Shane Stacey is national director of ReachStudents and a member of First EFC in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When my 15-year-old son tells me he’s the only one in his class without a smart phone, I know that he’s not exaggerating. I’m sure it will take a few years of therapy to help him recover. In 2015, in the United States alone, 73 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds own or have access to a smart phone.1
Millennials may not remember a world without computers. But Gen Z “does not remember a world without constant, immediate and convenient access to the web,” according to thought leaders at the Wharton School.2
My son and his cohort truly are, as Wharton Professor David Bell describes them, the “internet in your pocket” generation.
In this five-part blog series, I am using James Emory White’s five characteristics of Gen Z from his recent book, Meet Generation Z, to describe the cards in the hand that this generation has been dealt. In part one, we looked at the first card: recession-marked. Now we turn our attention to the second card: wifi-enabled.
Our kids have known no other world. Think about it for a moment: An 8-year old can stare into the pantry and call out into thin air, “Alexa, we’re out of graham crackers!” And Amazon’s voice-activated speaker system will respond to little Susie, order her the graham crackers and have them delivered to her door with Amazon Prime Now in just two hours.
This mobile “always-on” world has created what New York Times technology writer Brian Chen calls the “anything-anytime-anywhere future” for this generation.
According to a survey done by StageofLife.com, 75 percent of teens seek advice through YouTube channels or other videos on topics important to their daily lives such as relationships/dating, trends and how to approach new skills.3
As church leaders, we’d be wise to consider how we are using technology as a means not merely to promote our events but also to equip students to live with and for Jesus in everyday life.
This easy access to endless information is creating a generation that is information-rich but is at risk of also being wisdom-poor. This makes them hugely vulnerable. This generation does not need help accessing information. Yet they need help with interpretation—learning to evaluate that information through the lens of the gospel.
We can’t talk about being wifi-enabled without talking about social media. For Gen Z, social media is not merely second nature; it is their primary nature. We’re not just talking Facebook. In 2014, the majority of Generation Z dropped Facebook, because that’s where their mothers, teachers, pastors and even grandparents hang out. They prefer more anonymous platforms such Snapchat, Whisper and WhatsApp.
Why do they love it so much? For one, during a time in their lives when they are searching for who they are, why they are here and among whom they belong, social media provides an instant feedback loop. It allows them to curate different identities, try them on and see what is liked and unliked, what generates controversy, and what creates indifference.
I’m telling you: With virtually reality hitting the mainstream soon, we have not seen anything yet in the realm of trying on different identities.
It’s not that all this technology is inherently evil. It’s not. As pointed out by John Culkin, an early proponent of media literacy: “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”4 This generation barely knows how to relate to their world, others and even themselves without technology.
John Dyer, who will speak at Challenge 2018,5 helps us see technology as a tool in his excellent book From the Garden to the City. Dyer begins his examination of technology with Creation. He shows how God created us to be creative ourselves, to use technology to improve things. Adam is commanded to work and cultivate the garden (Genesis 2:15). Using the storyline of the Bible, Dyer urges four categories with which to evaluate our technology:
It’s not only young people who need to think through these questions. As church leaders, we should also consider how we will use technology in our evangelism and discipleship among Generation Z.
A timely tool to help the church connect the gospel to everyday life more effectively is Jeff Vanderstelt’s most recent book, Gospel Fluency. It will help you train both parents and youth leaders to use the gospel as the lens through which they see all of life.
Learn more about the ministry of EFCA ReachStudents.