This post is written by Dillon Smith, a Gen Z team member at Carey Nieuwhof Communications.

There’s no doubt that Gen Z has some different habits than previous generations.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, the environment that we’ve grown up in is completely unique, and unlike any generation before.

We spend more time online, go outside less, and care about wildly different things than our parents did when they were kids.

You might look at these habits and think that these habits are “just a phase” or that we’ll “grow out of it.”

We won’t.

At the time I’m writing, I’m 22 and I still watch A TON of YouTube. Even post-graduation, my classmates still spend a ton of time on Instagram and TikTok. None of us plan on making any of these a smaller part of our lives.

So for the church: How do you become a bigger part of our lives online?

Well, first, I think you need to be aware of how and why we behave and think the way we do.

I’m seeing 7 habits of Generation Z that your church might be ignoring. Here’s the list:

1. I watch who I want, when I want

The internet has given me the freedom to watch exactly who I want, when I want.

So, the only reason my friends or I are watching your church online is either because our parents are making us, or because we deeply care about what you have to say.

There are just too many other appealing ways to pass the time for us to waste our time on something that isn’t helpful or fun to watch.

So what does this mean for teaching pastors and service programming directors?

10 seconds of boring is enough to lose a Gen Z viewer.

Every second of online content you produce needs to add value in an efficient and engaging way.

2. If you want me to follow you for a long time, I need to get to know you

Our spirituality is one of the most sacred and private things we have, and if you want Gen Z to trust you with our time and subscription, we need to trust you.

And, a weekly sermon just doesn’t cut it for us.

In this digital era, churches should be producing more personal content online, not less.

There are tons of Twitch streamers and YouTubers who are doing this well. As church leaders, it’s about time that we start learning from them.

The single best YouTuber I’ve found at building a feeling of community and trust is a guy named Matt Carriker. Matt (who happens to be a Christian) has built three massively successful YouTube channels that have a combined total of 15.26 million subscribers.

His OffTheRanch channel is a personal vlog, and his fastest-growing channel that allows his viewers to see into his family, his hobbies, his character flaws, his ideas, and his work. By taking us into his real life, it builds more trust and community within his audience.

I think churches could do something similar.

Lead pastors could take the vlog camera home and show some of how they parent, or the staff could bring the vlog to worship practice or community service projects to show how the church is run throughout the week.

It’s just an idea, but ideas like this are going to reach my generation.

If you want more on how to create videos that people love to watch and engage with, Sean Cannell’s Video Influencers would be another great channel to check out. Here’s Sean’s recent interview on Carey’s podcast.

3. I’ve been trained to view myself as a brand

Thanks to platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, I’ve grown up viewing myself as my own brand.

I don’t think this mindset is healthy, but I do think it’s accurate. And as the church, we’re called to reach people where they actually are, not where we would hope they’d be.

If you want to reach a “me-centered” generation, show us what’s in it for us.

One biblical angle to take with this is to change your church’s focus from the Sunday experience to what the church is doing throughout the week. Show us how we can join your movement and not just build your platform.

This might be a bit closer to how the church was designed to function anyway. 😉

4. Gen Z would prefer to avoid our parent’s generation on social media

When I look back at my time in school, new social media apps like Vine, YikYak, Kik, and TikTok would come up in popularity in phases.

The life cycle of a new app would look like this:

  1. A new app would release
  2. It would become popular because our parents had no idea about it yet
  3. Our parents would find out about it and create an account or have the school block it
  4. We would all abandon it for the next app
  5. Repeat

I think this is part of why TikTok exploded like it did, and why many of the young people I know are spending less time on Facebook and Instagram and more time on TikTok. It’s still cool to avoid our parent’s generation online.

So, for you and your church, I’ve got a few strategies to think about:

  1. Even as new apps become popular, I still follow Craig Groeschel on Instagram and YouTube. I follow him because I trust him, and I’ll still watch him on those platforms because I know he’ll be there. If you’re a senior pastor, stick to where your people know you are, and double down.
  2. For taking new ground on new apps (like TikTok), let a young staff member or young volunteer take the lead. Let the student ministry put effort towards experimental apps, and as the average age of an app’s users increases, begin to add adult-focused content.
  3. No matter how old you are, don’t try to be someone you aren’t. If I see John Piper dancing on TikTok tomorrow, I’m going to be more concerned and less likely to follow him. No matter the platform, being authentically you is the best way forward.

5. Diversity isn’t optional

A couple of years ago, Greg Atkinson told me that if you want to reach the next generation, having a diverse church isn’t optional. He’s right.

Our schools are diverse, our workplaces are diverse, and our friend groups are diverse. If your church isn’t at least as diverse as the school we grew up in, we will question you as an organization.

As Derwin Gray and Darryn Scheske pointed out on a recent ChurchPulse Weekly podcast episode:

“Young adults aren’t leaving the church, they’re leaving the white church.”

If you want more on leading a diverse church, this interview is a great place to start.

6. My mental health issues aren’t going away

One of the biggest issues facing the next generation is a sharp decline in mental health.

Here’s the strange part: We’re fully aware of the mental health crisis, and what’s causing it, but our phones are too good to give up.

The rewards of the internet outweigh the risks for us.

So, how can you help?

Sadly, a sermon series once a year isn’t enough to reach a generation plagued with anxiety. The church needs a better solution.

Maybe it’s opening a counseling wing attached to your church. Maybe it’s making mental health a regular focus of your young adult ministry or small group or something else entirely. Whatever it is, this is a felt need that we have year-round that the church can’t ignore.

7. When I talk to my non-Christian friends about church, I usually need to lead with an apology

During my first couple of years of bible college, I was a server and bartender at a restaurant in downtown Omaha.

All but two of my coworkers were 16 to 30-year-olds who were either atheist or agnostic, and almost all of them had stories about how the church had hurt them or their families.

So, if I wanted to have any form of evangelistic/spiritual conversation with them, I had to first apologize (for something I had nothing to do with) and convince them that not every Christian is judgmental or abusive.

This is true for most of the people my age.

If the church wants to reach the next generation, justified or not, you’ll need to apologize to most of the next generation first.

I wish this weren’t true. And I wish it were just an isolated thing, but it’s not.

As evidence that this wasn’t just my experience, I posted a tweet last week in a moment of stress that I would not be so quick to post again. The tweet said;

“As a 22-year old Christian, too often it feels like I’m a Christian in spite of the Church rather than because of the church.”

Again, if I could go back in time I don’t think I’d tweet this again, but one thing that shocked me was the response I saw.

It was by far the most liked and retweeted tweet I’ve ever shared.

And you know who did nearly all of the liking and retweeting?

Gen Z Christians.

They responded with things like

“Oof, I feel this.”
“This is sadly true.”
“I would share if I didn’t think it would create a storm I’m not prepared to tackle.”

This massive response tells me that the emotion I was feeling when I originally posted the tweet is hitting a chord with the rest of my generation. It’s telling me that the tweet might be more right than I know.

As the Church, we need to get ahead of this.

We need to follow Jeff Henderson’s advice and make sure our communities know what we’re FOR rather than what we’re against, and we need to apologize to those we’ve hurt, even if it wasn’t us who did it.

If we don’t do this, more and more irrelevance and hate await the bride of Christ.

Is there more? 

Did I miss anything? Are there other habits of Gen-Z that we’re missing? Did you find this article helpful?

Leave a comment below and let us know.

7 Habits of Generation Z That Your Church Might Be Ignoring


  1. Jason on August 15, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    I’m not GenZ by any stretch of the imagination, but what about social action and engagement? I’m not saying churches have to adopt a certain political stance to attract young people, but from what I’m beginning to see, if a church is not at least willing and able to engage intelligently on issues such as systemic racism, climate change, etc., most of GenZ is not going to take them seriously. My limited experience is that maybe you don’t have to agree with them on these types of issues, but simply ignoring them isn’t a legitimate option anymore.

  2. Maranatha OB on August 7, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Great insight Dillon! Thanks a lot!

  3. Ryan H on August 4, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for this, Dillon, these 7 things seem to ring true to me. Helpful to see them codified. I’m Gen X as far as I know. And I think the bigger question is a question of values. I don’t value technology and social media like others do. The core things I want out of life and ministry don’t require technology. I see a huge values clash here. Not only the fact that, sorry, I and my family (and most of my staff and Elders and Deacons for that matter) would be terrifyingly uncomfortable with turning our lives into a reality TV show. People in ministry already live in a glass house — I cherish aspects of my life where someone else is not there or able to comment on it!

    Here’s what would help me: What are the Values of Gen-Z ers? WHY do they value tech and such as they do? If I understood that, I could get somewhere with this. I don’t foresee spending the prodigious time and effort it would be to put my life online — vlog– to prove myself to a detached viewer. I would LOVE to spend time and effort hammering out what each might value, why, how church community can give that, how Christ gives that and on and on… Anyway, thanks much.

  4. david on July 31, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Yes, but as a 60 year old I have experienced 1st hand some nasty, rude comments. I have travelled the world many times and NA Christians are the nastiest people I have met. Maybe its time we looked at the beam in our before jumping at the mote in others. I am a Christian despite Christians. I will be in heaven many ‘Christians’ will not be.

  5. Mark on July 31, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    Some people call themselves Christians yet do not act like a Christian should. Some of those people may be on the back row, the front row, in leadership, or in the pulpit. You will never get an organisation exactly the way you want it. If so, it will only have one member. Follow Jesus and act like Jesus taught people to do. You can’t go wrong doing that. Now, does it need to be easier to participate in church, of course. Does leadership need to be open to a wider group, of course. Now, this is a gen x person’s opinion who felt run out too.

  6. James on July 31, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    I thought you were a GenZ and expert on this generation until you said you use Twitter. 🤪 Actually, this is a great article, thanks for the thought out into it. My Gen Z kids don’t use and don’t know any other GenZ’s who use Twitter. 😀
    Thanks again, very helpful and pointed. I’ll be sharing this with my church to continue the conversation because EVERY generation has value to God.

  7. Todd on July 31, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Nice article. Quick question Dillon. Are Z’s leaving the ‘white church’ as stated or non-gospel centered churches (which I would think smack of being inauthentic) in general…. and those happen to be white? I think it is an important distinction. My understanding from this site and others, that bible preaching churches tend to grow and vice versa… Your thoughts?

    • Dillon Smith on July 31, 2020 at 12:59 pm

      Hey Todd, great question!

      I’ve got 3 answers.

      1. Since I pulled that Quote from Derwin and Darryn on ChurchPulse Weekly, I do think it’s actually talking about white and black churches. I don’t want to assume anything but what they said in this interview:

      2. Sadly, the definition of “Bible preaching” is a bit hard to make. A lot of growing churches preach the Bible, but what I’ve found is that there are a lot of the churches that call themselves “Bible preaching churches” (implying that most others aren’t) who are a bit too far on the legalistic side. Those legalistic churches definitely aren’t growing, and definitely aren’t reaching people my age, in my experience…

      There is a really great church here in town called CityLight church that is reaching A TON of young people, and they are also a deeply diverse and Bible preaching church (although they would rarely call themselves that…)

      I think in the future, you will need diversity, Biblical preaching, authenticity and humility if you want to reach any of Gen-Z in America.

      • Maranatha OB on August 7, 2020 at 12:33 pm

        I will have a tendency to think that when I hear white churches, it’s more a reference to the system, the way of doing things that is rooted in white culture . It could be a church with some level of diversity in the pews but it doesn’t mean that diversity is integrated in the way church is done, executed.

    • Jillyemma71 on August 2, 2020 at 4:06 am

      Brilliant article but you didn’t mention LGBT issues in your diverse comment. Dont ignore this.massive difference in generations.

      • david on August 2, 2020 at 8:57 am

        Think the Bible is very clear about this. God is always the same – he doesn’t change over time.

  8. David on July 31, 2020 at 11:59 am

    ““As a 22-year old Christian, too often it feels like I’m a Christian in spite of the Church rather than because of the church.”” … it is not just 20 somethings (age of my kids), I am almost 60 and feel the same way … lets face it the vast majority of Christians are nasty, rude, arrogant people not the type of people who want to spend time and are are certainly not Christ like.

  9. Doc on July 31, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Two words today after reading this post and the comments: inexpressible sadness.

    I care deeply about reaching new people in new generations — it’s why I subscribe to this.

    I also believe strongly that the Christian church I grew up in has flaws and has been stuck in some bad ruts that have created obstacles for the spread of the gospel. (Also why I subscribe to this.)

    But this post and these comments make me so very sad. I want to apologize yes… but maybe not for the church. Maybe on behalf of the parents who were so apathetic in their Christianity or so absent that they’ve allowed a generation to be raised by tech babysitters who have been allowed shape their thinking and to exploit them since birth.
    The admitted self-centeredness of Generation Z is antithetical to Christianity. And a generation willing to cancel if the message is not what their itching ears wanted to hear will always find love in the arms of another preacher.
    Allow me to present another scenario: the rain shower of the gospel is moving. Gen Z in western culture does not appear to have the strength or conviction to retain the society that others built and maybe they won’t have the freedom (or desire) to shop for churches for very long. But there are people in the world right now who care more about what God says than about whether or not a church looks like they want or sounds like what they want or has enough homosexual tolerance or female representation in leadership. Christians throughout history have had to shake the dust off their feet and move on… sometimes because of persecution, sometimes by choice. Maybe it’s time to focusing our energy and resources on a different diversity— following the rain shower to people in other parts of the world

    • Steve on August 1, 2020 at 11:23 am

      great response, well thought out.

    • Yo on August 8, 2020 at 6:42 pm

      Yo. But That right there. 👆👀

    • Kayjay on August 9, 2020 at 7:56 pm

      Thank you fir your clarity and boldness…You hit many points…you are smart and compassionate and you get it…however the rain shower here is massive because of the abdication of X, Y and later boomers in applying the…”let them decide if they want to go to church or study Bible etc when they are older and can decide for them selves.” Sadly without a basic understanding of wrong we can’t know right…and you don’t know what you don’t know!! My opinion …

  10. bob on July 31, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Not sure how those timely points rolled into Catholic Church, but back to the points – You could not be more timely. I do not have confidence that much will change these reasons that I often here: 1) We make no apologies for boldly preaching the word at (Name the Church). And, I hear that no point in changing anything because unless God moves them you are wasting your time. Nothing wrong with being innovative. The next wave is the progressive church if we don’t address some of these items. We need to establish dialogue and be patient and hold back the aggressive evangelism.

  11. bob on July 31, 2020 at 11:01 am

    Not sure how those timely points rolled into Catholic Church, but back to the points – You could not be more timely. I do not have confidence that much will change these reasons that I often here: 1) We make no apologies for boldly preaching the word at (Name the Church). And, I hear that no point in changing anything because unless God moves them you are wasting your time. Nothing wrong with being innovative. The next wave is the progressive church if we don’t address some of these items.

  12. Alice Holland on July 31, 2020 at 10:50 am

    I thought the bible had instructed His people to ‘come out of her’ in the Last Days as it would become corrupted. We don’t need church – all we need is HIM and if we really know Him then we are happy and content knowing He is there for all our needs.
    I found Jesus in 1962 and I am now 86. In all that time He has never let me down and I have been used for deep ministry and healing simply
    because I know Him. I came to the Barossa 4 years ago and after visiting the local churches I decided to stay home with Him. I am ailing
    which makes it more suitable.
    With my visits I was disappointed to find myself with Christians that didn’t know Him – for instance, There was 15 mins of prayer and worship
    to bring Him into our presence. as well as prayers for people that have had their problems for years.
    Let me explain. When we give our lives to Jesus we become ONE with Him. Jesus came into that room with every committed Christian standing there We don’t have to invite Him in as if He is a guest..
    Jesus and I are ONE. He is my COMPANION, my FRIEND, my LOVE, my COUNSELLOR, my HEALER He is everything. in 57 years He has healed me from all manner of complaints and serious illnesses He has brought me through the London Blitz, poverty and a childhood of abuse and as in the case of most abused children, I went into an abused marriage as I didn’t think I was worth better.
    The Lord and I have grown closer as I’ve aged and become infirm. The more I need Him the closer we get.
    You can have the same experience if you lean on Him rather than look for others in churches to do it for you.
    That person that said, ‘I don’t feel close to Jesus now’ is replied, ‘Well – WHO – moved?…. it could only be us.

  13. Major Rollins on July 31, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this information with us. Hearing from GenZ is insightful and useful for understanding how that generation thinks, feels and acts. You also gave us what to do and not just where that generations stands, so helpful.

    • Dillon Smith on July 31, 2020 at 11:52 am

      So glad to help!

  14. TDuncan on July 31, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Right. On. Point.
    I am a Gen Xer trying to figure out how to minister to the children of Gen X/Millenials. This is EXACTLY the information I need right now as I’m trying to put together a new Middle School ministry that is all online. The only thing good about the pandemic is that it is forcing me online. And I think it is radically changing my ministry.
    The points about Apps, Diversity, LGBTQ and Mental Health are HUGE. I see it already in my discussions with my 11-13 year olds. The parents however are stuck in Generation old white church… The Pastor and I are probably some of the only hope that these kids will have a safe place to grow their Christian faith despite their parents…It’s a daunting task that I never aspired to and I feel like Jonah… Thank you for this article!

    • Dillon Smith on July 31, 2020 at 11:53 am

      Wow, you are in a tough spot. I’m so glad to help how I can.

      Maybe you could send this article out to some of the parents?

      Cheering you on!

    • Mike Sheley on August 6, 2020 at 10:41 pm

      I lead our church’s ministry for 10-14 year olds and also found this post inspiring and challenging. If there’s a way we can connect and exchange ideas. I’d enjoy collaborating as we innovate!

  15. Robin G Jordan on July 31, 2020 at 9:33 am

    I thought that I would add my two-cents. I am sure that the previous generation thought that Boomers ere going through a phase too and would outgrow it. We didn’t. I don’t see why anyone in my generation or a subsequent generation would think that Generation Z was going through a phase. There are two constants in this world. One is Jesus; the other is change. Every generation is different. Sure, each generation has things in common but their life experiences are different. I can remember a time when my family did not have a phone, TV, electricity, or running water. We had a cistern that caught water from the roof. We purified the water with halazone tablets and then boiled it. We had a wireless (radio) that ran on batteries. Times change; people change. I know a lot of Generation Z’ers from my university. They are great people. I regret that we are passing on such a messed up world to them.

  16. T Jack on July 31, 2020 at 8:44 am

    I wholeheartedly agree, this is a great article with excellent advice. It’s also not just relevant for gen z, I feel many of these things as a gen x as well. I do have to say that I think there needs to be more under diversity. I’m completely done with churches that are complimentarian, done like dinner, and churches that are unwelcoming and unloving towards lgbt people. These are basic human rights issues, regardless of how eloquently you want to argue theology. My family and I, consisting of two gen x, a millennial, and a gen z won’t argue, we will just move on.

    I noted that every single source Dillon used was from a male in leadership, if I were church shopping that would be my first red flag. Creating diversity and demonstrating equality is a top down initiative in both subtle and overt ways, leaders should be cognizant of the message they are sending without words.

    Overall, great article with great points. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Keith Harcombe on July 31, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Thank you Dillon for this insightful and straight-to-the-point article.
    I am sending this article to my Gen Zer and will ask the same questions of them.

    Please lead the church in the next era!
    Also, what is your insta handle?

    • Dillon Smith on July 31, 2020 at 11:55 am

      I hope that conversation is great!

      My Insta handle is @dillon_m_smith 🙂

  18. Keith Harcombe on July 31, 2020 at 8:40 am

    This is an excellent article Dillon. I am sending it to my Gen Zer’s and asking them the same questions.
    Thank you for this insightful and straight-to-the -point piece on the church today.
    Please lead the church in this next era! What is your insta handle?

  19. Rev. Elizabeth Woodruff on July 31, 2020 at 8:29 am

    Thank you for the insightful article that does a good job on examining GEN Z in terms of discipleship and listing actual recommended solutions of how discipleship take place.

  20. Lexi on July 31, 2020 at 8:24 am

    I would also add having darn good answers for LGBTQIA+ issues. The biggest hurdle to church I see in my generation. Gen Z comes to church, but then they find out the church is accepting but not affirming, and they leave.

    • christopher on July 31, 2020 at 8:52 am

      I agree with you that the Church needs to find a way to engage these issues…but could you elaborate your thought on the church being “accepting but not affirming”?

      • NSL on July 31, 2020 at 8:12 pm

        Amen! To be honest, I think this is more a representation of “Gen Z” in an entitled, all about me, North American context, and not the rest of the world. We got plenty of passionate, radical Gen Z in Asia, Latin Americas and other parts of the world who willingly risk their lives for the gospel. Run into a flawed churches with no lasers, smoke machines and “production” teams to set the atmosphere. Who understand that Jesus said “Take up your cross and follow me.” not “I’ll take up your cross, follow you and be your little genie in a bottle for you to let out when you have needs.” It may be hard to believe but there are actually Gen Z’s who actually find Jesus and what He’s done on the cross to be enough reason to lay down their lives for without having to be “entertained” by pastors week after week. God indeed help His church in North America. The Gospel Rains indeed is moving across the nation’s. Blessed are those nations who bow to His Lordship rather than make Him conform to theirs.

    • Holly on August 1, 2020 at 10:43 pm

      I agree about having a more significant way to address the LGBTQIA+ issues. I’m Gen X and my daughter is Gen Z. She’s trans. I left my last church because the pastor made derogatory remarks about LGBT people and transgender in particular. Because I had been heavily involved with the church, they called me to ask why I was leaving. I explained that my daughter was LGBT and we didn’t feel welcome there. The secretary said, “Well, it can be hard to watch your child live a life of sin.” NO. Not only was that the wrong way to lead me back, it also isn’t in line with what I believe Jesus would do. I believe that Jesus would show acceptance and welcome to everyone. There is nothing in the Bible that says he died for everybody except groups X, Y and Z. I haven’t been back to church since.

      • david on August 1, 2020 at 11:25 pm

        Wow!! You must have a different Bible than us!

        • Holly on August 2, 2020 at 1:45 pm

          There are many different ways to interpret the Bible; that’s why there are so many churches. By saying “you must have a different Bible than the rest of us” you’re immediately setting us into an us vs. you scenario. How very welcoming. But I agree that this is an issue you’ll have to deal with because it’s part of Gen Z and the parents who love them. If you can’t find a way to become more inclusive of them, you’ll continue to see high numbers who want nothing to do with church.

  21. An Wingert on July 31, 2020 at 4:00 am

    I agree it isn’t safe to go into a Catholic church.

    I was a 3-4 X/week,50 year plus, cradle Roman Catholic watching the pedophile crisis in horror, especially when the previous entity in possession of the vatican compared women who want to be priests to pedophiles. Then the PA bishops ordered all the priests to blatantly lie about PA Bill 1947 which extended the statute of limitations on pedophiles. I complained to my local priest; who handed out the “Catholic’ League’s Essay “Women’s Moral Descent” with its theme that men have the right and moral obligation to decide which women deserve to be raped. I called my daughter at college, crying, saying that all the priests were depraved perverts totally dedicated to worshipping their dicks. Her response, “Duh, Mom! I’m sorry you had to figure it out in such a painful way.

    The Australian canon lawyer and the sociologist published two documents. The first is a legal report entitled “Canon Law – A Systemic Factor in Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church.” (Free download from National Catholic Reporter) written for the Australian government. The second is the lay version “Potiphar’s Wife.” (Buy on line for real money). I verified the information with the author of the second book and the legal firm from the movie Spotlight. A third is “Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church; An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Report” another free download through the Center for Global Research; School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT Both books thoroughly document how the vatican ORDERED the bishops to protect the pedophiles starting 100 years ago. They include more detail on the Pontifical Secret that Francis just abolished.

    • Will Lyon on July 31, 2020 at 9:09 am

      The article went into detail about how to be honest, accepting and non-judgmental, and then this bizarre and offensive opinion about the Catholic Church. It has all the aspects of someone who has spent too much time in shutdown isolation. The sin of child abuse, and other sex scandals, occurred all too often in the Catholic Church, but also in every Christian Church… there are no holier than thou’s when it comes to this issue. Carey, please take down this offensive and likely untrue by Ms. Wingret, if that is the persons real name.

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