Generation Z (Gen Z) are the digital natives in our church. Most of them do not remember life without an iPhone. Access to the internet has always been in their pocket. Their social circles are global. They prize individual freedom and self-sufficiency.
Depending on who you ask, members of Gen Z were generally born between 1996–2010. Gen Z are those in our student, college, and young adult ministries. Making up over 25 percent of the population, they are considered to be the first “post-Christian” generation.
The Failure to Neglect Gen Z in Application
Pastors, it is imperative that we do not fail to address Gen Z in our sermons. Faithful expositors can often be precise in their explanation yet vague in their application. We cannot merely hope our vague applications will stick with the rising generation of students and twenty-somethings. Flee vagueness in your preaching!
If we fail to make specific application to this large rising generation, we will cripple our church by forming future adults and parents who struggle to see how the gospel intersects with their school, work, anxiety, or messy home. When this happens, we should not be surprised that they disengage during the sermon, or worse, disappear from our churches.
The Word of God is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Why would we not show how it specifically trains every generation to be like the Savior?
Three Ways to Engage Gen Z in Our Sermon
1. Fill your applications with the cross. We are preaching to a culture that is unclear about the realities of the gospel. We must show them how the cross of Christ enables their ability to apply the Word (John 15:5; Rom 8:8). Gen Z is swimming in false doctrine when it comes to gender, sex, and marriage. More than that, many are applying a twisted view of the gospel. We need to correct this in our application of the gospel.
Gen Z is swimming in false doctrine when it comes to gender, sex, and marriage.
When we proclaim, “Christ died for us,” we cannot assume that Gen Z understands what this means nor how this truth applies. Many in Gen Z are applying the cross as a therapeutic remedy to help them cope with negative feelings of low self-esteem. They are applying a “me-centered” gospel in which the cross of Christ shows them how much they are worth. Rather, it should show them how sinful they are and cause them to rejoice in the stunning worth of Christ.
When we preach to them, we should apply the cross—often. Yet, we must use enough words to be clear about what we mean. We must say, “Christ died in your place as your substitute for sin. He was raised to life for your justification. Now, you no longer have to live for yourself, but for him who for your sake died and was raised (2 Cor 5:14-15).”
Gen Z is starving for doctrine! Student ministries are groaning for the true gospel. Give them the weighty truths of God’s Word. Teach them plainly about sin, hell, suffering, heaven, God’s sovereignty, and Christ’s supremacy. Show them how it intersects with their life. They will not fall asleep.
2. Confront cultural narratives. Pastor, take a moment in your sermon to show your people how the gospel confronts the narratives your Gen Z members hear all week long. “Live your truth.” “Follow your heart.” “Love is love.” This generation is swirling in a sea of “expressive individualism” where the highest virtue is individual freedom to express oneself without any constraints.
If you were to clearly confront one of the common narratives of secular culture, you could show how the grace of Christ from your passage disrupts the narrative. You can show how the gospel roots their identity in Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us (Gal 2:20). When you do this, Gen Z will find you to be a loving pastor who cares enough to shepherd them through this world.
3. Direct your application at heart conditions. When we think about application to our congregation, we may often think about groups of people: college students, single moms, seventh graders, businessmen, or grandparents. And yes, this is needed. Do not neglect this direct form of address. But we must not neglect directly addressing specific heart conditions in the room. Heart conditions are things like: fearful believer, anxious teenager, the guilty, the backslider, the depressed, the perfectionist, the doubting, the skeptical, growing Christian, lazy Christian, apathetic churchgoer, unbeliever, and at its most basic, the sinner.
Gen Z needs fewer applications involving appeals to pop culture and far more applications that aim gospel hope right at their heart.
These are heart conditions. The benefit of directly speaking to heart conditions is that you will be applying the sermon to all kinds of groups in your congregation at the same time. For example, if you say, “To the doubter, rest in the promise that Christ will keep you,” this will give benefit to the doubting ninth grader and benefit to the struggling single woman. You will hit Gen Z while still feeding the rest of your flock.
Gen Z needs fewer applications involving appeals to pop culture and far more applications that aim gospel hope right at their heart. Apply Christ himself to their heart. Proclaim the gospel as redeeming hope for their guilt, worry, fear, lust, pride, depression, rebellion, and loneliness.
This Christ-centered application will not only benefit the next generation but will transform your whole church as they learn to apply the Word of God.
 James Emerson White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018, 38.
 “Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z.” Barna Group, January 24, 2018, https://www.barna.com/research/atheism-doubles-among-generation-z/.
 Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 46.
 Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 140.