I was recently asked if I had ever developed a top 10 list of Gen Z traits. The following is not a comprehensive list, but these ten traits stand out to me as important for us as leaders, parents, teachers, and mentors to understand about the next generation.
Biblical understanding and engagement among today’s Gen Z college students is at a crisis point. In their 2018 Gen Z Report, Barna indicated that “the percentage of people whose beliefs qualify them for a biblical worldview declines in each successively younger generation: 10 percent of Boomers, 7 percent of Gen X and 6 percent of Millennials have a biblical worldview, compared to only 4 percent of Gen Z.” This correlates with the decline in biblical literacy. The American Bible Society reported in their 2023 State of the Bible Report that Generation Z is the least likely to turn to Scripture (30%), as compared to older generations.
Kinnaman and Matlock, in their book, Faith for Exiles, indicated that church attendance is also in decline among Gen Z. “Today, nearly two-thirds of all young adults who were once regular churchgoers have dropped out at one time or another (64%).” They explained that today’s society is “especially and insidiously faith repellent, making resilient faith tougher to grow today using the discipleship and teaching methods we relied on throughout the twentieth century.”
Elmore and McPeak, in their book, Marching Off the Map, indicated that students today are EPIC learners: Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich (visual), and Connected (relational).
While students have always learned best through experience over lecture, this is especially true today in a world where young people are inundated with information. Furthermore, participation is key to metacognition and ownership in learning where students are constantly engaging and interacting in processes, conversations, and content curation. As students today live in a visually rich environment, where images and videos are a primary form of learning and information, effective education must include visual elements, as well as connection and collaboration with others, both mentors and peers. These principles, which are being applied in many educational settings, can be applied in biblical literacy and discipleship efforts as well.
Here are some key implications for those who seek to encourage biblical literacy in the next generation:
For more on this topic, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
For years, the attendance of young people in worship gatherings has been in decline. The American Survey Center reported that Generation Z is the least religious generation yet. More than one-third (34 percent) of Generation Z are religiously unaffiliated, a significantly larger proportion than among Millennials (29 percent) and Generation X (25 percent). Fewer than one in five (18 percent) Baby Boomers and only 9 percent of the Silent Generation are religiously unaffiliated. But these numbers do not tell the entire story.
Springtide Research Institute's most recent report on The State of Religion and Young People: Exploring the Sacred, indicates that young people are looking for sacred experiences . . . they just might not be finding them in places of worship. The report also highlighted that it is not always the physical place that matters most for young people to have a meaningful spiritual experience. Instead, in this study, young people describe sacred moments as interrupting daily life— moments that are characterized by truth, wonder, awe, gratitude, and a sense of interconnectedness. Springtide reported that three main dimensions emerged in young people’s definitions and descriptions of sacred moments: personal, relational, and extraordinary. This is a critical insight as we consider how to engage Gen Z and Gen Alpha in spiritual formation and growth. The importance of understanding individuals, engaging in meaningful and ongoing relationships, and facilitating extraordinary experiences (rather than prioritizing programs) are key takeaways from this study. You can find the full report at Springtide Research Institute.
One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As we head into the holiday season, many of us will be spending quality time with family and friends. This is a chance to give the unforgettable gift of making those around us feel seen, heard, valued, and appreciated. Especially as we engage the young people in our lives, there is an opportunity to connect in ways that encourage them to persevere through struggles, anxieties, or disappointments. Many of them may just need to know that our family, our friendship, or our community is a place where they belong. Some may be feeling uncertain or scared and need encouragement to pursue a new opportunity or try something that feels daunting. I have found that sometimes even a short 10–15-minute conversation where someone feels heard and has a chance to process what they are thinking, can result in the encouragement and insight they need to take an important step.
The good news is that to have this type of impact, we do not need to possess extraordinary knowledge, experience, or expertise. We simply need to engage those around us with empathy, taking time to ask good questions, listen, and provide specific encouragement. However, this can be difficult because it can require intentionality and sacrifice.
Today, with the constant noise and distractions of social media, news feeds, podcasts, music and notifications, we often give things our partial attention. This can become a habit that inhibits our ability to listen fully to those with whom we are interacting.
Active listening requires sacrificing our desire to share our own thoughts and experiences, and discipline to ignore distractions and fully focus on the person in front of us. Here are a few other elements of active listening:
• Ask good, open-ended questions.
• Focus your attention on the speaker. Make eye contact.
• Consider body language, facial expressions, tone, and emotions.
• Do not interrupt or assume a conclusion before the speaker has finished.
• Do not think about what you are going to say next.
• Listen to what they are saying and react without judgment.
• Reflect what you are hearing and ask clarifying questions.
• Provide specific encouragement and affirmation.
Listening requires a lot of self-control as we prioritize the other person, their experience and feelings, and manage our own responses and reactions. However, the value of listening is significant. Businessman Nido Qubein offers a good reminder as we engage others this holiday season: “Listen twice as much as you talk, and others will hear twice as much of what you say.”
The demographics of the workplace are changing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2031, Millennials and Gen Z will make up three fourths of the labor force in America, with Millennials currently the largest generational block in the workplace. As young employees begin their careers and new generations step into management and leadership roles, it is important to understand how to engage and motivate individuals across generations.
Today, younger employees are more likely to want to interact with colleagues and leaders, to engage in discussion around important topics, and have permission to ask questions. Employees want to know they have a voice, that they belong and are valued in their organization.
While fair compensation is important to all generations, younger employees are also motivated by their emotional needs being considered. Authentic relationships are important, as is understanding how different individual roles contribute to a greater purpose.
Consider the following as you look to motivate different generations on your team:
Younger generations are growing up with unprecedented access to news, images, and information often portraying traumatic experiences and situations. In addition, they are connected 24/7 to friends and family members who may be struggling with trauma, mental health issues, or other concerns. The result is that many Gen Zers, in addition to experiencing trauma in their own lives, are coping with vicarious trauma.
Vicarious or secondary trauma occurs when exposed to someone else's trauma--trauma you have not experienced yourself, but learned about from other people or sources. In the past, vicarious trauma was especially notable in professionals working in the medical field, counseling, social work, emergency services and similar fields. Today, however, the constant exposure to information can result in an increased risk of vicarious trauma for anyone, especially for young people who are still developing their understanding of the world, self awareness, and self management skills.
On this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow podcast, I am joined by James LaLonde to discuss how we can help protect young people, and support them when they are experiencing the effects of vicarious trauma. Some of the strategies discussed include:
Much has been written about the increased mental health concerns facing Gen Z and Gen Alpha. In addition, as I talk to employers and educators, I often hear how many young people today lack the problem solving and critical thinking skills we saw in older generations at the same age. As we consider ways to support the health and growth of young people around us, we often overlook some of the best tools and opportunities at our disposal: fun and free play.
Neil Postman wrote, “It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children; but it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Tim Elmore, in his book Marching Off the Map wrote that childhood as we have known it historically is disappearing, and that a strange paradox is emerging in young people as a result. We are witnessing the extinction of childlikeness and the extension of childishness.
The reality is that free, unstructured play builds skills and maturity. When young people can play without an adult to dictate every action and guideline, and provide every resource, they have to start relying on their own abilities to problem solve, find solutions, resolve conflict, and exercise creativity. Furthermore, when they achieve something on their own, whether it is building a fort, designing a new game, writing a song for fun, or creating a small business idea, the resulting sense of fulfillment produces intrinsic motivation that helps them overcome apathy. When they encounter a complication and are able to overcome it, using their own skills and ideas, they gain confidence and resilience to face the next obstacle.
Fun activities that have no predetermined purpose allow young people to just explore, problem solve, and test their skills and ideas. Free play can also help decrease stress and anxiety by giving them time to just think and be. One of the best gifts we can give young people around us this summer is to model what it looks like to disconnect from our devices and step away from our structured task list and just have fun. Invite them to join you, or give them opportunities to do so themselves. If this is a skill they have never developed, they may need some help getting started, but it will be a skill they can benefit from the rest of their lives.
For more on free play, check out this article, or listen to the most recent episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
The oldest members of Gen Z (b. 1996-2010) are now young adults and many are looking for or starting new jobs. This is a generation that has carried smartphones in their back pocket since adolescence and they entered adulthood amid a pandemic. As a result, their expectations as they begin working with a team are often very different than previous generations. Organizations and leaders that want to equip and retain young team members benefit from understanding and responding to their expectations and supporting their needs. Dorsey and Villa's book, Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business—and What to Do About It, offers some helpful insights on Gen Z in the workplace.
Here are a few quick ideas to consider as you onboard young team members:
Check on this month’s episode of The Leading Tomorrow podcast for more on effective ways to onboard new Gen Z team members.
More and more Millennials are stepping into leadership and management positions. In many cases, they are overseeing various generations. Their teams can include Generation Z, now entering the workforce as college graduates, to Boomers, who are sometimes the age of their parents or even grandparents. This age diversity produces challenges for even experienced managers. For Millennial managers, often navigating their first supervisory role, it can produce stress and uncertainty. Here are a few reminders for Millennial managers as you learn and grow as a leader:
Healthy leadership requires incredible self-awareness, courage, and sacrifice. As a new manager or leader, you need support. Find a mentor or friend who can encourage you, help you process the situations you are navigating, and provide honest feedback. You’ve got this!
Springtide Research Institute recently released their annual State of Religion and Young People report. The focus this year was on the mental health of young people ages 13 to 25. In this research study, 47% of young people say they are moderately or extremely depressed; 55% of young people say they are moderately or extremely anxious; and 57% of young people say they are moderately or extremely stressed. This study, like others, confirms that Gen Z is in the midst of a mental health crisis. So, what can we do to support them?
In the report, Springtide identifies three important qualities to help support the mental health of young people in our organizations, churches, and teams:
1). Connection. Strong connections result in a sense of belonging, and belonging correlates with mental wellness. Belonging often occurs when young people understand that they are noticed, valued, and known by the people around them. When we create environments, activities, and interactions that help facilitate meaningful connections and relationships, we help support mental wellbeing for young people around us.
2). Expectations. Expectations are the standards that young people feel they need to meet or exceed in order to be accepted. If expectations feel unachievable, unclear, or unfair, young people can become discouraged, and their mental health can suffer. Providing tools, mentoring, and encouragement can help young people navigate expectations in ways that result in success and fulfillment.
3). Purpose. Feeling connected to something or someone greater than oneself can create a sense of purpose that supports mental wellbeing. Sometimes young people need mentoring or coaching to help them connect what they are doing or their plans for the future to a greater purpose.
For more on how to support the mental health of Gen Zers in your life in 2023, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast, or get a copy of Springtide's most recent report.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!