Understanding Generation Z (7 to 21-year-olds)

I have some catching up to do. I’m guessing you and your church do too. What do you know about the youngest generation, Generation Z?

I had a bit of an existential crisis on a recent ministry course when I realized a number of the students were born the year I graduated high school! I was reminded a number of times how the younger generation is different than my generation and older generations, and not just by how many times I said “You don’t remember that?” You should have heard us comparing TV shows from our childhood! This youngest generation is much different than previous generations.

Here is what I’m finding, many of us in the church are trying to reach this generation of kids, teens, and emerging adults as if they were Millennials, and Generation Z is not at all the same as Millennials. We’ve got to catch up! The truth is Millennials are not youth anymore at all! (I know…existential crisis, right?!) Millennials are those born between 1980 and 1995, making them 22 to 37 years old. They are pushing 40!
Generation Z is those born between 1996 and 2010, making them 7 to 21 years old. Gen Z is our pre-teens, teenagers, and emerging adults. Let me tell you, they are very different than Millennials.

Church, we better understand this if we are going to reach and engage this younger generation with the Gospel.

Here are a few things to understand about Generation Z. These are all adapted from the book “Meet Generation Z” By James Emery White and a podcast James did with Carey Nieuwhof about the book. I’d highly recommend both. They are full of lots of great, well-researched information and will give you help on how to reach this young generation.

Please remember, as you read this list, whenever we try to capture a whole generation we are making broad generalizations, even stereotypes, based on the group as a whole. As always, the best way to get to know a generation or sub-culture is to talk to them, take interesting in them, and build relationships with them.

Meet Generation Z:

1.       Internet-in-its-pocket generation – they have always been able to google or “ask Siri” for the answer. Millennials can’t remember a world without computers, while Gen Z hasn’t known a world without constant, immediate access to the web. They’ve lived in a world that is “always on” and connected. They’ve lived in a world with few constraints. They’ve lived in a world with a computer and internet in their back pocket.

For Generation Z, social media has always been a primary source of communication and email is archaic. On social media, unlike older generations, they tend to be more private about things. Therefore, they are rarely on Facebook and more likely to change social media platforms often, and use platforms that are more anonymous, like Snapchat and text messaging.

2.       Visual - On social media and apps, and in life in general, they are incredibly visual. Generation Z are more likely to use pictures and emoticons to communicate rather than words. Basically, you’ve got eight seconds to communicate with them, but you better use pictures and do it quickly. They’ve got quick and fast filters. They’ll decide almost instantly whether to ignore you and move on or engage further.

3.       Independent - Individual freedom is their greatest value. They are fiercely independent and self-directed. It has never been necessary for them to use an outside person (librarian, doctor, parent, teacher…) to look something up or solve a problem, why should they start now? They have been leaderless and yet had a plethora of information at their fingertips, so they’ve quickly taught themselves to be independent.

So much of the world has been and is available to them on demand, they’ve learned to be self-directed and follow their own whims and desires. This has also made them the most entrepreneurial generation.

4.       Loss of childhood – more than even the Millennial generation before them they’ve been forced to grow up extremely quickly.

They’ve experienced the loss of their childhood for a number of reasons:

  • they are exposed to many of the worries, dangers , and complexities of our world at an early age
  • a lot of their parents have taken a hands-off parenting approach and have themselves, as parents, only be partially present with their own kids because of their busy lives and their own engagement with technology and social media
  • parents haven’t known how to regulate such a complex, world-in-your-back-pocket society
  • Gen Z is more globally aware and concerned from a young age
  • they've never lived in a world without terror threats
  • pornography has always been, unfortunately, readily accessible and even bombarded them. As James says “Porn is the wallpaper of their life.” 
  • in our sexualized culture, we’ve come to expect them to grow-up and act older sooner

What I'm observing this means is it takes more for them to react. They’ve already seen and heard it all. Nothing really surprises them and they are dealing with the complexities of an adult world at younger and younger ages.

5.       Lack of coping skills & wisdom – Generation Z has been forced to grow-up before they were ready, they’ve had a ton of information and unlimited access at their fingertips, and yet they have not had protection, they’ve not had wisdom, to handle all that comes towards them. This seems to have created a more anxious generation, with a lack of all the necessary coping skills for living in a complex world.

6.       Sexually fluid – Generation Z is a strong supporter for things such as same-sex marriage and transgender rights. They have come of age in the era where LGBTQ has been mainstream and same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada (since 2005). Experimentation, questioning, and fluidity in sexuality has been encouraged. Generation Z has become sexually and relationally amorphous. Sexuality is viewed as something that should be set free from any labels and all restrictions. Generation Z believes people should be allowed to follow their desires, moment by moment.

7.       Post-Christian, Post-Religious – many have been brought up by parents who did not have any religious affiliation (the “none’s”) themselves. Therefore, most of these kids and youth have zero understanding of what religion is, what the Bible is, who Jesus is, any Bible stories, what a church is for etc. They have zero background or understanding. We can’t presume they know anything. In fact, if they’ve picked up anything about Christianity through social media and media it’s likely negative. Unless they personally know Christians, they are not likely seeking any faith, nor do they feel anything is missing from their life.

 I’ll never forget speaking to a group of youth one night and one young man being shocked when I started to talk about “Jesus Christ.” He thought I was swearing, as that was the only context in which he’d heard the name of Jesus before. I had a lot of explaining to do and had to give a lot of back story, before I could unpack the Scripture for that night. We need to always go back ten steps and explain everything carefully, not making any presumptions about previous knowledge or understanding, with Generation Z.

Generation Z

Are you getting the picture? This, my friends, is Generation Z. Our 7 to 21 year olds. It can seem challenging, as you look at this list, to think about engaging this young generation with the Gospel. It is also an exciting and amazing opportunity! Look at the list again, what an opportunity we have to meet this generation and build relationships with them! The Gospel offers belonging, identity, purpose and new life to this and each generation. If we are willing to reach out and engage this generation on their platforms, God is absolutely at work in this generation. We can paint a picture for them of the peaceful, hopefully, joyous, adventurous…Kingdom of God, that invites them to come and lay down their live for God’s bigger story.

Hope this helps.
Thank you for joining Generation Z in your neighbourhoods and networks.

One more spot to look for help on this is at imaginativehope.ca It's a report from Canadian leaders on what it will take to reach this generation. 



Mountain Time - Taking time for the mountain top view of your life and leadership

It is easy to get stuck in the valley and only see impossible mountains to climb. On top of the mountain everything looks different. In the valley, you only see what is right in front of you. On the mountain top, you step outside the valley and can see the whole picture. In the valley, it can be hard to see the way through and the way out. In the valley, you can feel like you are stuck forever. In the valley there are many paths to take to the top of the mountain, and you know more than one person has gotten lost trying to get to the top. On the mountain top you can see everything and it feels like all things are possible. You can look back and see the path you’ve come, you can see there is in fact a path out of the valley. You can see a lot of neighbourhoods from the mountain top. #1neighbourhood

Can you tell I have hiked up a mountain recently? I’m currently traveling in the Czech Republic and last week we hiked to the top of Lysá Hora Mountain. It’s a steep climb up 1324 m. The climb is worth the experience and view, but it’s hard slogging to get out of the valley, up the quad-burning climb, to the mountain top.

Ministry and leadership situations can make us feel stuck in the valley. It can be hard to see the way out and the right path to take. It is so easy to get stuck and be indecisive which was to go. It’s easy to lose perspective. It’s hard to see if you are still leading in step with God’s desires and purposes. It’s difficult to see if you are moving in the right direction. Valley’s can be very confusing.

As ministry leaders, we need time on the mountain top, time outside of our ministry and situations to step up and try to take a bird’s eye view. While I’ve been on this ministry trip in Europe it has afforded me time to look at my life and ministry from the mountain top view. It is good to get out of the valley. Each day I’ve been working through two or three questions that help me reflect on my life and ministry from the mountain top view (I’ve also heard it called “balcony time”).

May I encourage you to step outside of your regular routine and take some time to reflect from the perspective of an outsider looking at the whole picture of your situation, life and ministry? You don’t need to travel all the way to Europe, you could simply travel to a coffee shop a few neighbourhoods away or a nearby hiking trail.

Here’s the various questions I’ve been using during my mountain top time. I try to be really honest with myself, seeking to gain a realistic, whole picture view of my situation, life and ministry.

1.       What are the bright spots in my life and ministry?

2.       What is not going so well in my life and ministry?

3.       How am I actually doing at fulfilling my mandate and vision?

4.       What is wearing me out?

5.       What is giving me life?

6.       In this next season, what primarily needs my attention?

7.       What, more firmly, do I need to say “no” to?

8.       How is my heart and soul?

9.       What has my posture and attitude been like in this season? What do I want it to be?

10.     Where have I been slacking off in my leadership and responsibilities?

11.      Where is my imposter (shadow mission) sneaking in and tempting me off course or tempting me to forget my true identity?

12.     What longings or temptations are surfacing in my life? What does it look like to surrender these to the Lord?

13.     What is the big picture?

14.     Who needs my attention? (Notice I didn’t ask what needs my attention, I asked who.)

15.    How am I joining God in my neighbourhoods and networks? Where do I need to lean in more?

16.   As I enter back into the next season:

a.       What rhythms do I need to keep healthy, thrive in current reality and hear from the Lord?

b.       What two or three things especially need MY focus?

As you can tell, these are tough questions. They force me to get rid of my own pretenses and false images. They force me to take a hard look at reality, starting with myself.

Let me be honest, it has been really hard taking this mountain top time this past week.

I’ve found myself trying to avoid answering these questions I’d written out for myself before this journey. I’ve found myself inventing other things that need my attention instead of the question at hand. 
I’ve found myself trying to make my answers sound better than they really are, even when the conversation is just between God and myself.
I’ve discovered my own self is the hardest person to face.

It’s so easy to create an alternative reality, even an alternative self, when you are in the frantic pace and limited perspective of the valley.

It is hard to get to the mountaintop perspective. It is hard to pull myself out of the valley and force myself to take a good hard look all around.

However, the fresh perspective is just what I needed. 

Climbing the mountain, asking the tough questions, is difficult work. Just ask those who climbed the mountain this week whose legs are still aching! Taking this time to get out of your current situation and ministry will not be easy – you’ll have to work for it, and the toughest person you’ll have to fight is yourself. Force yourself to take mountain time, look all around, ask the tough questions and trust God to bring His fresh perspective. You will be a better leader, and person, for it.

Friends - Get to the mountain top. Take a look around!

Hope this helps.




Youth Culture Today (Prague Trip 2017)

We come to you today from the Czech Republic! 9 Canadian Acadia Divinity College students have joined with 9 students from across Europe to take a course on Youth Culture together from Jeff Carter (Canadian Baptist Ministries and European Baptist Federation)! We are in the middle of the course right now. At the end of this week the 9 Canadians will split up and visit some of the European students' homes, churches and ministries. Here are a few of the students sharing about their experience so far and the importance of understanding youth culture today. This experience is made possible by a generous scholarship each Canadian students receives from the CBAC Youth and Family team and Jeff's support on the European side. Thank you for giving to CBACyf and supporting youth leaders! You make this excellent training and more available to leaders to the next generation when you give to CBACyf or EBF.

As you watch - consider how you can better engage youth culture today?
How can you both show and tell the Gospel in today's youth culture?



Ready made Springforth (or any youth rally/retreat) Debrief for your Youth Group


Youth rallies, like Springforth, can be such a high for students and leaders! There is something special about worshipping together and being challenging together with so many others. It’s a powerful reminder that we are not alone and we have a mighty God!
...AND then we drive away, and often we and our students go back to life as usual. 

We don’t want you to miss what God may have been stirring in hearts and minds during the event!
Please do your part to help nurture the seeds that were planted.

Leaders, you can do some things to help make sure the impact of such events last longer and leads to significant change in lives, churches, and neighbourhoods. One of the best things you can do as a leader is debrief the event with students while it is still fresh in their minds.

Here is a whole list of questions you can use to debrief youth conferences, like Springforth. At the end of the list you’ll see some questions specific to the Springforth middle school and high school sites.

Pick just a FEW of these questions and use them in a large group, small group, discussions in pairs or put them on a sheet of paper for students to personally reflect on their experience. Often, we forget about the power of debriefing in partners peer-to-peer or even inviting personal individual reflection. Use all these tools well.

Questions for reflection after a youth conference (I’ve referred to Springforth, but you could use these questions after any youth rally or retreat). Again, doing all these questions would be overwhelming, pick about 5 of these questions. Remember “I don’t know” is also a valid answer to questions.

Debrief questions:

 1.       What was your favourite fun thing that happened during Springforth?

2.       The preaching:
a.       What was one thing the speaker said that has stuck with you?
b.       What was one thing the speaker said that made you think he/she was talking about you?

3.       What did you learn about God? From Springforth, did you come to understand something new about God? What?

4.       What is one song or line from a song that you liked or stood out to you?

5.       Who is one person you got to know better on this trip?

6.       What was one challenging thing that happened or you heard while at Springforth?

7.       What is your favourite thing that happened traveling to/from Springforth?

8.       Who is one new person you met (either on stage or personally) while at Springforth? What did you learn about them?

9.       Throughout the event, did you ever get a sense that God was nudging you or encouraging you to do something? Sometimes this happens, sometimes it does. If you did get this sense, what was it about? Have you done anything about it yet?

10.   What’s one thing you’ll do or think differently because of Springforth 2017?

11.   What did you learn about Kamp Tumaini (or mission beyond your region)? How can you be generous towards others, like the kids at Kamp Tumaini or others?

12.   How can you continue to learn about God and grow in God when you’re not at Springforth?

13.   What does it mean to join God in your neighbourhood #1neighbourhood?
a.       Name all the places you go in the course of a regular week. Be specific and name as many places as you can.
b.       Of all the places you go in the course of a regular week – where, or in who, do you see evidence that God is at work?
c.       How could you intentionally join God’s work in at least one of the places you go (or one of the peoples’ lives in those places) in the course of a regular week?

Specific to the High School Springforth site:

HS 1. In what ways do you feel people have misunderstood the heart of God for them or for the world?

HS 2. When we wait to be used by God, we keep others who need God waiting too. In what way have you been waiting and who have you kept waiting?

HS 3. When we read the last words of Jesus to the disciples, we discover a general mission for our lives: make disciples by bringing the kingdom of heaven into the present. How will you start making disciples right where you're at? 

HS 4. What’s one thing you learned from the Workshops you attended that will help you live more for Jesus?

Specific to the Middle School/Junior High Springforth site:

MS 1. What’s one thing you learned from the Dzones you attended that will help you live more for Jesus?

MS 2. Matt (the speaker) talked about the different between accepting God’s grace and trying to “do” stuff to please God and reach God. Can you think of a time when you were told the Gospel is a “Do” or “Don’t” list? How did that make you feel? Was it helpful or harmful? Have you ever experienced grace?

MS 3. Have you ever felt like you should do something, but you were scared of what others may think? Did you end up doing it, or did you avoid it? 

MS 4. What is something you believe God might be calling you to do? What sort of support do you need around you in order to make that calling happen?

MS 5. What did you think of the wooden blocks we wrote on? Talk about it.
If you need more prompts - Did you choose to write something on one of the wooden blocks at the end of the Saturday afternoon rally? Have you been able to find someone you feel comfortable sharing with what you wrote on the block and asking for their help? Is there someone you could talk to about it now and ask them to pray for you? Even if you didn’t write on a block, is there a spot in your life where you need some help and need to see God rebuilding something that feels broken or hurtful?

BE sure to give us at Springforth your feedback about the event too. If you were there, fill in this survey monkey please! Click here.

Thanks everyone for a great Springforth 2017! It was truly a blast!

Did you hear about the BIG announcement for 2018? Can’t wait to see you there, as we make history together. (Wonder what I'm talking about? Check out our Facebook page)



Leaders – Getting the most out of Springforth

SF 2017 Facebook Profile.jpg

Happy Springforth Eve!
I’m bursting with excitement today.

Here are some reasons why Springforth is so fantastic and pro-tips for getting the most out of the event.

If you are looking for Springforth event details click here.

1.       Springforth is so fantastic because it is a reminder that we are not alone - We have got others all over Atlantic Canada seeking to join God in their neighbourhoods!


  • Use meal times and down-times to allow teens to connect – to other teens, to leaders, to other youth groups.
  • Point out to teens how although they might feel alone in their school or town/city as someone journeying towards God, they can look around at Springforth and see they are not alone in Atlantic Canada!
  • Invite students to steal ideas from other teens from the stories they hear at Springforth, about how to join God in the places they live, work, study and play. #1neighbourhood
  • Some youth groups are using the meal times/snack times at Springforth to connect their Tidal Impact teams (visiting and hosting teams) together to meet in person. Great idea!
  • Go to the leaders' track. It is a chance for you as a leader to see you are not alone and get some great resources to help you invest in students.

2.       Springforth is so fantastic because it is designed with expectant hope – We fully expect God to do His mighty work this weekend. We fully expect God to invite students into relationship with Himself, invite students to change things in their thinking or behaviour and invite students to get on mission with joining God in our neighbourhoods. God is mighty, there is power in the Gospel. We are un1ting around God and His mission. We have been praying and have designed the environment, schedule, speakers and bands, with the expectancy that God is speaking to teenagers today.


  • Get others in your church praying with expectancy for your teens for this weekend and God’s work in them and around them.
  • Don’t miss what God is stirring in your students. Be sensitive if your group needs to linger after a session, follow up by talking to a speaker or have prayer with a peer or leader.
  • Be on time for all sessions so your students get the full experience.
  • Have your students come prepared to give an offering. We fully expect to make a difference to Kamp Tumaini in Kenya, by sending kids affected by HIV/Aids to this camp. $20 sends a person to camp!

3.       Springforth is so fantastic because it attracts people who are in all different places in their journey towards God – We love that whether people are just checking out Jesus or have been following Jesus since they were a wee little one, they feel welcome at Springforth. We love that they can all find community and be challenged at Springforth.


  • Bring youth to Springforth who are all along the spectrum of faith or even skeptical of faith.
  • Encourage teens that have been following Jesus for a while to befriend those just checking things out at Springforth.
  • Don’t let your teens that have been following Jesus for a while go away unchallenged. There are new challenges for them – in surrender, in joining God’s mission in their neighbourhood in new ways, in leading, in new workshop topics, in the Global Village challenge from CBM (look in the glass walkway at Crandall for this), in learning about and supporting Kamp Tumaini etc.

4.       Springforth is so fantastic because it starts conversations with our students about deeper faith questions – the event is only 21.5 hours (6:30 pm Friday to 4 pm Saturday) but the conversations it starts with your students are golden! The seeds that are planted are golden! Springforth is like an accelerator for the conversations we want to be having with our teens about following Jesus and living for Jesus. Lean into this opportunity!


  • As you listen to the speaker, think about follow-up questions to ask your students about the talks.
  • Use the time in vehicles, meal times, down-times, lying on a hard church floor times – to have follow-up conversations with your students.
  • Plan your next youth group (or two or three) to be a follow up from Springforth and how to apply what we learned.
  • Don’t worry about the lack of sleep during Springforth – follow the conversations God is stirring. We’re praying God stirs lots of conversations and sustains and strengths you, no matter the number of hours of sleep you get.
  • Ask students what their ONE main take-away was from: the speaker, the worship, and the workshops/D-zones.
  • Get teens to write themselves a letter on the way home (or at your next youth group) about what God highlighted to them at Springforth. Collect the letters and give them back to the students in a months time to check-in on how their follow through is going.

Other general pro-tips:

  • Get to the leader’s track on-time. We (CBAC) have a gift for you Friday and Saturday Acadia Divinity College has a special treat for you.
  • Trust your teens to be able to handle the D-Zones (middle school site) and workshops (high school site) without you. This is part of helping their faith become more their own.
  • If you are staying at a church Friday night, bring a good air mattress or thick foam!
  • If you are staying at a church Friday night, plan a thank you for the church for their hospitality (e.g. a thank you card signed by your students…)
  • Be on time to all sessions.
  • Plan ahead for your Saturday breakfast and Saturday lunch. The time goes very quickly. Champlain Place food court is great for lunch but is also extremely busy the Saturday of Springforth.
  • Remind your teens Sunday is Mother’s Day!

You experienced Springforth leaders – what other pro-tips would you add?
Youth leaders and supporters of youth are amazing! Thank you for the investment you are making in the lives of students this weekend and always. Keep investing!  
See you at Springforth! #Springforth More details about the event at: cbacyf.ca/springforth