Why Gen Z and the Church Aren’t as Far Apart as You Think

Young people and the church have surprisingly similar goals.

My friend Rick Warren famously wrote about the purpose-driven life, but before that he wrote about the purpose-driven church. In The Purpose Driven Church, he contends that the church has a five-fold purpose (worship, ministry, evangelism, community and discipleship) and should therefore be driven by those purposes (as opposed to what commonly drives churches such as tradition, money, programs, personalities or events).

The idea of an organization of any kind being “purpose-driven” is not only strategic, but it is what will most capture the attention of the youngest, largest generation on the planet—Generation Z. I wrote about this in my book Meet Generation Z, but the studies continue to confirm and even enlarge upon understanding how important this is to this generation.

The 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study set out to find Generation Z’s “expectations of and attitudes toward company involvement in social and environmental issues.” It once again confirmed how deeply this generation wants to make its mark on the world.

The lessons held for the church are important. For example, 94% are tired of the “divisive narrative that has taken over the national news” and want to see the country come together to make progress on important issues. This sentiment runs so strongly that “85% would rather focus on the positive progress we’ve made rather than the negative.”

This is an important reminder to churches that seem to be known more for what they are against than what they are for. So little surprise when nearly 9 in 10 “are inspired when their peers like Emma Gonzalez and Greta Thunberg take stands on issues” (respectively, gun control and the environment).

Generation Z does not simply want to make a difference personally. The vast majority (90%) “also believe companies must take action to help social and environmental issues. And they’re holding these organizations accountable. More than 9 in 10 (93%) say if a company makes a commitment, it should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back up that commitment and three-quarters (75%) will do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues.”

The bottom line? “Companies that demonstrate authentic purpose to this astute demographic will be rewarded, as Gen Zers use purpose as a core filter in deciding which companies to associate with.” As Alison DaSilva with Porter Novelli/Cone notes, “companies need to clearly communicate how they are making an impact to appeal to this driven but discerning generation.”

Clearly a purpose-driven church is needed now more than ever. But do our purposes align with theirs in a way that would prove attractive? You might be surprised.

The top priority they would like to see companies address is the environment (26%), followed by poverty and hunger (19%) and human rights (19%).

When it comes to cultural headlines, again their greatest concerns might surprise. Job-creation at 91% is at the top of the list, followed by racial equality (90%), sexual harassment (90%) and women’s equality (89%). Religious freedom and tolerance came in at 83%, higher than immigration, gun control or LGBTQ rights.

In other words, what they would like to see organizations purpose to address, and what they are most personally purposed to see addressed, are all biblical purposes that the church should be known for purposing itself.

After all, we are called to be stewards of creation, caregivers to the poor, fierce advocates for justice and passionate believers in the innate worth and value of every human being. That pretty much covers all of their concerns.

So why isn’t the church attracting more Generation Zers?

Perhaps we need to get back to being a little more purpose-driven—particularly in regard to what the purposes of the church are supposed to be producing.

Read more from James Emery White »

This article originally appeared on ChurchAndCulture.org and is reposted here by permission.