By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — The projected photo in the meeting room was of 10 children though only one was spotlighted. The caption read — “If the trend continues, nine of 10 children born after 9/11 will reach adulthood without knowing Christ.”
“It takes something monumental to reverse a trend. You don’t reverse a trend just by changing your mind,” observed Randy C. Davis.
Even more alarming is that these children born after 9/11 (2001), who are known as Generation Z, make up what is predicted to be the largest generation ever, added Davis. The executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention spoke at the “Reaching Gen Z” luncheon held at Grace Community Church here and at six other locations across the state recently. The meetings drew a total of about 525 people.
“The generation of those 16 and younger right now is going to be the largest generation ever birthed in North America. They’re projected to be at least 2 percent larger than the Millennial generation; they’re larger than the Baby Boomer generation.”
They also are the most lost spiritually, Davis reported. The Greatest Generation or the Builders (born until 1946) were comprised of about 60 percent Christians, Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) consisted of about 35 percent Christians, and Millennials (born 1982-2004) of about 15 percent.
The trend is that about 10 percent or less of Gen Zers will be Christians, Davis added.
Another reason for urgency on the part of Christians is that studies show at least 84 percent of those who are Christian made that decision before the age of 19, he explained.
“I don’t have a magic bullet to hand you, but what I do want to do is to sound the alarm,” he told the conferees, who included mostly church staff members and some church leaders.
“You are on the front line more than anybody else working with churches,” Davis noted. He explained that he was especially addressing pastors of single-staff churches and those leading students, children, and preschoolers.
“If we stop doing everything else we are doing in church life and in denominational life, the one thing we must do is focus on this generation because they’re growing up in a climate that is almost averse to evangelism.
“The culture is putting incredible pressure on them to adopt and accept things that are unbiblical and if you don’t reach them, if we do not lock arms and hearts to reach this next generation, who in the world is going to reach them for Jesus Christ?” Davis implored.
In the past, Southern Baptists and other evangelical denominations have reached children and youth with the gospel and discipled and equipped them “from a biblical point of view,” he noted. Southern Baptists can do it again, he continued.
“Your Tennessee Baptist Convention will do everything we can to serve you, to help you, to equip you, to network with you, to help you network with others,” stated Davis, adding that not all tools have to be Baptist, just biblical.
Also speaking at the conference was David Evans, evangelism specialist for the TBC. He spoke on the book, Why They Stay, by Steve Parr and Tom Crites, which was provided to all conferees.
Evans noted that the authors surveyed over 1,400 Millennials last summer. Millennials are about 15-35 years old now.
The authors “were tired of just focusing on the question of why young adults don’t like church …,” he explained. Instead Parr and Crites surveyed the group who stayed in the church.
The authors found Millennials stayed in church based on 15 factors, added Evans. One finding was that “nothing replaces parental discipleship, absolutely nothing.” That should be a comfort to Christians because it is biblical, he observed.
Another important finding was that “if the child or adolescent has an affectionate view of their pastor, then they are 90 percent more likely to stay in church as a young adult,” concluded Evans.
The “Reaching Gen Z” conferences were held in Brentwood, Bartlett, Jackson, Johnson City, Cookeville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Both a luncheon and dinner were held in Knoxville to accommodate bivocational pastors who work during the day.
Looking back on the series of meetings, Davis said, “I am astounded at the turnout. Tennessee Baptists realize that this requires our attention for the sake of the generation made up of our grandchildren, children, and friends.”