Congregational and worship consultants are practically guaranteed job security in the coming decades thanks to the coming of Generation Z, aka Gen Z.
Experts anticipate that churches which have long used coaches, books and seminars just to tread water with Millennials will be even more challenged by that up-and-coming group whose older members are just reaching college age.
And while still young — they were born from about 2000 and 2015 — consultants and demographers who track membership, faith and worship trends are alerting clients to the coming impacts Gen Z.
One wake-up call is coming from the polling firm Barna, which teamed up this year with a national teen and college-age ministry to study Gen Z. They are set to announce the results of their study in January 2018.
“America has been wringing its hands over Millennials for a while now,” Barna editor in chief Roxanne Stone said in an announcement of the release.
There are so many questions about the generation.
“Who are they?” Stone asked. “Will they carry on the Millennial trends we’ve been studying for decades? How are they different? What is their relationship to faith, to parents, to institutions? How has culture and society shaped them?”
One thing for certain about Gen Z is the complexity of the different age groups within it, says George Bullard, director of missions for the Columbia-Metro Baptist Association in South Carolina and a long-time church consultant.
The first group, or phase, of the generation became increasingly savvy with technology as it developed, he said. However, technology was more fully entrenched and available to those born closer to 2015.
Bullard said he has seen this with three grandchildren who are members of the generation.
“The oldest was born in the early 2000s and adapted to new technology as it came along,” he said. “The youngest has never known anything but an iPad. And none of the three watch television anymore — it’s all on their iPads and phones.”
That means there will be no easy technological fix for churches wishing to accommodate Gen Z.
The generation has already had an impact on churches. Bullard said he’s heard of churches abandoning the traditional three-year cycle in youth ministry in favor of 18-month cycles to keep with the pace of generational change.
Congregations can also be expected to be challenged by the openness most members of the generation share toward racial, gender and same-sex diversity.
And this up-and-coming generation will be hard to stereotype.
“They are complicated,” he said. “There will be multiple themes and it won’t be as simple to define them as it was when we first started with Boomers.”
But encountering Gen Z doesn’t have to be any more stressful or chaotic than it was for churches attempting to reach Millennials, says Mark Tidsworth, founder and president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates and author of Shift: Three Big Moves for the 21st Century Church.
Then as now, he said, it’s important that congregations remember, and remain faithful to, their core values and mission.
“We should want to be true to our identity and not change with everything new that comes along.”
Besides, change is inevitable — just has it has been throughout the history of the church.
“The kernel of truth helpful for churches is that demographics are always changing and generations are always changing,” Tidsworth says. “The key is to be as adaptive as we can but not let it overwhelm or overload us.”