What do non-Christian teens want when it comes to discussing matters of faith? They want authentic living. They want to see a person’s faith lived out in action. Before having a conversation about matters of faith, they want to know, “This is a person I can trust.”
In partnership with Alpha USA and Alpha Canada, the Barna Group recently conducted a survey of 1,324 young people between the ages of 13 and 18. When non-Christian Gen Z were asked to share their opinions on various approaches to evangelism, the majority said that, “seeing how the person behaves, allowing their actions to speak rather than using words to explain” was most appealing to them (23% very appealing, 32% somewhat appealing).
How do we, as the Body of Christ in the world, back our faith up with action?
The next generation is looking to us to show them something more substantial than words. They want to see Christians who don’t just say that God loves people but people who show that love, by acting as God’s hands and feet in the world. They want to see Christians whose words and actions are in harmony, living a life that is holistically connected to their beliefs. They want to see a vibrant, life-shaping faith, one where faith and action go hand in hand.
What they don’t want is hypocrisy, judgment, or to be put on the spot.
Of the non-Christians surveyed, more than half disliked when Christians quoted scripture or used Bible verses as evidence for Christianity (24% not very appealing, 34% not at all appealing). They didn’t like being put on the defensive, being asked to give the reason behind their own lifestyle choices and beliefs (23% not very appealing, 18% not at all appealing). And many of them didn’t like when someone wanted to pray for them as part of the conversation (19% not very appealing, 30% not at all appealing).
In other words, they didn’t want to feel pressured.
This is in keeping with other parts of the survey which asked what characteristics Gen Z would use to describe someone who is comfortable sharing their faith. 72% of non-Christian teens said that someone who is comfortable sharing their faith is, “someone who listens without judgment.” Christian teens agreed, with 66% saying, “someone who listens without judgment” was the top characteristic for evangelism.
In addition to this, 57% of non-Christian Gen Z and 44% of Christian Gen Z said that someone who is comfortable and confident sharing their faith is someone who, “doesn’t force a conclusion.”
Gen Z isn’t looking for the tent revival evangelists of the 20th century. Instead, they desire relational connections, knowing the other person’s life and seeing their faith in action. The next generation wants to have real, honest conversations; discussions about faith without pressure or judgment, leaving room for personal choice and the work of the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean for us, the global Church? How does this information help us to engage the next generation for Jesus?
We must ask ourselves some challenging questions about how we are sharing the gospel with Gen Z. Are we inviting them to sit and listen to a sermon? Or are we inviting them into active, relational, open, loving conversation? Are we showing that we can listen well? Are we allowing them to see our lives and actions? There is a deep need for the Church as a whole to love this generation well by holding space. Gen Z is not a generation to fix or a problem to solve, but a people to love. For this generation, love looks a lot like listening without shying away from the meaningful conversations around life, faith, and meaning.
Alpha is a wonderful opportunity for non-Christian and Christian teens to discuss faith and life in an environment that is judgment-free and centers on relational listening. It’s an opportunity for all of us to make space for the Spirit to work in our friends’ lives and in our communities.
As we begin 2022, we begin praying for the next generation—a generation that will be entering adulthood battered and bruised from the tensions of the last decade. They need our support, our understanding, our compassion. They want us to listen.
We pray that God would move mightily through Gen Z. That the Holy Spirit would change lives and hearts. And we pray that we, as the Church that goes before them, would be the kind of witnesses to the gospel that they long for and need.
See how Alpha supports the rising generation through the Alpha Youth Series here, and join us in the important work of creating spaces for Gen Z to participate in honest conversations about faith, life, and meaning.