Fear of missing out—known as “FOMO”—has become a defining characteristic of Gen Z, those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s. A collective, nagging sense plagues them that somewhere someone is doing something they need to be involved in but aren’t. This unsettledness can certainly have unhealthy expressions. But when it comes to our thoughts toward Gen Z, I wonder if church leaders could use a healthy dose of FOMO.
All too often, generational talk trends toward complaint. Some of it is justifiable. There are impulses in every generation that the sinful heart can pursue to its own destruction. But what if negativity toward Gen Z has blinded us to its positive characteristics? What if God has ordained certain Gen Z traits to be used for his redemptive purposes, including the work of global missions?
A little FOMO might be good for all of us. It might keep us from missing out on what God desires to do with this generation.
Researchers have identified characteristics that distinguish Gen Z from surrounding generations. Having experienced a world rocked by 9/11 and a massive recession, their outlook is shaped by a certain realism about the world. This is illustrated by how pragmatically they approach life and ambition. Gen Z tends to be driven yet nonidealistic.
Technology has a pervasive influence on every dimension of life for Gen Z. Digital platforms are the context for their relationships. Their sense of FOMO is real. Personal branding and image management take on a level of importance previously unseen. Even when it comes to employment, a company’s digital advancement or lack thereof directly affects a Gen Zer’s desire to be employed by them. Life, for Gen Z, is bound to the digital realm.
What if God has ordained certain Gen Z traits to be used for his redemptive purposes?
Along with other factors, tetheredness to digital life has intensified this generation’s tribalism. The tribe rallies together inside the safe confines of an “us vs. them” mentality. This spirit fortifies cancel culture. Yet Gen Z’s us-mentality is tenuously connected to a deep desire for individuality. If a group allows them to express themselves freely, that group is deemed “my people.” Expressive individualism coexists with temperamental tribalism, creating a fragile hybrid. We can be “we,” so long as the “we” lets me be “me.”
What does all this mean for Gen Z and global missions? In Acts 17:26, Paul outlines the sovereignty of God in determining “allotted periods and the boundaries” where people live. God superintends every factor in the formation of each generation. No doubt, sin negatively affects every people group, but God’s common grace is also present in every culture. And God’s special grace can redeem facets of each nation and generation to leverage for his mission.
As a missions pastor in a local church that sends many young people into global missions, I have a front-row seat to see how God is already working through the unique characteristics of Gen Z to influence the nations. Here are four ways I see that happening.
1. Gen Zers are attentive to ways the Lord may move them.
FOMO no doubt contributes to this in some way. Gen Z doesn’t have a sense of settledness in their locations or vocations. Unlike baby boomers, they’re not likely to make lifelong career decisions. Many remain open to God’s purposes in their lives. It excites me to see how the Lord has poised this generation with a readiness to deploy into new fields and new realms.
2. Gen Zers have relationships that transcend their physical locations.
As the global currency for cultivating relationships has digitized, the ability to connect cross-culturally has expanded. High school teenagers or college-age young adults we send from Birmingham, Alabama, often share commonalities with others their age from places like Cairo and Peru, despite the obvious cultural distance. And once they return home, the ability to stay globally connected continues through messaging and social media apps. Gen Z is a global community, and this connectivity is already being leveraged for the sake of the gospel.
3. Gen Zers feel the need to connect with people meaningfully.
Gen Zers who desire to be sent globally rarely need to be convinced of the necessity to learn language and culture. Something about the “insiderness” they feel within their tribe helps them realize the need to minimize their foreignness in another culture if they want to embody and explain the truth. The Gen Z individuals we’ve sent mid-term and long-term excel at language and culture acquisition, which are nonnegotiables of missionary work.
4. Gen Zers are pressing into issues of mental health.
Unlike previous generations, they’re willing to be vulnerable about their struggles. This is due, in part, to them growing up aware of outward threats and inward, psychological challenges. As Christians, they’ve learned to address layers of fear and shame. Some Gen Zers we’ve sent have personal experiences seeking God to overcome stressors related to anxiety and depression. With the prevalence of fear and shame across global cultures, it seems this generation is poised to steward their knowledge of these heart dynamics for the sake of the gospel.
Maybe you’re a Gen Zer. Have you considered how your traits might be stewarded for God’s work among the nations? Maybe you’re a church leader as I am. Have you considered how God may have uniquely crafted Gen Z for such a time as this? It’s so easy to lament the negative traits of each generation. But it’s time to recognize the way God can use even our weakness to magnify his strength.
God can use even our weakness to magnify his strength.
“Let’s go!” has become a popular slogan in our day that includes both a celebratory boast and a motivational call. It’s time we join that mentality as church leaders. A world of opportunities for missional advancement remains, and a generation has emerged ready to engage them with the gospel.