platforms, according to the research in The Washington Post. More than half like Vine (54 percent) and Instagram (52 percent), while a third enjoy Twitter (34 percent). The first two are video and photo sharing sites and Twitter increasingly incorporates images and videos.
But don’t look for them on Facebook. None of the kids interviewed in The Washington Post story said they used it much—“except to appease adult relatives.”
If churches want to leverage social media to reach Generation Z, they will have to spend time on platforms the next generation uses. Having a Facebook page won’t be enough to stay connected to young adults.
Learn how to use video content, like the new Instagram Stories. Here are five ways churches can use that feature.
3. Most racially diverse generation
Millennials have long seen themselves as the most diverse generation, but in reality, they serve more as a bridge to the most multiethnic generation: Generation Z.
Among Americans under 18, whites comprise just over half (52 percent), according to Census analysis by Brookings. As you examine younger segments of Generation Z, the diversity only grows. Looking at the Census data, Pew Research found whites are a minority among children under 5.
Fourteen states already have “majority minority” populations under 18. And in half the states, Generation Z is more than 40 percent minority.
The need for churches to become multicultural is only going to increase as Generation Z enters adulthood. Being surrounded by people from different ethnicities and cultures is becoming the norm for this generation.[Read more about multicultural churches in Facts & Trends issue “United by the Gospel.”]
4. Only beginning their cultural influence
It may seem too early to be discussing the impact of a generation with the majority of its members still in middle and high school. But their influence is coming sooner than you think.
The 2016 election will be the first one in which some members of Generation Z can vote. That doesn’t mean they will though. Only 26 percent say they trust elected officials.
In three years, tens of millions will enter the job force, according to researchers. By 2020, Generation Z will wield $3 trillion in purchasing power.
Early research indicates this new generation is less idealistic and more thrifty than millennials. As they take on more societal influence, their traits—for better or worse—will hold more sway over culture.
If trends continue, fewer members of Generation Z will see religion as important, according to Pew Research.
Evangelical churches will need to find ways to retain children who grow up attending their churches and reach the growing number of the emerging adults who come from unchurched families. After researching college students, a study found eight steps churches can take now to reach (and keep) young adults.
What trends has your church noticed among Generation Z? What are you doing to make sure they stay active in your congregation as they transition into adulthood?
Aaron is a writer for LifewayResearch.com.