EMPOWER 2024: Breakouts include emphasis on reaching, refocusing, and raising up leaders from Gen Z

Amy Davison of Mama Bear Apologetics says parents still have the greatest influence on their kids when it comes to developing a biblical worldview regarding sexuality. SBTC PHOTO

IRVING—Several breakout sessions at the 2024 Empower Conference focused on how to reach Generation Z—the generation of people born between 1995 and 2010—and molding them into the future of the church. Here’s a sampling of the content from those sessions, held Monday and Tuesday at the Irving Convention Center:

‘Relationships matter deeply’

Sean McDowell, a renowned apologetics professor and author, acknowledges there’s a certain level of cynicism from older generations when it comes to Gen Z. Churches that look beyond the negative narrative, however, will be better equipped to reach them with the gospel, he said.

“How we view this generation shapes how we relate to them,” McDowell said. “I will tell you one thing about this generation—they value authenticity, and they can kinda tell if you really care and if you’re invested and whether they’re important to you or not. … We have to remind ourselves it is a privilege and honor to reach out to this generation.”

McDowell said Gen Zers have faced unique challenges. Theirs is the first digitally native generation, he said, one in which its members learned to swipe smartphone and tablet screens before they learned to talk. Ninety seven percent use social media, and nearly as many (79%) experience emotional distress when they are unable to use their smartphones.

Despite having more access through technology to personal connections than any previous generation, Gen Z is on the verge of the greatest mental health crisis in decades as it labors to stay afloat in a sea of loneliness and overwhelm. While 71% of its members identify as religious or spiritual, as few as 4% have what some would consider a biblical worldview. Only half believe gender is defined by one’s sex at birth.

Two approaches can help churches be more effective at reaching Gen Z, McDowell said: helping them develop a biblical worldview by addressing culturally relevant issues from a godly perspective, and working hard to build trust relationships that will open the lines of understanding and communication. Both require long-term, relational investments.

“ … Relationships matter deeply. We need to lean in with Gen Z, build relationships, get to know them, go on their turf, spend time with them,” McDowell said, “so we have [the opportunity] to speak to their hearts.”

Grant Skeldon of Thinq works with Christian leaders to amplify their impact for the kingdom of God. SBTC PHOTO

Asking the right question

As churches have considered how to reach Gen Z, Grant Skeldon wonders if there’s been too much focus about why they’re leaving the faith and not enough attention on a more important question: Why do those who remain in the faith stay?

Skeldon is next gen director for Thinq Media, an organization that aims to help Christian leaders faithfully navigate culture while provoking the curiosity of non-believers. As Skeldon has interacted with high-capacity leaders ranging from pro athletes and actors to musicians, he said he began to notice common themes that led God to use them to have wider influence.

High-capacity Christian leaders generally have had a disciple-maker who invited them into the most intimate, personal spaces of their lives. That approach works well with Gen Zers, who tend to place a high value on authentic relationships, and it stands in contrast to approaches that merely invite them to church to hear information about Jesus.

“Mentorship is come meet with me. Discipleship is come and follow me. Church [is often] come and listen to me,” Skeldon said. “We are telling that [last one] to a generation that is already saturated with content. But they are starved for connection, and that’s where we can separate ourselves.”

The leaders he has studied have also:

  • Had a milestone moment in their lives when someone recognized a particular gift or talent and verbalized that recognition;
  • Had “robust exposure” to a community or group of people who raised their standards or view of excellence;
  • Been entrusted with what he called “ridiculous, huge” responsibility at a young age;
  • Had someone who not only encouraged them, but offered resources to help them achieve their dream or big goal;
  • Received tough love in the form of helpful feedback that tangibly changed them; and
  • Benefitted from the network of someone more experienced and resourced.

“I want to train up Christians who go and change the environments they are in,” Skeldon said, “places where they work, play, live that become different because of their relationship with Jesus.”

Winning the battle for young minds

Eighty percent of Gen Z Christians hold a sexual worldview that is not consistent with biblical values, according to Amy Davison, a popular author, podcaster, and founder of Mama Bear Apologetics. Fifty seven percent of professing Christians believe premarital sex is acceptable, and more than half believe homosexuality should be “accepted, defended, and promoted in the church,” she said.

Such numbers shouldn’t be a surprise considering the constant barrage of attacks on biblical worldview coming from an increasing number of sources—including the media, Hollywood, musicians, and even toy manufacturers. With those attacks has come a coordinated effort to normalize “sex positivity”—a worldview that espouses as proper any sexual activity that is desirable and consensual.

The strategy to implement that unbiblical worldview is two-fold: use intimidation and fear to silence Christian adults who disagree, even to the level of trying to criminalize biblical teaching as hate speech, while simultaneously grooming younger generations to accept them or risk one of the worst fates they can imagine: unpopularity and rejection—especially on social media.

Just as the culture tries to capture the hearts and minds of the young, so, too, should the church, Davison said. Parents and guardians still have the greatest chance to lay the biblical foundations necessary to refute false teaching: 54% of young people ages 12-15 say their parents have had the strongest influence over their sexual decisions, while 32% of those 16-19 say the same thing.

Davison offered a method for parents to teach truth using an acronym she calls R.O.A.R.:

  • Recognize the messaging being offered by cultural sources and evaluate their claims;
  • Offer discernment, guiding younger generations through conversations about what is true and what is false about the claim;
  • Argue for a healthier approach, encouraging young people to juxtapose claims against the unchanging truth of God’s Word; and
  • Reinforce truth through continued discussion, discipleship, and prayer.

“What we, as the church, need to be doing is empowering parents to be bold in the faith,” she said. “ … We need to be fighting for truth, because our kids are wanting to hear from us.”


Digital Editor
Jayson Larson
Southern Baptist Texan
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