The following is a summary of The Mission Matters podcast episode with Dr. Jolene Erlacher that first aired on May 15, 2024. Watch the full podcast with Matthew Ellison and Ted Esler here. Jolene is the co-author of Mobilizing Gen Z: Challenges and Opportunities for the Global Age of Missions and founder of http://leadingtomorrow.org.

God has equipped Gen Z with a unique set of gifts for our time and culture, but mobilizing them can be a challenge. In this post-Christian generation, their paths to the mission field are sometimes unconventional. Their perspective on the world is different than previous generations. How can we contextualize our mobilization efforts toward these talented young people? How can we steward our relationships with this generation?

The Challenge

Gen Z are between 14 and 28 years old as of 2024 – these are high school and college students and young adults. They are young people who have gone through upheaval in their formative years: 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, the availability of phones and social media, and the response to the COVID pandemic, for example. On top of all of this, many think that Gen Z is the first post-Christian generation.

Some of Gen Z’s defining characteristics are:

  • Individualistic – They get to decide a lot about themselves and their experience, their identity. They also want to be valued as an individual.
  • Fear of Missing Out – Deciding on missions or ministry is really terrifying because it means choosing a path that’s going to lead to my missing out on other things.
  • High Empathy – They want to collaborate and work together from the start. They want to make a difference in the world.
  • Perception is Reality – Their emotions, stories and experiences are what define reality.

Redemption

Some characteristics of Gen Z appear to be unbiblical on the surface. Perhaps they are, but God can redeem them.

Individualism is not a biblical trait. Defining my own truth is not biblical. And yet it is biblical that God has uniquely designed each of us to play a role in the body of believers, that he has gifted us and equipped us in a unique manner. And so there is an opportunity here to really affirm the giftings and the callings in the individuals who are right around us. And what we find is as we value them, hear them, coach them, train them, and mentor them as individuals, we see them growing into the ability to participate in a selfless God-honoring manner.

With FOMO, this is a generation that does not want to waste time or resources or technology, or energy. They want to truly steward the resources, the talents, the time that they’ve been given in a really specific and godly way. So you see God redeeming some of those things for his purposes in this time. Every generation has traits that are unbiblical, but God redeems those for the moment of time in which he calls us to serve his kingdom.

Because Gen Z have that disposition of empathy (including everyone) they’re really positioned to be collaborative in this polycentric leadership environment that we’re moving towards. God truly designs each generation for their moment of leadership. And Gen Z has some of these leadership characteristics.

Global workers from other countries indicate they love working with young millennials and Gen Zers because they’re coming in wanting to know how to collaborate and work together from the moment they get there.

Gen Z are bringing some innovative ideas and they’re willing to try new things. So many of them are actually gaining an awareness of what’s happening globally through Instagram and YouTube and watching global workers who are posting updates.

Engaging People, Not Filling Slots

How can mobilizers modify approaches towards the young people of Gen Z? We need to put on a cross-cultural mindset and think about contextualizing what we say and do for the people of Gen Z. How do we want them to feel after they have a conversation with us? Young people are making decisions based on their experiences and their conversations. Authentic leadership is becoming very, very important.

How do we equip our mobilizers to not look at filling slots, but engaging people? Jolene recently talked to a young couple who had engaged with mobilizers at four or five different agencies. And they said the ones they signed up with were the ones who said, “We want you, John and Gabby; we see how God has gifted you. We believe in what God has for your lives.”

Today, anyone is equipped to be a mobilizer. Jolene recently surveyed 200 young people who are considering or pursuing missions as a career path. And one of the key things that mobilizes young people is friends and family. They want to know someone believes in them. They want to hear you say, “I see God’s gifting in your life and I believe in what you can do for the kingdom of God.” Individual influence can be powerful.

One challenge of missions mobilizers is answering the reservations and concerns Gen Z has about colonialism and doing harm by missions.

They do not want to participate in something that is flawed or going to cause harm. It’s also part of their fear of missing out. They don’t want to miss out on something successful while doing something harmful. If we can engage them in the story and the experience of what God is doing globally, it really helps mitigate that fear because they see the authentic relational connection.

It’s important to be able to have honest conversations about what really happened. What can we learn from the failures of the past? Additionally, what have been the successes of the past and how do we celebrate those? Because sometimes Gen Z is being taught to just look for the failures in a cancel culture versus celebrating the successes. We need to do both and then teach them that failure needs to be the launching point for growth and learning.

Unlikely Candidates, Powerful God

God always uses the unlikely to do the most unlikely. You’re hard-pressed to find in Scripture someone who God used in a powerful way who is not the most unlikely person to be used. And we look at Gen Z and we can say there’s so many things that could make them feel like an unlikely candidate to be used by God. And that’s why God is going to use them in such a powerful, powerful way, in unlikely ways, to accomplish what other generations have not accomplished. Because He is going to get the glory as they press into Him. In a post-Christian, post-modern, post-missions context, God is raising up a generation who’s going to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.


The Mission Matters Podcast is a partnership between Sixteen:Fifteen and Missio Nexus, who have a shared passion for mobilizing the people of God to be a part of His mission. It is hosted by Matthew Ellison, president of Sixteen:Fifteen, and Ted Esler, president of Missio Nexus. Episodes drop on the 15th of each month, featuring conversations with missions thinkers and practitioners on the mission of God and the matters of the mission. You can listen wherever you listen to podcasts and watch each episode on YouTube.