By Mike Leake, Crosswalk.com
I have an important message for you. It is life-altering, and whether or not you embrace this message is a dividing line between orthodox Christianity and unbelief. Ready for the message? Here it is:
Some of you might have been able to read that. But I’m guessing that most of you began wondering if perhaps we messed up the font and changed it to Wingdings on you. The line above is John 1:1, written in Greek uncial — all caps, no space.
It’s tough to read, isn’t it? Unless you know Greek, you’re going to need a translation. Somebody has to bridge the gap to speak the original message into the language of the receptor (you).
This isn’t only for speaking different languages, though. Sometimes this is even needed within our own language. Today, if I tell my spouse that she looks nice in a dress, she’ll receive it as a compliment. But in the 14th or 15th century, my words would have been deeply insulting.
“Nice” meant that someone was stupid, foolish, and ignorant. “Hey, honey, that dress looks really foolish on you.” That slaps a little differently, doesn’t it?
And some of you just read that as a physical slap across the face, but my younger readers understood this to mean something like “relates a little different.”
All of this serves as an introduction to our question today. Should we reconsider how we share the gospel with Gen Z?
Should We Change How We Share the Gospel?
Note carefully the question. We cannot; we must not attempt to change the content of the gospel message. The good news itself does not change. We are ambassadors of this good news — to be faithful, we must share the message of our King.
However, that doesn’t mean that we do not need to contextualize or figure out how to share the message in a way that is in the language of the receptors.
We should attempt to share the message in a way that the only stumbling block is the content of the message itself. Allow me another illustration.
Imagine meeting me on the street, and I passionately ask you this question. “Do you believe Sting is going to join the New World Order?” Now, pending your knowledge of 1990’s WCW wrestling, you’re likely going to be confused.
You might think I’m talking about the lead singer of the Police. Or you might be entirely lost. How engaged would you be if I continued to tell you all of the reasons why I believed Sting was in fact still loyal to WCW and not going to join the NWO? You’d be understandably lost.
In this instance, you’ve stumbled over my insistence on talking about 90’s wrestling and using jargon without explaining it.
I mean, it’s true that if you’re going to be a fan of late 90’s wrestling, you need to know about Sting and the NWO, but it’s foolish of me to assume that we can begin there. I need to change the way I ask my question.
And if I really want to maximize the opportunity for engagement, it’s helpful to ask this in a way that answers questions that you actually are asking.
The same is true with sharing the gospel with someone from Generation Z. We need to know how to share the unchanging message of the gospel in a language that they can understand and in a way that is good news for the questions they are asking.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit knows them (and us) better than we will ever know them or even ourselves. He is able to speak in their heart language, but we’ll be more privy to His work if we take the time to understand those who are receiving this good news.
Who Is Gen Z?
Generation Z, sometimes known as Zoomers, are those born between the mid-late 1990s and the early 2010s. For simplicity let’s say that it’s anyone born between 1997 and 2012.
They are the first generation to have grown up entirely online. They are “digital natives.” As Pew Research says,
“The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest Gen Zers were 10. By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young Americans connected with the web was through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age. For those born after 1996, these are largely assumed.”
It's important to note that it’s important we treat each person as an individual. One of the things that we’ll find with Generation Z is that they want to share their own stories, even if they have a more fluid definition of identity than previous generations.
It’s foolish to pigeonhole someone and assume that we know their heart simply because we know a few broad characteristics about their generation. Yet, it can be helpful to know a few characteristics and unique challenges for Generation Z.
What Are Their Unique Characteristics?
There is a plethora of information out there about Generation Z. There are plenty of stereotypes and plenty of studies being done attempting to understand the things which this generation has in common. I’ll try to sum it up this way.
They are digital natives immersed in digital technology. As such, they are going to have a shorter attention span, an ability to form deeper connections online — but also a thirst for face-to-face interaction.
They are swimming in a world of memes, deep fakes, and constant change. This helps them to be highly adaptive and fluid but also creates a feeling of groundlessness.
This is why many studies show them to be the most anxious generation, but they are also more aware of mental health than any previous generation.
This generation is also the most diverse and inclusive of any generation. As an example,“About six-in-ten Gen Zers (59%) say forms or online profiles should include additional gender options.”
They are also passionate about things like social justice and climate change and will often use digital tools to turn their passions into opportunities for others.
They also have an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. They are inclined to explore freelancing, side gigs, and creative ventures, often leveraging digital tools to turn their passions into opportunities. They are also incredibly pragmatic.
Having grown up in a time of economic insecurity and technological disruption, they tend to prefer that which will give them stability. They are pragmatic in their approach to education and careers.
What Are Their Unique Challenges?
There are some unique challenges which this generation faces, some of which we haven’t even experienced the full impact of.&
What will be the result of a generation that grew up with their parents having faces buried in a cell phone?
How will a generation be impacted when a global pandemic halted the world during its formative years?
There are also unique challenges to the gospel. However, it’s helpful to remember that regeneration is impossible with any generation.
Each generation has its own set of barriers, and the Spirit is able to overcome each of these. But there are a few specific challenges that might present themselves with Generation Z.
- The digital noise and a short attention span make it difficult to even gain attention.
- Being constantly bombarded with information makes it difficult to show the exclusivity of Christ.
- There is a good chance they have little to zero church background.
- If they do have a perception of the church, it is likely negative.
- Prevalent secularism and materialism make questions of the afterlife seem foolish.
How Should We Change How We Share the Gospel with Gez Z?
If we consider the characteristics as well as the hurdles of this generation, we can begin to think through ways in which we might be able to share the gospel message to help our receptors hear the good news in their own language.
First, because they likely have very little church background, we cannot assume religious language — or even a familiarity with religious concepts.
“Did you know Jesus died so that you can spend eternity in heaven” is good news, but it’s not going to be received as good news by Generation Z because they likely don’t have a proper framework for these concepts.
In an insightful article, Josh Chen mentions three prevalent worldviews and how Jesus provides a solution. He lists them as:
1. Guilt and innocence: “Jesus Christ paid the penalty for my sin, allowing me access to heaven.”
2. Shame and honor: “Jesus Christ freed me from my shame and allows me to be who I was created to be.”
3. Fear and power: “Jesus Christ defeated the principalities of this world, freeing us from demonic oppression.”
Chen notes that we’re moving out of the first worldview and into the second worldview. Generation Z is filled with anxiety and likely shame.
As we move into an honor/shame culture, we’ll need to think about how to share the gospel in these terms instead of the guilt/innocence framework that we are more familiar with.
All of these are part of the good news. The Bible speaks of each of these frameworks. We do well to learn which conversation we need to have so that the good news is heard as good news.
This generation is hungry for good news. They are hungry for a captivating story. They are longing for meaningful connections.
In previous generations, we were almost over-saturated with Bible knowledge. They’ve heard all the Bible stories, and they’d had their own church experience, “been there done that.” Many within Generation Z cannot say that.
There is a curiosity there. The lack of biblical knowledge can actually be a bridge to the gospel. But we must treat the Bible and the good news as the story it is, the most compelling and real story in the history of stories, and not like a refrigerator manual.
It’s not basic instructions before leaving Earth. It’s the story that explains all other stories. It’s what can provide integrity to the fluidity of their world.
They are also incredibly inquisitive, but they aren’t likely to ask an adult, much less a religious leader, for an answer to their question. They are going to search YouTube.
Why not face this reality and labor to produce quality Christian content that answers the questions this generation is asking? We should think about how to effectively share the gospel digitally.
The Next Generation
Personally, I’m incredibly excited about the gospel proclamation for this generation. Just as with every generation, there are difficulties but also positives to sharing Jesus. While their lack of Bible knowledge is discouraging, it is also incredibly exciting.
It’s like starting over again and seeing wonder when they hear some of these stories for the very first time.
It’s amazing to think about how we can meet broken and hurting people who are overcome with anxiety and overwhelmed by the groundlessness of our world and share with them the hope of Jesus Christ. He is the answer to our anxiety.
The field is ripe for harvest.
Will we learn how to speak the good news in their language?
For further reading:
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