“Generation Z: Educating and Engaging the Next Generation of Students” by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace highlighted research on how college campuses can engage Generation Z. Their focus was on the first wave of Generation Z as they have now entered college. While we, as student ministers, are engaging the younger portion of this age group, I do think there are two very practical applications that we should pay attention to as we work to continue to engage this generation.
Long-term societal change instead of short-term mission
In their research, Seemiler and Grace discovered that Generation Z is not looking for traditional community service hours but for opportunities to make a societal impact. They are not interested in the “good deed.” Most student ministries are engaging in local service projects and short-term missions. This is indeed positive. However, I think the research suggests that we need to go deeper in our mission efforts.
Can our ministries commit to something long-term? Can we adopt a people group and seek to engage this group? For example, is there an area of need in our community such as poverty, homelessness, foster care, or systemic racism where we can really make an impact?
This level of commitment requires more than student ministry involvement to have a dynamic impact. It requires the whole church to commit to the process. Once a week during the summer will not be sufficient. Both the church budget and church calendar must reflect a long-term commitment for support and change.
All age groups in the church can be involved in long-term ministry goals. Children’s ministry can create resources. Adults can commit financial support. Families can go together to serve. The youth ministry can commit to serve regularly at the same location, which allows teens to see progressive progress. This is a win for the long-term faith development of students.
Practical learning opportunities
Generation Z values hands-on experiences. Far too often, our disciple models are focused on classroom experiences. The Great Commission says, “As you are going, make disciples….” Students need models for evangelism, worship, and ministry. Students interviewed for the study by Seemiller and Grace stated they would often watch YouTube to learn how to do something, which indicates this generation learns by watching someone else do it. Therefore, it is imperative that student ministers and adult leaders demonstrate for students how to engage in active ministry.
We all expect and encourage students to pursue internships during their college years. We see the value in students gaining experience and network connections through internships. Why wait until college to urge them to pursue internships? Why can’t part of our discipleship process be connecting students with church leaders with similar passions? While in the student ministry, students can be taught how their Christian walk can be an influence while serving as an accountant, physical therapist, teacher, or even in the ministry.
Generation Z often does not see the relevance of Christianity to everyday life. We as the church must do a better job of helping them see that their walk with Jesus is an active, not passive, faith. This generation has a strong passion to make a real difference in the world. However, if we are not careful, we in the student ministry will miss opportunities for encouraging and guiding Generation Z toward a sustainable and thriving walk with God.