The online seminar GENERATION Z which took place on the 1st December 2021, was very interesting and useful for all religious counsellors, chaplains, pastoral and youth workers, social workers and all staff within the Students Services. The seminar organised by the Secretariat for Catholic Education was based on the experience and research of Reverend Matthew Pulis with reference to the research published in the book Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post Christian World by James Emery White.
Understanding Generation Z
The term Generation Z refers to the generation born between 1990 and 2010. The seminar delved into Generational Theories such as the Strauss and Howe Generation theory.
Reverend Pulis explained how the use of the internet in Malta came about suddenly and rapidly not gradually as it did in other countries. It changed Maltese society overnight with a seismic cultural shift which is a poised challenge for every church in a rapidly changing culture.
The Characteristics of Generation Z
Youths today invest their energy and find their identity in technology which is an extension of themselves as it is no longer online and offline. Their mobile is the most important device in their life, it defines them as a gamified, connecting generation. Gaming is a social event to them; they seek knowledge from social media, following an average of 23 hours of video each week and are more likely to follow vloggers. They tend to follow Apps such as Tiktok which offer them games, music, fun and social interaction but also influence them. Gaming is an extension of the way they view life because it allows them to be ‘actors’ in their social bubble of likes, shares and having many followers.
They are not a smart generation but use ‘smart’ technology so that the barriers between gaming and real-life are extended as if life is a game to them. They consume most of their information through technology and are therefore easier to manipulate and abuse.
They hate inequality, seek instant gratification, are multi-taskers, feel insecure and tend to suffer more from mental health issues. Youths today are spiritual but not religious. They have questions about God’s existence, which is the right religion, the idea of a non-personal God and an existential idea of death. Since to them, all voices are equally valid, morals cause a conflict to this generation so we need to dialogue with them to understand their dreams, psychological and spiritual needs.
How can we help youths today?
To reach youths today we have to accept and become part of their gaming world, appreciate who they are and ask how we can help them. Youths today are bombarded with information and we can help them to transform it into knowledge. We have to enter their lives as the ‘walking wounded’ who do not have all the right answers, who are willing to share their experiences and to dialogue with them.
Youths who are living in a gamified world are subject to ‘influencers’ (such as Youtube, Instagram) which they think can be trusted so we can help them to hack piecemeal truths. When we accept and enter their gaming culture as wounded healers, we can help youths without being patronizing so as to Christianize the ‘influencer mentality’. When we engage in their games, we can understand what they are pushing forward and what is influencing youths today.
Through this approach we can influence them regarding the truth by showing them we care for them. In this context, pastors, youth leaders, ministers and parents need to rethink evangelistic and apologetic methods, cultivate a culture of invitation and communicate with this connected generation by entering their world.