A recent study focused on members of Generation Z found that “66 percent of students who were active in their church during high school no longer remained active in the church between ages 18-22.”[i] This number is lower than the results of a similar study focused on Millennials in 2007, which reported that 70 percent of churched students left their churches between ages 18-22. While we might celebrate the lower percentage of church dropouts from Generation Z, we must keep in mind that the rebound we saw with some Millennial adults in their mid-thirties is not guaranteed with members of this new generation. In addition, having any students leave our churches upon graduation is an unacceptable occurrence. This research regarding church dropouts from the current generation prompts several questions: Why are they leaving the church? How can we pastors preach in such a way that we connect with members of this new generation from our pulpits? Allow me to present the following tips for preaching to engage the members of Generation Z.
Preach the Word of God in such a way that you mine the biblical doctrines for hearers from Generation Z. They are weary of shallow sermons that underestimate their ability to understand or desire to hear messages that are rich in biblical substance. In addition, they are asking hard questions regarding the Scriptures. If you as a preacher do not address the hard questions in Scripture for this generation, someone else will and will do so in a way that does not shepherd them well or honor Scripture. So, preach the Word.
Help the hearers of the next generation answer the question, “So what?” in your preaching. Show them how the particular passage relates to their everyday lives. How does the Bible help them to make decisions each day? About half of the students who drop out of church believe that “the church is generally equipped to help guide their everyday life decisions.”[ii] The sad reality is that preachers and church leaders often fail to show students the relevance of Scripture and a walk with Christ in making these decisions. The Scriptures are relevant. Help the next generation understand why in your preaching.
Speaking of this generation, Dr. Jean M. Twenge notes that “depression has skyrocketed in just a few years, a trend that appears among blacks, whites, and Hispanics, in all regions of the United States, across socioeconomic classes, and in small towns, suburbs, and big cities.”[iii] If there was any time that our students need to hear the hope of the gospel, it is now. They need to hear of a sovereign God who loves them and is in control. They need to hear how they can voice their fears and worries to Him and can receive peace and joy from Him. The gospel is a message of hope and victory. Share this good hopeful news with this fear-filled generation.
Preach to parents regarding the pivotal role they play in the discipleship of their students. Help parents understand the importance of talking with their young people about the Word of God. Describe to them in your preaching how they can lead in family worship or have gospel-centered conversations with their students as they go about their daily lives. Take a Sunday night to model what it looks like to have family worship. Parents spend more time with their young people than anyone in the church. Send sermon helps home with parents that they can use in their family devotions. Preach in such way that parents are equipped to disciple their students.
The above list is not an exhaustive one, and I can say much more regarding current trends among the members of Generation Z regarding faith and belief; however, I pray that these few preaching tips will help you engage the members of the next generation so that they might embrace and advance the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ.
Dr. Tim McKnight is Assistant Professor of Missions and Youth Ministry at Anderson University. He has over 21 years of experience in ministry, serving churches in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He served in youth ministry for 12 years and in the pastorate for 9 years. In addition, Dr. McKnight served as an infantry chaplain in the U.S. Army, deploying on Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom in 2001. He holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Bluefield College, and a M.Div. and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in evangelism, with additional studies in missions and church history. He has also co-founded Carolina Family Planning Centers and founded Twin Vision Consultants, a church consultation team that helps congregations become healthy and growing churches. He has also served as a disaster relief chaplain in multiple settings in recent years, including in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.