Shane Stacey is national director of ReachStudents and a member of First EFC in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In this five-part blog series, I am using James Emory White’s five characteristics of Gen Z from his 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. In part two, we explored the ramifications of the second card: wifi-enabled. What’s the third card? Multiracial.
As stated earlier, Generation Z is the largest generation in history. According to Fox News, 4,317,119 babies were born in 2007—topping the record set at the height of the baby boom, in 1957.1
But it is not only the sheer number of the Gen Z cohort that makes them unique. Their demographic make-up is also setting new records. Starting in 2013, according to Pew Research, just over half the babies born in America each year have been minorities.2
The United States is currently swept up in a changing racial demographic—the largest immigration wave in history, with most individuals coming from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. This has resulted in a 7.6-percent projected increase in the Hispanic teen population over the next five years, the fastest-growing population in the United States.3
According to the ad agency Honey & Sparks, this country has also seen a 400-percent increase in black-white multiracial marriages over the last 30 years and a 1,000-percent increase in Asian-white marriages—resulting in a rapid increase in multiracial children.4
What does all this mean? First, it means that when the 2020 census is conducted, it is estimated that more than half of all U.S. children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group.5
Additionally, as Forbes writer Ryan Scott has noted, “With skyrocketing growth in biracial and minority populations, generation Z embraces multiculturalism as a touchstone of who they are, and this also informs their attitudes on social issues.”6 A Bloomberg News writer describes them “the first generation for which diversity is a natural concept.”7
This does not mean we will be without racism. But for Gen Z, it is far more natural to live, learn, work and play in diverse contexts. Lord willing, they will also find it a more commonplace experience to worship in a multiethnic environment.
Yet getting to that place—where our churches offer the natural diversity they seek—will take some intentionality on our part.
Here are few first steps:
Our motivation must not be grounded in keeping up with changing demographics. Discipleship must be the driving motivation—not merely diversity. Multiethnic ministry can no longer be limited to the inner city. Scripture calls us to make disciples of all ethnos (Matthew 28), strive toward unity in Christ (John 17), welcome the stranger (both old and new Testament) and look toward the day when all nations will worship around a single throne (Revelation 7).
In John 4, Jesus takes His disciples across cultural divides into Samaria. The story of the woman at the well ends with Jesus calling His disciples to “lift up their eyes and see.” One of the clearest snapshots of the ethnic/socioeconomic breakdown of any community is found in its public schools. Why not ask teachers and administrators to help us see our community from their perspective? By humbly serving in our local schools, we’ll gain insights and, more importantly, relationships to help create more diverse environments in our churches.
This generation not only accepts but also expects diversity. Ask youth for their top-five favorite musical artists, and there will be one or two ethnic minorities on their list. For diverse students to see our churches as credible and relatable, they need to see people in leadership roles who look, act and think like them. This should create a sense of urgency in us, for our leadership to reflect the diversity of our culture.
Allow yourself to be the minority. Go places alone (and with students) that require a sense of awkwardness. Go where you will be “the only ______”. Moments like this will inform your thinking and transform your approach to all your students.
Racial diversity is growingly the norm for Generation Z. Therefore, if we want them to see our churches as part of their normal, healthy spiritual experience, we must be intentional. Generation Z may be able to provide older generations with some reverse mentoring in this area but they also need the wisdom, perspective and courageous modeling that only older generations can bring.
This post was co-written by April Warfield, Apex U.S project director.
To learn about general distinctives between all generations, read “The Six Living Generations in America,” by Dr. Jill Novak, marketingteacher.com. Learn more about the ministry of EFCA ReachStudents.