Now that Gen-Z or “Zoomers” have come of age, there has been some talk about their habits and how the church needs to adapt to reach them.
I was particularly intrigued by an article put out on the Carey Nieuwhof blog titled 7 Habits of Gen Z Your Church Might Be Ignoring. There are some things that this article gets right, but it’s also pointing to things that Millennials and even Gen-X were seeking. Instead of rehashing the article here, I want to touch on a strategy for reaching Gen-X, Millennials, and Gen-Z, but you can go check out the article yourself here: 7 Habits of Generation Z Your Church Might Be Ignoring – CareyNieuwhof.com
Okay, so how do we actually tailor our use of digital channels to equally reach Gen-Z instead of chasing them away?
First things first, Gen-Z isn’t all that radically different. A lot of their music, style, and films remind me of Gen-X staples… I mean, they’re even watching Top Gun in theaters right now and think boom boxes and roller skates are cool! 😉 Beyond that, they are looking for the same thing every generation of young people is looking for: meaning and purpose.
As digital natives, you won’t find them hiding in the back row of an old cathedral looking for it like Gen-X did in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but you will find them looking for answers of meaning, purpose, and belonging online. Of course, Millennials are also digital natives and most of Gen-X immigrated and lives there so the church needs to engage there as well.
1. Choose your social media channels carefully
Gen-Z hang out mostly on TikTok and Snapchat but do frequent Instagram with the Millennials and younger Gen-Xer’s. They very infrequently go to Facebook, but you’ll find Millennials and Gen-X largely avoiding Facebook these days as well. This leaves YouTube as a common denominator and first place to focus. Instagram is a candidate for your second online presence; however, be mindful that Instagram is largely aspirational and doesn’t convey authenticity.
Pro-tip: send friend invites or follow the members of your congregation on your social channels. Too many churches make a habit of trying to get their congregation to follow an official church account, but pastors should go and friend them on both their personal and church account.
2. Understand the challenges of the digital native and address anxiety
Do you know what OnlyFans is? How about simping? What are incels and black-pills? What is “flexing?” If you don’t know and you haven’t put out content… on YouTube of course 😜… addressing these things then it’s time to start doing so and doing so frequently.
Similarly, the anxiety levels of the people you are trying to reach are through the roof! In particular it’s time to set politics aside and have real and open theological conversations about climate change and the role of Christians as caretaking image bearers of creation and the best path forward to allow for human flourishing. Avoid parroting what politicians say, what does Christian theology teach and how can the local church work together toward being true to the Christian calling on the topic?
3. In a YouTube and Netflix world, people need more than a sermon
Your sermon is probably pretty good, but let’s face it, if your entire online presence is just a livestream of your service then you aren’t helping your congregation much throughout the week. In fact, stop livestreaming the sermon, start posting more personal or digestible content instead like 5-minute scriptural take on a topic or a long-form sit down with a member to talk about what they do and how they live out their faith. Nobody goes online thinking “man, I sure hope I can find a great sermon” but they do type in questions and topics into search bars and will watch a short video to answer their question.
Pro-tip: don’t be afraid to throw “behind the scenes” content up. Pictures of staff members preparing sermons or the kids ministry rummaging through storage. Sometimes our content is too polished and fails to relate to people.
4. The smartphone is the primary medium
Everything you put out needs to be readable, viewable, and interactable with a smartphone. Websites, emails, registrations, everything possible thing a person could want to do with your church needs to be easy to do on a smartphone.
5. Start focusing content less on “going to church” and more on “being the church”
Every generation has wanted to be part of a movement, your content should inspire Christians with meaning and purpose beyond themselves. While it’s tempting to offer up faith as self-help to generations struggling with insecurities, that’s a fleeting offer. In fact, the gospel tells you that you will struggle, that it isn’t easy, but that it is worth it. Many online influencers are telling young people to embrace struggle and do hard things, but as Christians we have a reason beyond ourselves… a resounding answer to nihilism… to do it.
6. Be accessible and easily bookable
These days you can decide to book an appointment with your doctor from his website while you sit in the airport lounge waiting for a connecting flight, but I’ll bet people can’t book an appointment with a pastor at your church that way! Why? If pastors are there for their congregation, the barriers to seeing a pastor need to be considerably lower.
Pro-tip: if being too busy is an issue preventing being accessible and bookable, start automating low-value tasks so you can focus on high-value things like pastoring and discipleship. Likewise, start by setting aside bookable times and see how it goes.
This can all seem a bit overwhelming if your church has no significant online presence. Start small, do a few simple videos on YouTube to address challenges people are facing online, fully expecting that your online ministry will grow and evolve over time. Just don’t fall into the trap of using online as a repository for your sermons!
Need help getting your church up to speed with using technology to engage online? Book a meeting with me.