Gen Z Series: Pastors Should Spend More Energy to Build Relationships With Gen Z

A picture shows three persons playing at the sea.
A picture shows three persons playing at the sea. (photo:
By Steve Sun December 26th, 2022

Editor's note: Does the church really understand the characteristics and needs of Generation Z? According to the Pew Research Center, the period of 15 years is one generation. The millennial generation has now become middle-aged, while Generation Z has become the main force of the younger generation. By understanding Gen Z, the church can better reach and serve them by establishing a relationship of love and trust with them.

Wang Yongchun (assumed name), a pastor from East China, has many opportunities to get in touch with Generation Z on weekdays. Pastor Wang accepted an interview with the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper.

Christian Times: Many pastors are helpless about shepherding generation Z. Why do you think this has occurred?

Pastor Wang Yongchun: Nowadays, many youth fellowships are shrinking. In my opinion, one of the reasons is that pastors are generally older, and it is difficult to shepherd generation Z. It is difficult to attract young people to the church the traditional way, so usually the children of pastors and preachers are now in the church. When they go to college, but can't find youth fellowship in the local area, they easily lose their faith.

Christian Times: What do you think of the characteristics of Generation Z?

Pastor Wang Yongchun: The Millennials have family, but most generation Z youngsters don't even talk about love, marriage, or having children. They are just running in place. In fact, many pastors want to teach them something, which they may have heard since childhood in the church. Today, many older pastors rarely know much about Bilibili and Xiaohongshu, so it is difficult to share the same topic with generation Z. Young people generally grow up with the internet and secular culture. Therefore, many pastors are in a helpless state when facing them.

Christian Times: What do you think is the difficulty in establishing a relationship with them? How did you do it?

Pastor Wang Yongchun: Under the influence of post-modernism, Generation Z cares more about themselves. In the past, we got a good response when having a sharing meeting for the Millennial generation. However, traditional sharing meetings have no influence on generation Z. What they need is an individual focus, and you may have to spend much more time building relationships with them.

In my fellowship, there is a sister who has been in the faith for six years. After the trust relationship was built, she would talk about her emotions, sorrows, and struggles in the fellowship. She is very personable and sensitive. But when the shepherd spent time and showed love, she would accept it and could talk a lot. Then we could better help her grow spiritually.

Some love thinking, while others follow the crowd. You should build a personal relationship with them through this activity, and then discuss some spiritual issues and lead them to become a thinker.

All in all, pastors should spend more energy, love and humility in building relationships with this generation than the millennials. However, most churches do not see the serious consequences of losing generation Z, as they are the future of the church.

Christian Times: What do you think of the deconstruction of the traditional concept of authority by generation Z?

Pastor Wang Yongchun: In the past, there was the authority in many churches to shape the fellowship. However, this is out of place with generation Z culture. Now, Generation Z is more lively and more willing to express themselves, rather than obey authority. When using authority, pastors need to know that authority originates in the Bible. In the teaching of God's words, pastors should combine the Bible with their situations, tell their demands and needs, and help them realize the situation they are facing today.

If these young people have good training in Bible study, they will carefully apply God's words in their current situation and solve many of their doubts.

Christian Times: What do you think of the friend-style shepherd or paternalistic shepherd? Which one is better? Which is more suitable for Generation Z?

Pastor Wang Yongchun: I think this has something to do with the shepherd's age. For example, I am in my fifties, so I will naturally become the parent of the Generation Z fellowship. I think both paternalistic and friend-style shepherds are needed. Sticking to the principle of belief requires advice and persuasion from paternalistic shepherds. But the relationship-building needs a friend-style shepherd to play with them. Traditionally paternalistic shepherds impose thoughts, demands and expectations on the believers, but the believers cannot accept them. I would share my faith and life with them through communication.

Christian Times: Now Generation Z is almost invisible in the church. How can the church reach them?

Pastor Wang Yongchun: At present, there are few Generation Z in the church, let alone choosing pastors from them. Today pastors need to lead their existing co-workers to pray together to find a way to get in touch with Generation Z's ministry. Whether it's through relationships or online knowledge sharing, it's always necessary to attract young people. Serving young people requires learning, so the church needs to prepare for it by introducing talent, cultivating talents, and waiting for their growth with tolerance.

- Translated by Oliver Zuo

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