Encouraging news: Generation Z teens – the 70 million kids born between 1999 and 2015 – are at least twice as likely as American adults to identify as as LGBT or atheist, according to a study just released by the Barna Group.
Christianity Today reports that study – which shows that 13 percent of teens between 13 and 18 years old consider themselves atheists, compared to just six percent of adults overall – poses “new challenges” for the church.
The study also shows that Generation Z kids are far more likely than adults to identify themselves as LGBT.
The findings, says CT:
Are important markers of identity among the youngest segment of America, and pose new ministry challenges for the church.
While the latest Gallup poll reported only 4.1 percent of Americans – and 7.3 percent of millennials – identify as LGBT, Barna found that 12 percent of Gen Z teens described their sexual orientation as something other than heterosexual, with 7 percent identifying as bisexual.
This generation is more sensitive to LGBT issues overall, with 37 percent saying their gender and sexuality is “very important” to their sense of self, compared to 28 percent of their Gen X parents.
Additionally, about a third of teens know someone who is transgender, and the majority (69 percent) say it’s acceptable to be born one gender and to feel like another.
Though teens exploring sexual identity have long been a part American churches and youth groups, they haven’t always been this open about their identity and willing to address it so transparently.
Ben Trueblood, Director of student ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, told CT:
It is a new challenge for student ministry leaders, because there is more discussion in the public square regarding LGBT issues.
In the past, it was possible for difficult issues like this to be brushed aside or go unaddressed entirely. But that approach cripples the purpose of student ministry. Now, student ministry leaders are forced to teach what the Bible says on these issues, as well as equip teenagers to respond biblically.
Today’s teens, said CT:
Need that direction from church leaders as they grow more likely to identify as atheist and less likely to identify as Christian than their parents and older peers.
Said Brooke Hempell, Barna Senior Vice President of Research, who released the study in partnership with the Impact 360 Institute, a teen ministry:
This new study shows that Gen Z has a highly inclusive and individualistic worldview and moral code. They see the world and themselves in strikingly different ways than their Gen X parents.
Among Christian teens, Barna found that most – 79 percent – feel comfortable sharing “honest questions, struggles, and doubts” with their parents.
One out of five teens in the Barna study regard Christianity as negative and judgmental. Some of the biggest barriers to belief are the problem of evil (29 percent), perceived hypocrisy among Christians (23 percent), and the conflict between science and Scripture (20 percent). Gen Z is less likely than older generations to see science and the Bible as complementary.
A Facts and Trends “10 Traits of Generation Z” article said Gen Z kids are “post-Christian”. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of America’s adults – and a third of millennial – are “nones”, claiming no religious identity at all, according to Pew Research.
It quotes Rick Eubanks, student minister at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Burleson, Texas, as saying:
Many Z’s are growing up in homes where there’s no religion whatsoever, and they may have no experience of religion.
Gen Z is very secularized. Previous generations grew up with some Judeo-Christian values of the past, at least as a reference point. Today’s generation has little to no acquaintance with the gospel.
Pastor James Emery White writes in the 2017 book Meet Generation Z:
Members of Generation Z hold few things dearer than acceptance and inclusivity. They view many moral stances, such as opposing gay marriage, as social stances in line with racism. To them, acceptance means affirmation.
White summed up:
First, they [Generation Z] are lost. They are not simply living in and being shaped by a post-Christian cultural context. They do not even have a memory of the gospel. The degree of spiritual illiteracy is simply stunning … [Second], they are leaderless. Little if any direction is coming from their families, and even less from their attempts to access guidance from the Internet. … So how can they be reached?