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3 Ideas For Increasing Your Influence With Gen Z

This post on influencing Gen Z is written by Shane Sanchez. Shane is The InsideOut Director for Gwinnett Church (a campus of North Point Ministries.) I recently interviewed Shane on ChurchPulse Weekly. You can listen to the interview here

By Shane Sanchez

Does the idea of influencing the next generation (Gen-Z) ever overwhelm you?

Chances are for the last decade you’ve spent time learning how your church can increase influence with millennials. You’ve tried new methods, and done your best to refine a ministry approach that connects with Generation Y. And just as you started feeling like you’re gaining traction with millennials, here comes Generation Z!

Pew defines Gen Z as individuals born between 1997-2012. What’s quickly becoming clear is that they are very different from older generations. Just look at these extraordinary insights from Barna’s Gen Z research project:

Gen Z is…

  • Recession Marked – Born in the midst of the early 2000’s recession.
  • Wi-Fi Enabled – Common Sense Media found that teens spend 9 hours a day online.
  • Multiracial – Most diverse generation in American history.
  • Gender Fluid – 48% say gender is based on “sex a person was born as”.
  • Post-Christians – 78% believe in the existence of God but only 41% attend weekly religious services (and that was before the COVID disruption).

If we’re going to influence a generation marked by recession, the attention economy, unprecedented diversity, identity fluidity, post-Christianity, and now a global pandemic, we’re going to need to try things we’ve never tried before.

Well, good luck with that…

I’m kidding. I’m right there with you! In fact, I might be an eternal optimist but what I’m already seeing in the emerging generation causes me to believe that the best days of the local church are still ahead of us.

It’s easy to take Gen Z at face value and simply dismiss them due to attributes we don’t understand. However, dismissiveness doesn’t build disciples. As a millennial, I’ve heard plenty of knocks and dismissive generalities about my generation from pastors, thought leaders, and older adults. So here’s what I will ask on our behalf: Please don’t do the same thing to Gen Z. It’s time that we seek to understand what makes younger generations so unique and look at their attributes as opportunities for the gospel to work in new ways.

If you seek to understand someone and assume to believe the best about them, it’s amazing how much influence you can gain with them.

Jesus took this approach with tax collectors, zealots, and prostitutes…at very least; we can do this with kids and teenagers.

This means that if you and I want to go where God is leading the church of the future, we have to choose to open our hearts and minds to methods that are built for a generation unlike any before.

Here are 3 foundational ideas to jumpstart your approach to influencing Gen Z:

1. Develop a strategy that outlasts your personality.

It’s time for you and I to confront an underlying issue that has existed in next generation ministry for decades: the personality driven model. You know what this is. It’s the kind of kids or student ministry that dissipates as soon as the key leader moves on to another opportunity. We can do better.

The next generation doesn’t need more big personalities, they need leaders who think strategically.

There are plenty of charismatic YouTube stars and social media Influencers that can entertain and draw a crowd of kids and students to their platform…Gen Z doesn’t need ministry leaders to try to do the same.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be the fullest of who you are or that good old-fashioned charisma isn’t important in next generation ministry, I’m just saying that these things cannot be the only things.

If you think the effective church of the future will be able to hang on the personality or speaking ability of a person, you’re missing the point. For older generations, the charisma of leaders and “cool” factor of the experience was often times more than enough to pique interest. Yet, Generation Z is growing up with unrivaled access to the greatest entertainers on the planet.

Personality can’t be our knockout punch anymore.

Instead, we need to be leaders who put as much emphasis on strategy as we do charisma. We should be inspiring but we should also be focused on playing the long game of building a sustainable ministry. One that continues helping kids and teenagers own their faith, far beyond our tenures.

Are you building a ministry that will last beyond your personality? Are you hiring leaders for how they think or simply how they speak? The local church needs more leaders who are willing to dive into the deep end of strategy and have thoughtful and nuanced dialogue about the best methods, means, and models of the local church for the next generation.

If you don’t have a strategy or have been banking solely on personality, it’s time to start thinking strategically. Charisma has a place in leadership but it’s only as powerful and effective as it is coupled with an effective strategy.

How much time do you spend strategizing methods for a new version of the local church (like digital reach, implementing daily faith practices, and vocational discipleship) rather than just an upgraded version of the current one?

Ok, now that you’re thinking strategically, it’s important to consider the people who are making your strategy possible, the volunteers.

2. Build a system that attracts adult leaders that are worth following.

My pastor, Andy Stanley, has said that one of the biggest steps for someone exploring faith is “trusting a Christian”. What does it look like to build a volunteer system that is focused on finding, training, and supporting the kinds of small group leaders (SGLs) you want kids and students to trust and model their lives after? (Note: Groups aren’t going anywhere. 81% of Gen Z say that community is part of their “ideal church”.)

Let me ask you something: Are your current adult volunteers the kind of adults you want students to become someday?

I know we always need more volunteers, but what if the truth is that you need the right volunteers rather than just more of the mediocre ones? This may sound a bit harsh, but the next generation deserves adults worth following.

I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve seen small group leaders take kids away from church, leave leadership vacuums that kids dissolve in when they leave unexpectedly, and create drama that rivals that of 7th graders.

On the other hand, I’ve seen adult volunteers who have engaged entire families in the local church, helped kids navigate extreme crisis, and breathed momentum into the vision of the ministry. This is why doing the hard work of identifying, recruiting and developing adults worth following is so worth the effort.

Here are a couple of tips for building a system that attracts the right people:

Set a high bar

I truly believe that volunteers will rise to the level of expectations you set for them.

It’s why years ago our small group leader roles shifted from a year-by-year commitment to a 4-year commitment for high school leaders. Additionally we asked all of our SGLs to commit to embodying the principles laid out in the book, Lead Small. Yes, over the course of implementing new expectations, we saw about 80% turnover of our team. However, within a couple of years we re-staffed our SGL roles with quality, consistent, and mission-oriented leaders.

As I said earlier, the truth is, leaders will rise to the level of the bar you set…no matter how low or high that is. Our adult volunteers will almost always respect what we as ministry leaders expect and inspect. Don’t expect extraordinary results when you set ordinary expectations for volunteers.

Develop them spiritually

One of the most important roles for next-gen ministries of the future is to create volunteer systems that help adult leaders grow spiritually.

Many of the volunteers we’re recruiting nowadays are millennial adults. Millennials are the most biblically skeptical people on earth today (even more so than Gen Z).

This means that we can’t millennials to be biblically founded spiritual mentors for Gen Z by default. Instead, what if we started taking the spiritual development of our volunteers just as seriously as that of our kids and students? What if we gave our volunteers spiritual mentors? What if we created environments where they could build their theological foundation? Or what if we wrestled with and studied the Bible alongside them instead just hoping it happens as a part of their daily routine?

We have an opportunity to help Gen Z build a faith of their own, but we also know that we cannot do this alone. We need incredible adult small group leaders that kids and students can trust. When we set a high bar and choose to believe that fostering the spiritual growth of our leaders is our responsibility, we’ll start heading in the right direction.

3. Change your perception of parents.

Ok, let me talk about the elephant in the room. Kids and student ministry leaders just wished parents would care about the spiritual development of their children a little more.

Not to pick on student pastors (I am one), but Barna’s research shows that:

68% of youth pastors say their biggest struggle is parents who don’t prioritize their teen’s spiritual growth.

Maybe you feel this deeply. Well, you’re not alone. However, if you stop here you may also be missing one of the greatest opportunities for building a next gen strategy that reaches Gen Z. Here is another fascinating insight from Barna’s research:

4 out of 5 Christian teens say they can “share honest questions, struggles, and doubts with their parents”. (79%)

This is a really big deal. Christian teenagers feel incredibly safe sharing some of their most personal and pivotal perspectives with their parents. This means that it would be foolish for us to discount the influence of a parent in the spiritual formation of a child or teenager. So, if we want to be strategic about reaching Gen Z, we have to be strategic about including their parents on the journey.

If we are going to strategically prioritize parents we have to genuinely change our perceptions.

We must choose to believe that parents care about the faith of their kids.

If we make this assumption, it means we will also take the time to build a strategy for resourcing, supporting, and encouraging parents of kids and teenagers. There are so many ways we can act out the assumption that parents care about their kid’s faith. From resources that help them navigate social media with their children, to gift cards for a hot coffee on a weary day of parenting.

What matters to you? 

These are 3 ideas to jumpstart your church’s influence with Gen Z but we could process 300 more. Continue the conversation by commenting with what you think matters most as we build ministries that will influence Gen Z.

3 Ideas For Increasing Your Influence With Gen Z

6 Comments

  1. Bill on October 19, 2020 at 11:00 am

    Brian,

    I’m working on some research to discover how to engage the post-Christian morality. Specifically that culture believes itself to be morally superior to the church. Its very Kantian, not very post-modern! I’d love your thoughts on how morality affects our engagement with this generation.

  2. Brian McMichan on October 9, 2020 at 1:54 am

    Many believers and would be believers, think that God makes “the rules” too tough.

    This poem given to me in 1996 explains that is not the case. All He wants of a person is to call out and wait on Him.

    Father, You expressed Your love to me by giving me Your poem… it is a poem to everyone on earth!

    Thank You Father for loving me and accepting me unconditionally.
    You cared enough to give Your Son, and You give this love to me.

    You do not ask that I strive and toil or seek a victory,
    You simply accept me as I am, and You give Your love to me.

    All You ask is that I love You, and trust with all my heart,
    because You sent Your Spirit, to shield me and direct my path.

    Thank You Father for always being there, to hear my praise or plea,
    to listen to my every word. Thank You for loving me.

    Thank You Father for loving me, I know on You I can rely,
    so I let your love envelop me, knowing You value me so high.

    And with Your love inside of me, to others I can pass on,
    that they too can know Your love, because You sent Your Son.

    Thank You Father for loving me, and accepting me unconditionally.
    You cared enough to give Your Son, and You give this love to me.

    Received from my Father, a poem/prayer from Him and back to Him. Brian McMichan 1996

    After being directed to read all 5 chapters in 1 John, every day for about 3 weeks, I awoke one morning to hear the start of the above poem. I quickly wrote down the words on a pad next to my bed …I could hardly keep up with what I was being directed to write.

    It is the only poem I have ever written. … I highly recommend frequent, prayerful reading of 1 John… I use Amplified Bible.

    John (the only Apostle to live to an old age), wrote his epistles shortly before Lord Jesus gave him Revelations, so he was truly and specially used by Lord Jesus and Father.

    It is suggested that this poem and notes are placed in a picture from of clear protective envelope and read often.

    As Father tells us in Zech 4:6 …. It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, He will do all for us, in His timing, as we trust Him and wait on Him …. So, let go and let God do it all!

    For that to happen ….. You must all be born anew (spiritually from above) (John 3:7.) …. This happens when a person believes and follows the example of Jesus in baptism (The Greek word for baptism is “baptidzo” which literally means to “dip” or to “immerse”.) … thus leaving the “old man” behind in the water. Baptism is a step of faith and can be in a river, a pond, a lake … or even under a shower. God knows a person’s faith as they take the step of faith! The “step of faith” allows Father to send His Spirit into a person so that they become spiritually One with Lord Jesus.

    This is explained in John 15 …… (I have repositioned verses 2, 3, 4 and added extra notes to assist in clarification)
    (Amp) John 15:1 (Christ Jesus said) … I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. [Father being the Vinedresser is the Carer of the Vine. After a person is baptised, Father cuts you off the old “Adam vine” and grafts you (spiritually) into Lord Jesus, the True Vine, to become one with Him.]
    John 15:5 I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. …so, moment by moment all grafted in branches that continue to rest in Him, receive all the requirements to bear much fruit (see Gal. 5:22-23)
    And …. John 15:2 Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses {and} repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more {and} richer {and} more excellent fruit. On earth, grape vines are pruned right back after each harvest so that a bountiful harvest will grow next season.
    John 15:3 You are cleansed {and} pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you].
    John 15:4 Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] BUT …Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.

    BUT He warns …. John 15:6 If a person does not dwell in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken-off] branch, and withers; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and they are burned.
    John 15:7 If you live in Me [abide vitally united to Me] and My words remain in you {and} continue to live in your hearts, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.
    John 15:8 When you bear (produce) much fruit, My Father is honoured {and} glorified, and you show {and} prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine.
    John 15:9 I have loved you, [just] as the Father has loved Me; abide in My love [continue in His love with Me].
    John 15:10 If you keep My commandments [if you continue to obey My instructions], you will abide in My love {and} live on in it, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commandments and live on in His love.
    John 15:11 I have told you these things, that My joy {and} delight may be in you, and that your joy {and} gladness may be of full measure {and} complete {and} overflowing.
    John 15:12 This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.

    AND a mighty promise is given at 1 John 4:17 In this [union and communion with Him … as a branch resting in Him] love is brought to completion {and} attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him], because as He is, so are we in this world.

  3. Ron on October 7, 2020 at 10:47 am

    Carry, I believe you are so close with your views, but, in my opinion, you are missing a few key points. You talk about charismatic leadership, but that is not servant leadership, which is about how you equip others and grow their gifts. I am 67 years old and learning about GenZ firsthand through social media has been a real eye opener.

    Try going on TikTok and searching for Christian, I think you will be surprised with what you find and just how alive Christianity is within GenZ. As an experienced leader you will recognize in some the gifts of evangelism, others the gift of leadership(shepherding), and others the gift of teaching. I suggest what is needed is to learn what they need and help them grow their gifts because they can relate to their peers in ways you and I are never going to be able to.

    For me, its time to turn traditional church leadership upside down and focus on equipping the saints, not trying to shoehorn them into a traditional model that is not appropriate for their world. As you have said many times, it is not the message that needs to change but the method, but I suggest the change that is needed is much greater than generations prior to GenZ realize, or are comfortable acdressing.

    • Brian McMichan on October 9, 2020 at 5:40 am

      Correction to submission …

      Delete …. “It is suggested that this poem and notes are placed in a picture from of clear protective envelope and read often.”

      This should read … It is suggested that this poem and notes are to be placed in a picture frame or a clear protective envelope and read often.

  4. Afenuvor Joy on October 7, 2020 at 6:05 am

    Great support for Ministers.

  5. Brian McMichan on October 7, 2020 at 3:43 am

    This is an easy way for children and young people to learn the basic Gospel and share it with others.

    If you need a miracle, ask for one …. and believe!
    Every behaviour is motivated by a belief and every action is prompted by an attitude

    How one tear of a piece of paper saved a man’s life and can save yours as well!

    Today, throughout the world, people are hurting and even killing others who do not believe as they do. In some countries it is prohibited to talk about other than what its leaders believe in.

    A man living in such a country was about to be executed for telling others what he believed in and for refusing to stop giving his message.

    He told them the simple Gospel, the Good News and that killing and hurting people was not from a loving God. He told them that Jesus, as the Son Of God came to earth to show man the way to Life with God, and that through His love for mankind and His death on the Cross and His resurrection, He paid for all of mankind’s wrongdoing and overcame death for man.

    On the evening before the man’s scheduled execution, a senior arresting soldier who had heard what the man had been telling the people, said to him,
    “You say that your Jesus loves you and will save you and that He will never leave you or forsake you.” “You say He died on the Cross for you.”
    As he handed the man a sheet of paper, he challenged him, “We will give your Jesus a chance to save you. If you can make a cross from that piece of paper by tearing it only once, we will release you!”

    The next morning the officer came with his armed guards ready to execute the man.

    Seeing the piece of paper on the floor of the cell, he laughed and said, “I see your Jesus has let you down!”

    “No He hasn’t”, replied the man. “He has told me what to do.”

    Using his right hand, he took the bottom corner of the sheet and carefully folded the bottom edge of the sheet to line up with the long edge. Then with his left hand, he took the point and folded it to line up with the previous crease. Keeping the point on the paper pointing towards him, he turned the folded paper over. With his right hand, creasing from the point to the top of the page, he folded the right hand edge to line up with the other edge. He then folded the right hand edge to line up with the left hand edge. He firmly creased the paper after each fold. He then carefully tore down the length of the folded paper, starting at the centre of the short edge.

    He selected the largest piece of torn paper and unfolded it to reveal a cross (a rugged cross).

    The officer and his guards watched in amazement. True to his word, the officer confirmed that because Jesus had enabled a cross to be made, he would free the man.

    As the man unfolded all the other pieces, he said, “You have heard the message of Salvation for all who believe in Jesus. He has now given me a message telling all who refuse to believe in Him where they will spend eternity.” He arranged the other pieces of paper to form the word “HELL”. As he then re-arranged the scraps of paper again, he said ”but Jesus has given us life and He wants you to have it”. He then made the word “LIFE” (the two slips of paper from H are placed on top of each other –two become one ) – Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.

    As the officers and the guards read the word LIFE, they eagerly sought to know how they too could be saved.

    (Amp) John 3:16-18 For God so greatly loved {and} dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.
    For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation {and} be made safe {and} sound through Him.
    He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation–he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in {and} trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]
    —————————————————————————————————————–
    Make copies of these pages and keep them with some blank pages ready to share with others. This is an easy way you can go into the world and preach the (simple) Gospel.

    One way to introduce this to people is simply to say, “Would you like to hear a story?” or “Who wants to see a miracle?”

    After you have shared the story, the person(s) you have shared with usually will wish to fold and tear a piece of paper for themselves, so have some ready.

    Give them a copy of these pages.

    Children and teens are especially keen to share this with their family and friends (the term most frequently used when they see it is “awesome”.)
    Prov 3:5-6 Lean on, trust in, {and} be confident in the Lord with all your heart {and} mind and do not rely on your own insight {or} understanding.
    In all your ways know, recognize, {and} acknowledge Him and He will direct {and} make straight {and} plain your paths.
    Heb 13:5 …. for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you {nor} give you up {nor} leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless {nor} forsake {nor} let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]

    The man in our story knew that Jesus would not let Him down. As he waited in his jail cell he did not worry or frantically seek a way of avoiding execution. He simply trusted in the God Who loved him and promised to take care of him … and Jesus did not let him down. Jesus also used the circumstance to teach the guards that message.

    1. Father “organised” for the Christian (and “armour clad”) man to go to that country and location.
    2. He “organised” for the man to witness to the people (Rom 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.)
    3. He “organised” for the police to be nearby and hear what was being said.
    4. He “organised” for one of the police to challenge the man, ““You say that your Jesus loves you and will save you and that He will never leave you or forsake you.” “You say He died on the Cross for
    you.” As he handed the man a sheet of paper, he challenged him, “We will give your Jesus a chance to save you. If you can make a cross from that piece of paper by tearing it only once, we will
    release you!”
    5. He “organised’ that the man understood what was required with the paper (the folding, tearing & arranging).
    6. He “organised” that the guards would see that Jesus was the only way to be kept out of Hell.
    7. He was true to His Word (Luke 4:18:19 .. “He came to free the captives”)… the man sentenced to death.
    8. He ”organised” that the “Paper Cross and the story“ was easily shared with others … even by young people.
    My first experience at sharing the “Paper Cross” was when I volunteered to do an RE class at a local school. There were only about 10-12 children in the class (aged about 14). About the third week I decided to tell them the story and show them the “Paper Cross.” I had not expected the result, but fortunately I had brought a pack of office paper. They all wanted to fold and tear the paper, over and over again. Soon there was a carpet of paper on the classroom floor. They were so excited. At the end of the class, they each took more paper onto the school grounds and shared it with friends. Next week they told me how they had shown their parents, brothers and sisters. Likely, the message was passed on to others. (Likely within hours, more than 100 people had heard the Gospel AND knew how to tell others). How quickly the Gospel message can spread when it is presented in a simple easy-to-convey way. Since that time, there have been many opportunities for me to share “The Paper Cross” in Australia and overseas. In every case, no matter who it was (individuals or a few), the response was WOW! It was something they could easily share with others.
    About 10 years later, I was in the town near the school and a young woman spoke to me, “I was in the class when you taught us “The Paper Cross”, thank you. I still share it with others.
    Ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit throughout each day to guide you, to have you meet who He wants you to talk to. Then, as directed, show it to others! Spread the good news. E mail it, add your name and contact details if you choose. Too often, Christianity is made to be too complicated with man-made rules, procedures, pride, etc. That is not the way Jesus taught it.
    Matt 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said, With men this is impossible, but all things are possible with –God.
    About two years later, as I was walking through a small town in Queensland, Australia. I saw a Brethren man standing on the edge of the footpath giving a monotone delivery of his “message”. No one was stopping. I asked him, “Would you like to get some attention?” He looked at me wondering what I was going to do.
    There “just happened” to be a folded newspaper on a bus seat a few paces away, so I tore off a page & announced to the passing crowd .. “Who wants to see a miracle?” This grabbed the attention of 1-2 people. I went on my hands & knees & as I was telling the story I folded & tore the paper. By this time, there was quite a small crowd gathering.
    As I unfolded the torn paper, Ooh’s and Aah’s were heard. Then, “Do it again!”, “Show me how to do that!”, etc, etc. After doing it about 3 more times (asking the Brethren man to watch), I went on my way with people doing the folding & tearing.
    That has been a similar story in parks, at airports, on ships, etc, etc. in many parts of the world.

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