Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

11 minutes
Download

Don’t Underestimate the Younger Generation

“How can a good God let bad things happen?” . . . “What even is blasphemy of the Spirit?” . . . “Is that technically a sin, even if my heart is in the right place?” . . . “I go to church every single Sunday. Why do I need to do more?” . . . “What’s the big deal about fasting? Wouldn’t God have made it a commandment if He cared that much about it?” . . . “Can I lose my salvation? Have I?” . . . “How can we know the Bible is 100% accurate?” . . . “Why can’t I be good enough?”

Most Christians have experienced at least one side of these kinds of questions. You may have been the question-asker! Or perhaps you’ve been asked one or more of these—and perhaps you didn’t have an answer. In increasingly religionless generations,[1] we face these and other tough inquiries more often than we may be prepared for.

Although the years that define who fits in Generation Z continue to be debated, those born between the years of 1997(ish) and 2012(ish), bearing the nickname “gen-z-ers,” are a common topic of conversation—and a topic we in the church must not avoid.


“In increasingly religionless generations, we face tough inquiries more often than we may be prepared for.”


In my experience in kids, students, and young adult ministries, there seems to be a common thread of avoidance on behalf of these groups of people when it comes to certain ideas and actions. Recently there was a weekly “bottom line” (the main point for the week) in Kids Church that many volunteers and leaders thought would be too difficult to convey to the kids: “Jesus is always fair.” While none of the leaders disagreed with the fact that Jesus is, in fact, fair . . . it is an arguably hard concept to convey to kids. Whether or not it’s a good bottom line to use in Kids Ministry, the point is that most people have this same reaction to most difficult topics: I’m not sure if they’re ready for that. Or another: They aren’t going to understand.

A mentality that lacks healthy ambition for the next generation isn’t an advantageous one, and here are some reasons why.

#1 – If we don’t help Gen-Z form their worldview, society will.

A person’s “worldview” is pivotal in shaping how they perceive and interact with the world around them. Dr. George Barna, Director of Research at Arizona Christian University, explains, “Decades of research from Barna [show that] children spend the first 12 years of life filling a spiritual vacuum—and by the age of 13, most people’s worldview is so deeply formed that it rarely experiences significant change.”[2]

Something is discipling young people. Is it the Church, or is it society? Is it spiritually mature individuals, or is it the phone in their pocket? If we as disciples and leaders fail to actively engage in helping the younger generation develop their worldview through relational discipleship, they will inevitably be influenced by societal constructs, trends, and ideologies.

Relational discipleship isn’t merely a matter of imparting knowledge—we need to help foster critical thinking and spiritual discernment. Answering hard questions, teaching new spiritual disciplines, and even exploring complex theology that renews the teaching of Jesus for students all serve as catalysts for deeper, stronger, more active faith. Gen-Z is desperate for respect that doesn’t underestimate their ability or preparedness but addresses their concerns and helps lay the foundation for a robust and resilient faith that can withstand the challenges of the world.


“Answering hard questions, teaching new spiritual disciplines, and even exploring complex theology that renews the teaching of Jesus for students all serve as catalysts for deeper, stronger, more active faith.”


Make no mistake: If we don’t step up to the plate of teaching and equipping the younger generation, society will—and not in the direction we’re hoping for. Avoiding their need for disciple making, spiritual disciplines, and theology only leaves Gen-Z vulnerable to the influence of secular culture. Engaging in these conversations early on, during their formative years, will help provide Gen-Z with the guidance and support utterly necessary to navigate complex issues through a biblical lens.

#2 – The call to discipleship doesn’t begin after you graduate from high school.

Western Christianity often depicts relational discipleship as an optional, good thing . . . but basically unnecessary. I have rarely found the older generations (or even older Gen-Z) make it into a genuine call to action to young people. The mood seems to be, “I can hardly trust a middle schooler with the crayon bucket; how can I trust them to disciple others?” Or maybe you’ve heard or thought of it this way: “That person doesn’t have a deep enough faith themselves; obviously they aren’t ready to disciple someone.”

While I can understand this view in particular circumstances, I think it’s more often derived from displaced value rather than from genuine worry and care. For example, I wouldn’t put someone who was saved yesterday in front of a group of high school students to preach today, but I would empower a student who is faithful and teachable to begin strategically sharing the gospel with the lost. Jesus did not call those who are 18 and older to disciple others. He did not call those who have done enough schooling to disciple. No, he simply said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations . . . ”

Imagine a world where those who claim to be Jesus followers learn to intentionally, relationally disciple others at a young age. Close your eyes and dream about what it would look like if, as teenagers moved into adulthood, they were capable and confident to disciple unbelievers around them to faith, and from faith to maturity, as they themselves are growing in their own maturity. What a beautiful picture it is! That picture begins with taking the call to discipleship for the younger generation seriously.


“Imagine a world where those who claim to be Jesus followers learned to intentionally, relationally disciple others at a young age.”


As Gen-Z is called to disciple others, it is the job of the spiritually mature to equip them to do so. By investing in the spiritual development of younger generations early on, we prepare them to become effective disciples and to help cultivate a culture of discipleship within the younger generation. This requires responding to hard questions well. Their curiosities act as a catalyst for their faith. As they are discipled through hard questions, encouraged in spiritual disciplines, and taught how to read and understand the Word, Gen-Z will acquire both the knowledge needed to disciple others in those things and gain the understanding of what the context of discipleship can look like.

#3 – Few are more capable of winning over their generation. We need them!

One of the most powerful assets of the younger generation is their ability to relationally connect with and influence their peers. In a society where relatability and visibility are highly valued, young people are uniquely positioned to share the gospel in ways that resonate with other young people—ways that sometimes the older generations aren’t able to.

Young people are innate culture-builders. They form the culture around them. If we underestimate Gen-Z, we lose a chance to influence secular culture around us toward Christ!

No one is more familiar with the challenges that face their generation than they are themselves, which gives them a distinct advantage in effectively discipling their own generation. Involving young people in spiritual disciplines like fasting, relentless prayer, worship, studying the Word, and more strengthens their faith and is contagious to those around them. Growth encourages growth.


“No one is more familiar with the challenges that face their generation than they are themselves, which gives them a distinct advantage in effectively discipling their own generation.”


#4 – We’re not simply interacting with young people. We’re interacting with the next generation!

It is as straightforward as that: we’re not just interacting with a group of young individuals; rather, we’re interacting with future church leaders, parents, and disciplers of society. Understanding this crucial distinction reframes our approach to disciple making, spiritual disciplines, and theology within the younger generation. Keeping this truth in mind should prompt us to invest deeply in the spiritual growth and development of Gen-Z because we recognize the pivotal role they will play in shaping the trajectory of the following generation.

Instead of dwelling on the specific parameters of the generation (1997ish through 2012ish), it may be helpful simply to think of these young people as the people who will take your place when your calling on this side of eternity is completed. By discipling them in faith, encouraging their obedience in spiritual disciplines, and engaging them in meaningful theological dialogue, we not only empower them to become strong disciples, but also equip them to lead others in their generation and beyond.


“By discipling them in faith, encouraging their obedience in spiritual disciplines, and engaging them in meaningful theological dialogue, we not only empower them to become strong disciples, but also equip them to lead others in their generation and beyond.”


Conclusion

God’s plan for spreading the hope of his Son was simple: He would use us. He could have created any other plan, but in His all-knowing perfection, He intentionally desired His disciples to spread the hope of the gospel. No one is excluded from that calling—not even Gen-Z!

No one can deny the challenges of working with the younger generation, but spoiler alert: we are all just as human as they are. Underestimating their capabilities to make an impact on the Kingdom will be detrimental to the church. Join me in praying that the next generations can be used mightily by God and that we are prepared to aid them in that calling!


[1] PRRI Staff, “2022 PRRI Census of American Religion: Religious Affiliation Updates and Trends,” PRRI, February 24, 2023, https://www.prri.org/spotlight/prri-2022-american-values-atlas-religious-affiliation-updates-and-trends/.

[2] Dr. George Barna, “Raising Spiritual Champions: Nurturing Your Child’s Heart, Mind and Soul Release #02: Four ‘Disciple-Making Practices’ to Shape Children into Spiritual Champions,” Arizona Christian University Press, September 19, 2023, https://www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/CRC_RSC_Release_2.pdf.

Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

You Might Also Like

Celebrating Conviction: Learning to Find Joy in Repentance

Celebrating Conviction: Learning to Find Joy in Repentance

Conviction has a terrible reputation. At times, we say it’s a prick of conscience when you consider doing something wrong (think Jiminy Cricket). Or it’s discussed as a heavy emotion we feel wrestling with our brokenness. Setting definitions aside, is conviction something you welcome in your spiritual life? Ultimately, conviction is the awareness that we’ve […]

More