Resource Review: “Engaging Generation Z” by Tim McKnight

Dan Istanvik
March 23rd, 2021

Bringing his wealth of experience and wisdom, Dr. Tim McKnight in his new book Engaging Generation Z: Raising the Bar for Youth Ministry, writes the newest and brightest of instruction manuals for this new generation.  He brings a depth of insight and perspective that many of the current books are not providing.  Grounded not just in cultural research and norms, but also rooted in scriptural truths, this book indeed raises the bar. As both a youth ministry veteran and college professor, he sees the past, present, and future with a keen eye.  

While many youth workers have wrung their hands over the previous Millennial generation, Dr. McKnight offers hope for the next generation, as well as the future of the church.  This book offers refresh, while guarded optimism, about “Generation Z.”  The challenge of reaching this new generation is clearly laid out from cover to cover, as McKnight does not hold back on his analysis.

Having been able to speak with Dr. McKnight, previous to the release of this book, we spoke at length about his research and heart behind this project.  He spoke clearly about his role in mentoring and teaching the next generation of youth workers as a professor at Anderson University.  Additionally, he expressed the real-life conversations he is having with in-the-trenches youth workers, through his leadership at the Global Youth Center for Youth Ministry.  This book represents both sides of his expertise and experiences, as a youth ministry leader in the field. 

The first half of the book speaks to the past of youth ministry, titled “Test Time: Does Youth Ministry Pass?” The first 6 chapters are founded in the review of most current research on youth ministry’s perceived successes and failures.  The first chapter reminds us that human cultures change but the Gospel does not.  The task however is that the Gospel, in many cases, has been left behind for quick fixes and culturally relevant entertainment. The following 2 chapters take a dive into Generation Z, who they are, and how they are different from previous generations.  The next few chapters reveal the history of youth ministry and the current shifts that have left both youth ministry and the church in the precarious position it is now in.   Quite simple, like it is said so often if we don’t learn from our history, we are bound to repeat it.   The second half of the book offers us a way forward beyond our historical missteps and misdirections. 

“Reinventing Youth Ministry” is where the rest of the book takes us. The final 7 chapters are a systematic study of the purposes that have driven modern youth ministry.  Each of the final chapters looks under the hood of what has been the engine of our youth ministry, inside and outside of the local church.  Chapter 7, offers practical, yet powerful tips for teaching Generation Z. The following few chapters, once again taking us back, but this time for a look at Jesus and his disciples. These chapters reveal the need for passionate prayer, evangelism, and worship among the emerging generation; something that has been lost along the way.  The book then takes a shift from just the youth minister to look at parents and staff, as McKnight offers a view of the hole in the whole.  In order for us to raise the bar for youth ministry, there needs to be a whole group of adults coming alongside to hold up this next generation.  While past traditional ministry models have often been leader-centered, new ministry models present the need for an ongoing family-engagement-centered discipleship model.  This family-connected generation model calls for youth ministers to better intertwine families into ministry programming. 

This book is sure to become your go-to resource manual for your ministry.   This is a book that needs to be read by Senior Pastors and staff members.  I would even suggest walking your team of youth ministry volunteers through some of the key chapters and concepts as soon as possible. 

Dan Istanvik

Dan Istvanik is a Family Pastor in Chicago. He has been working in youth ministry for 26 years, serving in churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Washington DC. He is a speaker, ministry coach, writer, and contributor to other ministry resources. He shares daily hints, humor and resources at his site www.mymresources.com.

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