I have never been so excited about the future of the local church.
My reason? Gen Z.
I am a church planter in Nashville, Tennessee. I love Jesus, I love my city and I am unashamedly hopeful for the local church around the world. I’m also young. I just turned 28 years old, and I am leading a team with a lot of Gen Z young adults who want to help build a church that reaches the lost people in our city.
My time around Gen Z has led me to many conclusions. I believe the next generation will help usher in revival to America. I believe the next generation will be a pastor’s best friend when it comes to building the local church. I believe the next generation will pioneer new methods of evangelism and discipleship that will shake the world. And I desperately, desperately believe you need them in your church.
The question is: How can you get them to come?
By no means am I a Gen Z expert, but I’m writing to you loaded with research and lots of experience building with them. I am confident that these are three of the most important things
Gen Z is looking for in a local church and its leaders:
A commitment to community. An April 20, 2022, article in The New York Times, titled “How Loneliness Is Damaging Our Health,” claimed that America was facing a “loneliness epidemic.” Their research noted 61% of adults regularly experienced feelings of loneliness. The numbers for Gen Z were even higher. We live in a time when technology has made it easier and easier to “connect” and harder and harder to find community.
The next generation is craving real community. Not a group of people to chat online with or another place to share content. They are overloaded with options when it comes to those things. Gen Z is instead looking for people to share life with. If your church is doing in-person community well, you will be attractive to them!
However, a lot of people slap the word “community” on things that don’t actually mean community to Gen Z. So it’s important to clarify what they are looking for in community. It’s not the same thing as a small group or a discipleship class. It’s not even the same thing as a Bible study to them.
Gen Z wants to be a part of a committed community, meaning: one that meets regularly, intentionally and sacrificially. Community to the next generation looks like being able to get to know people well enough that they feel comfortable sharing their wins and their losses with them. It looks like breaking bread together over tables. It looks like confession of sin. It looks like carrying each other’s burdens and being vulnerable with one another.
None of those things happen without trust. And trust doesn’t happen in a community if people aren’t committed to gathering together regularly. If your community is surface level, they are probably not going to be interested. If your community doesn’t meet together enough to form deep relationships, they are probably out on that idea, too.
Available leaders. Gen Z has grown up in the thick of the technology boom. They have access to the greatest worship bands, preachers and church leaders on the planet with a simple touch of their smartphone. They can listen to those people as much as they want! You know what they can’t do? Talk to them. They can’t ask them questions about life. They can’t send them a prayer request or ask for their help in their time of struggle.
Gen Z doesn’t need you to be the next T.D. Jakes. They need you to pick up the phone when they call.
They are full of questions! They want to know the “why” behind the “what” perhaps more than any generation in history. It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert on apologetics or theology. But it would be helpful if you were an expert in presence. Being available. Being knowable. Being prayerful.
I’ve found that many in the next generation don’t even know how to define the word discipleship, and yet they are craving it more than they know how to say. The “fatherless generation” needs more spiritual fathers and mothers in their local church.
If you want your church to attract the next generation by the droves, train up leaders in your church to be available and ready to disciple them when they come. Train your leaders how to invite them over for a meal and ask them questions. Train your team to check in on them and to encourage them in their faith. Train your leaders to be like Barnabas and see the good in the Pauls before anyone else does.
More Bible. What? A crazy idea, right? A local church preaching the Bible? Gen Z wants more Scripture than they do stories. Don’t get me wrong: Stories are great. Jesus told lots of them. But if Gen Z keeps finding themselves leaving church remembering more about the funny stories you are telling than they do about how to engage with the scripture you were reading, they won’t stick long.
According to the American Bible Society’s 11th annual State of the Bible Report in 2021, 81% of Gen Z youth and 74% of Gen Z adults say they’re curious about Scripture. Feed that curiosity!
One of the big misconceptions many ministry leaders have is that the way to reach the next generation is to “baby-step” them into spiritual intimacy. No! The next generation is being baby-stepped into everything in every area of their life. They don’t need church to be another place where they aren’t being challenged. In fact, I believe they are dying for someone to challenge them.
One of the greatest places to challenge them is in Scripture. Keep preaching the word. Keep offering resources to help them understand. Keep celebrating biblical literacy. Keep challenging them to keep up with you. Keep vocalizing the importance of habitual reading. Keep on giving them the Bible.
I recently started discipling a young guy who has been around church for most of his life. When we first started meeting together, it became pretty clear to me that his Bible knowledge was limited at best. He was a great guy, high character and loads of potential—he just didn’t know much Scripture.
In some of our first few conversations, different topics would come up that Scripture is very clear on. He would ask me questions and want to know my opinion. Every time I would answer him, I would say the same thing: “Well, I could give you my opinion, but I’m actively trying to trade that for God’s. I can just tell you what the Bible says.”
A few weeks ago, we were meeting for coffee, and in the middle of our conversation he stopped me and thanked me. He said he had never met a younger person who seemed to read the Bible as much as I did. He told me that it challenged him to buy a new Bible and a journal so that he could start learning it for himself.
Not all moments in ministry are as rewarding as that one, but I am so thankful God allows the ones we get. The best way I know how to put it is this:
If you want a lot of Gen Z at your next service, invite Kevin Hart. They will all be there for an hour.
If you want a lot of Gen Z leading your church 20 years from now, teach them the Bible. They will be there for the rest of their lives.
The next generation is hard. But they are worth it! We need them. We need their ideas, their passion and their wisdom. We need them in our churches!
There are many ways to attract them. My prayer is that you will keep them.
If I could encourage you with one final thing it would be this: Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Explore new ideas, yes. But don’t give up on the old ones either. The same things that made Jesus so attractive to a group of 12 young men will make you and your church attractive to this generation’s Peters and Johns. Things like truth, discipleship, living on mission, being available, speaking the truth in love and being full of faith in the middle of a world that is full of everything else.
One of my all-time favorite scriptures is Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Don’t grow weary! Don’t quit sowing. Don’t stop believing (shout out to Journey). Don’t stop trying. There is a huge harvest coming to your church, and their name is Gen Z.
is a 28 year-old communicator and pastor based in Nashville, Tennessee. He has a passion to talk about the Person who changed his life: Jesus. In 2016, Noah founded The Gathering young adult movement in Cleveland, Tennessee, which reached thousands of young adults on a weekly basis. In 2023 Noah announced the launch of a new initiative: a church plant in Nashville called Way Church. Noah is happily married to his wife, Maddy, who does ministry alongside him. They also have a son named Lion and a baby girl on the way.