TBMB leads seminars on how to reach this easily-distracted demographic
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
After a few moments of mostly blank stares and silence, Blaydes explained that the term, which is only about three weeks old, refers to slow-motion “selfies” that can be recorded with the latest version of iPhones.
The response to Blaydes’ question perfectly illustrated the point that she was making: Technology is moving so rapidly that it can be challenging for parents and grandparents to keep up.
So, how, then, can anyone over the age of 35 realistically expect to make any sort of connection with the members of Generation Z — a group that was seemingly born with smart phones in their hands?
Hoping to equip parents with an answer to that question, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board recently hosted a series of one-night conferences entitled “Reaching Gen Z: Implications for the Church and Home.”
The conferences, held at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson, First Baptist Church, Dandridge, and First Baptist Church, Shelbyville, hosted attendees from 45 different churches, representing 20 Baptist associations.
Each conference featured six breakout sessions that dealt with topics pertaining to Gen Z — which refers to those who were born between 1995 and 2012 (according to some sources).
“I really believe the topics at the conference provided information that the attendees were desperately seeking,” said Blaydes, who presented a breakout session called “Smartphones, Tablets and Gaming, Oh My!”
“Many of the attendees appeared a bit shell-shocked,” Blaydes said.
“But based on the feedback we received, I think they were thankful for the information we provided. I think it helped them see the urgency of understanding technology.”
In addition to Blaydes’ seminar, other sessions included:
- 5 Things You Need to Know about Gen Z KIDS, led by Vicki Hulsey
- Parenting and Grandparenting Gen Z Kids, led by Debbie Doane
- Gen Z Students: Overview for Rookies, led by Bruce Edwards
- Gen Z Students and Technology, led by Josh Ward (Jackson), Ryan McMichael (Shelbyville), Keith Jones (Dandridge)
- How Do I Live with a Gen Z Student? Led by Russ Wilkins (Jackson), Jay Barbier (Shelbyville, Dandridge)
TBMB childhood specialist Vicki Hulsey, who served as coordinator of the conferences, said the event centered around Biblical teachings that are the key to any healthy relationship.
“It is crucial to help Gen Z-ers develop a solid, biblical worldview that will last,” Hulsey said. “At the conference, parents and grandparents were challenged with the idea that Gen Z expects you to know why you believe what you believe. Answers like ‘Because I said so’ or ‘Because the pastor said so’ is not good enough for Gen Z. They demand to know why.”
Barbier, youth specialist at the TBMB, agreed that the key to connecting with Gen Z starts and ends with the Bible.
“From my experience of raising two Gen Z teenagers, the best advice I can give a parent is to be intentional in laying down Christian principles and standards,” he said. “It’s really about spending quality time with your teen, and asking the hard questions that they face everyday in life from the world around them.”
Perhaps the most significant characteristic of Gen Z — which is sometimes referred to as “iGen” — is that they see the world as a rather small place.
They can gain access to others, from all across the globe, just by firing up their phones and computers. They have never known a world that was devoid of the internet, which was commercialized in 1995. Growing up in these “world-at-your-fingertips” surroundings is part of the reason that Gen Z is unique from all previous generations.
Edwards, youth specialist at the TBMB, attempted to paint this picture during his session at the TBMB conference. He said he focused on helping adults understand what Gen Z is all about — and what makes them tick.
“My conference laid a foundation on who a Gen Z student is, how they are wired, how they respond and how to build relationships,” said Edwards. “It was exciting to see youth leaders, parents and even some grandparents attend my Reaching Gen Z students Rookie Overview.”
Edwards said he believed many of the attendees came away with a new perspective and some new ideas on how to communicate with Gen Z.
“I loved hearing attendees say, ‘Now I understand why that teenager is the way they are,” said Edwards. “One long time youth leader said: ‘Now that I understand how a student is wired today and how long their attention span is, I need to rethink my teaching methods for Gen Z but not forsake the message and speaking truth into their lives.”
The conferences, which lasted roughly three hours at each location, provided ideas and resources that can potentially help dissolve the dreaded “generation gap” that exists among all generations but seems particularly expansive between Gen Z and all other demographics.
Hulsey said she felt energy and excitement among the attendees at the TBMB event.
“They were very engaged during the entire conference,” she said. “In the closing session, attendees came back together for a recap and they shared some of their takeaways. They enjoyed sharing the ‘aha moments’ they experienced during the breakouts.”
Hulsey noted that one of the main misconceptions about Gen Z is that they are unwilling — or perhaps unable — to interact with adults. Hulsey said she has discovered the exact opposite to be true.
“Gen Z-ers actually crave connection,” she said. “Yet a common response heard from attendees related to challenges of connecting with kids who are constantly connected to a device of some kind.
“It’s true that Gen Z-ers take multi-tasking to a whole new level, often being on five screens at once. … Yet, some of those same kids will shock their parents by recalling a statement or illustration the pastor used in worship,” she said.
“They really aren’t that hard to connect with if you understand who they are,” said Edwards. “Even though they are the most connected generation ever — with phones, devices, social media, etc. — personal interaction and conversation are high on their list. They desire that direct interaction. The key to connecting with a Gen Z student is to build a relationship with them, and make that relationship be more organic rather than structured.”
Edwards said some adults might be surprised to see just how receptive Gen Z-ers can be to forming relationships. Even though they appear closed-off, they are often secretly wishing that someone would take the time to make a breakthrough with them.
“Many Gen Z students are lonely,” said Edwards. “They can thrive in their social media world but struggle with personal relationships sometimes wondering if anyone cares.”
Barbier said teaching Gen Z about Jesus can be a difficult assignment. But it’s a challenge that Christian parents and leaders must embrace.
“We have to learn that Gen Z is different than we are — and we need to reach them,” he said. “They do not generally have a Biblical Worldview. So, we must change our language and approach to reach them with an unchanging message of the Hope of Christ.”