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Empower Gen Z for Church Planting

Church planting on college campuses by college students is a growing phenomenon. Youth and young adults are building small groups, house churches, and other forms of organic type ecclesia, often with the help and support of college church planting networks. Great things are happening in these arenas.
But what happens to these church planters or ministry leaders when they leave the college campus and collegiate world?  How will these young leaders be received and treated in community churches?
And what about the college graduate who has the intention of being bi-vocational, co-vocational, or doing business as ministry? What will they find when they come into their local church?
Gen Z is significantly more religious than the past 3 generations, with 41% of them regularly attending church[1] during childhood compared to 18% of Millennials, 21% of Gen X, and 26% of Baby Boomers.[2] Churches and church planting networks need to be thinking yesterday about how to scaffold and support 22 year olds (and younger) as church planters, co-vocational ministers, and Business as Ministry leaders.
While there is debate on the transition year, many generational studies are labeling current college students as Gen Z. By the year 2020, Gen Z will constitute 40% of the population in the US.[3] Gen Z shares some traits with Millennials, including being collaborative and team oriented, and valuing transparent, accessible leadership.[4]
But, they also differ in some important ways. Gen Zers are more entrepreneurial with up to 70% of them working an entrepreneurial job that they created.[5]  They are calculated risk takers, more resilient and more externally motivated than Millennials. They are a purpose-driven generation, looking to hack the system and possessing the work ethic to do it.[6]
While Millennials are more relationally motivated and want to be seen and pursued, Gen Zers are not that passive. Millennials don’t engage without being asked; Gen Zers will follow their calling with or without your permission or support.
Because of those trends, Gen Zers will be planting churches and moving forward in their mission whether we in church systems help and support them or not. If we don’t figure out how to empower them within our existing networks, they will church plant on their own anyway, which is not the most ideal solution.
The truth is that we need 22-year-old church planters, and they need us. They need our wisdom and experience to avert easily avoidable mistakes. They also need our prayers and support. And we need them, too. We need them to remind us why we went into ministry and to find passion for our calling again. We need them to help us reimagine what church and ministry could look like. We need them to carry the torch forward for the next 80 years.
Here are some tips to empower Gen Z for church planting:

  1. See them.  You can’t support what you can’t see. Get to know their names, what they care about, and what God is saying to them.
  2. Invite them in.  Invite them into your leadership meetings and into your leadership paradigm. Teach them how to be a ministry leader and how leaders think about ministry.
  3. Don’t just put them in children’s or youth ministry.  Gen Zers are not going to just climb the vocational ministry ladder. They will serve in unglamorous places because, on the whole, they have a good work ethic and they value all types of skills. But, if you think they are going to follow the old pattern of 5 years youth ministry, 5 years associate pastor, and then church planter, you are mistaken. Empower them now with a high-support, high-feedback structure.
  4. Build clear scaffolding.  What is it that a ministry leader does? What skills do they need to have? What character traits do they need to have? What experiences propel growth in church planting principles? Work with your church leadership team to build a list of skills and goals. Then think about the best way to learn those skills and build that character. You don’t have to create a pastoral training school or facilitate all the lessons yourself, but giving definition and thought to the process will get you started in knowing how to help support and scaffold your young church planters.
  5. Hack the system.  Gen Zers likely have more work and leadership experience than you would guess. They are not coming to you with a calling on a blank slate – they likely already have ministry leadership experience. Work with them to do an experience inventory and learn what they know and what they don’t. Work with them to create a tailored ministry development path of skills, sets and experiences that will prepare them for ministry leadership. As you are developing them, let each ministry assignment have a purpose and specific learning outcomes. Don’t be afraid to let them lead a small group or plant a baby church, with your support and oversight.

There are simple things we can do to help see, scaffold, and send out young church planters. We want them to follow their calling in ministry and to plant churches with us, not without us. Envision our churches to be like strong trees that put up saplings and shoots, creating a forest. Be the kind of church that nurtures your saplings, not stunts their growth. They are the future, and we want to help them flourish and become disciple-making multipliers.
[1]  It is important to remember that the percentage of Gen Z in church does not mean a Christian church, but reflects an increase in faith and religiosity in the generation. We are still a post-Christian nation and there are lots of types of ‘church’.
[2] Seemiller, C. and Grace, M. (2016). Generation Z Goes to College. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
[4] Cruickshank, Jessie (2018) Primer on generations in workplace updated.
Additional Download:  Generational Profiles and Spirituality Perspectives by Jessie Cruickshank.