Saturday evening presented an opportunity for attendees of Annual Conference to hear the voices of some of the younger members of the Church. Fourteen youth, who were a part of the Youth Delegation, presented a panel discussion focused on Generation Z, and what they have to say to the Church. Generation Z are youth born between 1995-2010, who have always had smart phones and the internet, are global, entrepreneurial and passionate, and have always lived in a world where there was war.

Several themes emerged from the youth. Several youth said that Gen Z youth share more in common with youth around the world, than with older adults in their own countries. One panel member shared, “I have more in common with an 18-year-old in China than a 30-year-old in Wisconsin.” This is brought about through the internet and social media, the youth explained.

Despite the differences between people of different ages that youth feel exist within their congregations, they expressed a strong desire for intergenerational relationships. When asked about the future of the Church, they dreamed of a Church where all ages were present. The theme of inclusivity also emerged throughout the session. “Showing people God’s love and acceptance becomes monumental in light of what is happening in our world today,” said one youth. They shared the importance of saying that “all people are welcome” to church activities, and being explicit about your welcome. The youth also shared the importance of getting outside the church walls. They talked about the need for churches to be doing mission and service, quoting Thomas Kemper from the Bible Study saying, “There’s a church because of a mission, not vice versa.” They said, “We want to do good. There’s so much bad in the world; we want to do good too.”

The session ended with the youth asking questions of the adults, including questions like “What if leading the way is completely outside our doors? What if Church changes fundamentally?” and “Are you scared of youth?” But they shared a vision of hope saying, “You don’t have to be afraid of what the youth are bringing,” and “There’s going to be a lot of change; it’s important to not just embrace the change, but be the change.”

According to one panel member, “Young people have passion and are excited to be engaged in their churches and in the world. Gen Z is already out there; the Church just needs to get on board with them.”