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Adolescence

Youth Ministry Differences from Millennial to Gen Z

Jonny Radcliff
March 3rd, 2020

So now that we’re in the year 2020, it’s officially 15 years since I’ve graduated from high school. 

I threw up in my mouth a little after typing that. 

The fact remains that I am a different generation than the students I am currently serving. However, when I first got into ministry, that wasn’t the case. Those students were very similar to me. Never once did I have to low key hop off because a teen was big mad at me because I flexed on his fam jam’s bop. 

But times are changing. 

All that to say, ministry to Gen Z ought to be different than it was to Millennials. Both of these generations are unique in their values and motivations.  So if we are to wisely shepherd today’s teens, we need to be aware of the changes that have happened from one generation to the next. 

EMPATHY POWERED

One of my favorite things about this generation is that they are certainly charged for “love thy neighbor.” There is a high consideration for those less fortunate and those from different backgrounds. 

Perhaps this is in large part to the fact that Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever. They believe that diversity is a value that ought to be cherished. They expect to expend energy in activism for others. In fact, this is a large reason why there is a large involvement by teens in the topics of immigration, LGBT rights, and abortion. Whether sincere or misplaced, these causes have been fueled by their consideration for “the other.” 

Implications for youth ministry

Are you creating avenues of action for your action-oriented Gen Z’s? Are you capitalizing on their desire for social justice and combining it with the Gospel? Can you acknowledge that even if some of the fervor or rationale is misplaced, it comes from a place of empathy? 

Take advantage of this generation’s desire to make other people’s lives better. 

RELATIVISM AND OBJECTIVITY ON THE RISE

Sounds backwards, right? But the typical operating pattern is “relativism for YOUR beliefs but objectivity for MINE.” While both of these aspects can be admirable, they can be taken to harmful extremes. 

The last 15 years have shown an increase in tolerance for other people’s views. But this is even to the point where Gen Z doesn’t know how to challenge each other in healthy ways. Oftentimes interactions with another person’s viewpoints are viewed as a personal attack, resulting in indifference. The trite result is often “well, that’s your point of view,” and there is little dialogue from there. 

Intellectualism is, however, a high priority of Gen Z. This is a challenge to those who are meant to approach God by faith. Many students nowadays are having far more intellectual hang ups than their Millennial predecessors. They often value facts more than God-stories as well.

Implications for youth ministry

Are apologetics an aspect of your teaching? Is there room for doubt? Are you creating spaces for students to safely wrestle with questions and challenge each other as they are forming their worldviews?

JUNK FOOD ON THE DECLINE

It’s working. These teens are way more health conscious than ever before. There is less soda consumption and less gorging of food than there used to be. 

Implications for youth ministry

Are you providing healthy alternatives for retreats, events, and snacks? Have you been over-ordering because teens aren’t eating as much as you thought? 

RAP IS KING

Gone are the days of Yellowcard, Green Day, and when Maroon 5 was good. Rap is the most popular genre of teens. 

While it’s true that this generally poses a challenge for admirable lyrical content, not all is lost. There are plenty of artists – Christian and not – that have very redeeming topics that are worth delving into. Even the ones that are not that are telling a story for a generation. We need to be listening. 

Implications for youth ministry

What music am I integrating in our environments? Is it representative of Gen Z’s interests or simply my own? 

ANXIETY IS HIGHER THAN EVER

Blame it on helicopter parents. Blame it on social media. Regardless, our teens are at their wits end. 

Imagine the endless pressure of having the perfect Instagram feed with enough likes to validate your existence. Or perhaps picture how insecure it must make a teen to be the recipient of inhumane comments on social media. Then you can couple that with the constant pressure of parents to keep grades up and to be the best at your extracurricular activity. There are extra pressures that many of us Millennials did not have to endure. And it’s taking a toll on our teens. 

The National Institute of Health states that nearly 1 of 3 teens will suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder. This has risen 20% from the days of the Millennials. These teenagers are learning to exist in a world where they don’t feel right and don’t feel safe. This fact alone should cause all of us to question if we are operating our ministries in ways that bring healing to this epidemic.  

Implications for youth ministry

Are you probing enough to get to the deeper insecurities? Is your environment adept at allowing kids to divulge their deepest fears? Are there adults in your ministry who are personally walking alongside of students and getting to the heart of these issues? 

Anxiety will never be programmed out of students. It’s going to take committed disciplers who know how to get to the heart of a teen. 


Jonathan Morrow captured the heart of understanding and ministering to Generation Z in his NYWC session How To Help Gen Z Own Their Faith. Also James Emery White’s Meet Generation Z captures an amazing picture of this upcoming generation.

Jonny Radcliff

Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministry Director at Storehouse Church and the Philly Area Coordinator at National Network of Youth Ministries. He lives near Philly with his wife and the three little monsters that they rear together. His 10+ years of youth ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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