Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt recently posted an intriguing column about churches prioritizing outreach to Generation Z and cutting back the fuss over reaching the “Millennials.”
“[A]s millennials age, get married, and start families, they are no longer the only ‘young people’ that churches must consider,” Merritt opens his interview piece with author and pastor James Emery White. “A new cohort has risen: ‘Generation Z’ or individuals born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s.”
The interview is worth the read. White presents church leaders with the many obstacles to reaching and retaining Generation Z. In one example, he advises churches of this younger generation’s “strong desire to make a difference with their lives” and a “faith that is privately engaging, but socially irrelevant, will not attract them.”
Well, maybe that’s true of Generation Z. However, this observation sparked a few loosely connected thoughts of mine.
First off, the desire to “make a difference” in society was also a big part of my Millennial generation’s aspirations as we entered and exited our college years. I suspect it was also the ambition of generations before us at one point. And for Christians, this ambition should persist no matter our ages.
That’s the power of the local church, isn’t it? The public witness of hope and transformative truth is (or should be, at least) the distinction between a Christian church and local clubs, charities, and groups in our communities.
Remembering the Great Commission, we need to be aware that the very purpose of our local churches should already align with this “make a difference” desire in the hearts of Generation Z. The social relevancy of a church shouldn’t necessarily look like bringing a hipster on staff, launching weekly podcasts, nor making sure the church’s social media is updated hourly.
What makes these local churches not only socially relevant, but life-changing is they’re rooted deep in the Gospel.
The church as a hub in our communities may look like our food pantries, homeless shelters, free childcare, or grief support groups. These ministries are vital, but not necessarily the essence of the church. They are extensions of Christian compassion and discipleship lived out. A result rather than a cause.
Also, yes, Millennials are getting older. Many of us are transitioning into spouses and parents. For churches, that should be a welcome progression and ministry opportunity. Millennials’ aging, marrying, and childbearing present new occasions for my generation to discover the church’s role as a relevant cultural fixture.
As I’ve moved into my late 20s, I’ve recognized new ways the church is socially relevant in my life and community. For example, my wedding was held in a church. Next came baby. Where was my baby shower hosted last Saturday? A local church’s fellowship hall where our church family, relatives and friends overwhelmed us with their generosity and support. Where are most of the wedding and baby showers you’ve attended been held? Church fellowship halls. Right?
Contrary to other perhaps more luxurious venues, there is a point to hosting life-changing celebrations in the local church.
It was important to me that our martial covenant with God be located in His house of worship.
It was also important that my baby shower be held in a church where we read Scripture, prayed over my growing unborn daughter, and offered God thanksgiving for this precious gift of new life. A reminder of the commitment my husband and I have made to the life of the church and of our desire to raise our daughter to follow suit.
Finally, the transformative truth and grace of the Good News is what makes the socially relevant church transcend the trends of the times. It’s timelessness is sure to attract new members.
No matter the make-up of the generation we’re trying to attract, the underlying proclamation and exaltation of Jesus Christ’s goodness and mercy is what makes the Christian faith and the local church socially relevant.
Generation Z will hopefully come to recognize this too.