Seven church trends in 2024: Gen Z will start to shape the church

Feb. 15, 2024

By Rev. Rick King

Many of you know I follow cultural trends that are having an impact on American religion. I find it valuable to seek out others’ perspectives on cultural trends and leadership, and one person I follow closely is Canadian pastor, blogger, podcaster, and trainer Carey Nieuwhof. As a Canadian, he’s in a nation that’s about 10 years ahead of the US in becoming a post-Christian society. This series of columns is on church trends in 2024 that find particular resonance with our church as we engage the cultural forces at work and seek transformation in response.

This past Sunday, I saw the Spirit at work at coffee hour in an amazing way, as people reveled in relationships and conversations. First-time guests and people who had returned to church here for a second or third time connected with people who’ve been part of the church for years. What I saw was barriers being removed that we often let define who’s new, and who’s a member and who’s church shopping, for example. I saw the Spirit overlooking all of that in favor of extravagant welcome.

Last week, we looked at Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) as the new core constituency of the church. Since 2019, Millennial church attendance has been surging, and because Boomers (born 1946-1964) never returned to church post-COVID in the numbers we expected them to, Millennials are assuming the kind of power and influence Boomers used to have in church.

This week, we look at Trend No. 3, which is that Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) is positioned to start shaping church of the future right now. Believe it or not, the oldest members of Gen Z turn 27 years old this year. So one of the things I’m sensitive to is what people my kids’ ages would be looking for in local churches if they were looking for a church.

Carey Nieuwhof has written elsewhere about five characteristics of worship, for instance, that seems to appeal to Gen Z, and as he often does, he summarizes these points succinctly and memorably:

  • Less performance, more Presence. Boomers and the generations before them valued presentation of worship, with high production values like sound, media, music, creative preaching, drama, etc. But Gen Z is looking for an experience of God’s presence, living and active in worship and the rest of life.
  • Less production, more participation. Gen Z can get slickly produced, high-quality music, worship, talks, and other things anywhere they want on the internet; what they want is what local churches offer in a community, relationships, and roles that matter in the life of that local faith community.
  • Less noise, more space. Gen Z get bombarded by so much information and stimulation like the rest of us that the LAST thing they need is a worship service cram-packed with “stuff”—music, announcements, video, a message—and no moments of silence to think, pray, meditate and just be in the Presence. Where else does one ruminate, process, and envision how to ACT on all the incoming stuff, not to mention learn how to do that in the rest of one’s daily life?
  • Less personality, more humility. The last forty years of church history is rife with charismatic-leader pastors who founded megachurches now in succession crises as those leaders retire. But Gen Z and others see through personality and beyond the leader, to God, the Source of wholeness.
  • Less head, more heart. People don’t want to hear ABOUT God, they want to come to KNOW God, and the pathway to knowing is through the heart. It doesn’t mean we check our minds at the door, just that the mind and heart illuminate each other, and without the heart, knowledge about God is merely information, not transformation.

What are YOU observing here? How can we invite people to participate in some of that, even if they’re in our virtual community, through the livestream or small groups meeting on Zoom? Are the points above really generational differences, or are they the defining characteristics of a congregation attentive to God present in all things?