Engaging Generation Z
A Conversation on
Discipling Baptist Youth
Interview by Nicolette Beharie
Rev. Louise Knowles was appointed this year as CBM’s Coordinator, Youth Engagement and SENT Programs. For the past five years, she has served in a part-time capacity with CBM, focusing on youth and young adults. In this interview with Mosaic, Louise shares more about her new role and passion to reach Generation Z.
mosaic: Throughout your career, you have held various youth-focused roles. Why are you so passionate about working with the next generation?
Louise: I’ve always felt a deep responsibility to care for and disciple the younger generation. As a teenager, I could always be found helping in the nursery, teaching Sunday school, leading vacation Bible school or volunteering at camp. At the time, I was given a lot of freedom and opportunity to lead within the church. That’s why my call to ministry in my late teens felt very natural, like I was simply following the next turn in the path.
A few years ago, I helped to debrief a team of youth who had returned from an overseas trip to Kenya with CBM. As I listened to them process their experiences and share stories, I was reminded of how much we have to learn from young people. Their perspectives on the world and the ideas they bring to the table should never be dismissed. I am often inspired by their passion and desire to lead. Although it’s been a while since I’ve been a teen, I still feel a deep sense of responsibility to walk alongside them as we follow Christ together.
mosaic: How would you describe the next generation? What are their specific needs
Louise: I am fascinated by this next generation, known as Generation Z. While there are many different definitions, Gen Z includes those born between the late 1990s and 2015. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm based in California, recently released some interesting research.1 While this generation is still young – those surveyed were aged 13 to 18 – the findings provide some helpful insights.
Researchers found that Gen Z is the most success-oriented generation observed to date. In terms of academics and career goals, they have high expectations around personal achievement. Financial independence is also noted as extremely important to this generation. This isn’t overly surprising, given the financial crisis they were born into.
When it comes to morality, Gen Z is very relativistic. A quarter of the youth polled in the study indicated that what is considered right or wrong changes over time, based on society. With more access to information than ever before, they are deeply empathetic and feel that one’s beliefs shouldn’t hurt others. With a rise in those identifying as atheist and a trend away from church attendance, this is the first truly post-Christian generation. They long for relational authenticity and transparency, but they are also looking for opportunities to lead.
It is crucial to understand the different generations represented within churches. While there are similarities, there are also stark differences that are helpful to understand as we all live together as God’s people. The attributes of each generational divide are not to be judged or criticized, but rather to be understood and used to shape our expression of our faith.
mosaic: What are you most excited about concerning your new role with CBM?
Louise: I am thrilled to be able to expand my work in youth engagement. Through my new role, I will continue to build on much of the work I was doing previously at CBM. This includes developing global discipleship initiatives for youth, working with our regional partners in Canada to engage youth at their events, working with Baptist camps, and connecting with youth pastors and leading trips. The other part of my role involves managing CBM’s SENT program, which provides Canadians with global discipleship experiences (see page 23).
For the past five years, I’ve been able to meet youth and leaders from across Canada. I’ve been inspired by the ministries I’ve encountered within our Baptist family, and I’m looking forward to growing those relationships and partnerships.
mosaic: What makes the SENT program unique?
Louise: The SENT program provides Canadian participants with training on biblical mission, engages them with an overseas trip to serve alongside the local church and helps them continue the mission when they return home.
Two things stand out to me that make the SENT program unique: First, the overseas trip is just part of the SENT experience. Rather than focusing on the trip as the end goal, SENT helps participants see their whole lives as mission. It helps them process their international experience in a way that encourages them to live out their faith wherever God has called them – to be people of justice, humility and mercy. Second, the SENT program intentionally builds the Church. CBM projects around the world are done in partnership with local church communities. When Baptist churches in Canada support these projects or serve on a SENT trip, they are joining hands with global congregations to build the Church together.
mosaic: CBM’s SENT program offers hands-on global discipleship experiences. What kind of impact does this experience have on youth and
the church overall?
Louise: In 2015, CBM launched Kamp Tumaini, a summer camp experience for children affected or infected by HIV and AIDS. Between 2015 and 2018, CBM sent five teams of Canadian youth to serve as camp leaders alongside Kenyan youth leaders.
I’ve heard countless stories of the impact that SENT trips have had on Canadian teens. For most, the trip is their first opportunity to lead outside of their Canadian church context. Youth learn to adapt to a completely different culture, view the world from a different perspective and deepen their walk with God. As a result, many of these youth return home with a passion to engage in new ministries within their local church.
Following a SENT trip, I’ve seen youth live out their faith in various ways: creating opportunities to serve at their high schools through school Bible studies; raising awareness about justice issues around the world; serving at Canadian summer camps with renewed passion; and, in some cases, taking a further step to answer the call of God on their hearts to pursue theological education.
These youth have gained invaluable experiences that are enabling them to be effective leaders in the church today. For the church in Kenya, many of the young leaders who have served at Kamp Tumaini have gained new ideas to strengthen their local ministries. I’m optimistic that hands-on global discipleship experiences – which invest in youth both at home and around the world – will help build the Church for decades to come.
mosaic: Through your previous role with CBM,
you visited some of our projects around the world. What positive changes have you witnessed when impoverished youth are involved in the life of the church?
Louise: My first cross-cultural experience with CBM was in El Salvador in 2008. It was a really formative experience for me – it helped confirm my call to ministry and influenced my theology. We visited our local partners and witnessed some incredible work the church was doing within impoverished communities.
At the time, members of CBM Field Staff were mentoring a young congregation with a vibrant youth ministry. We visited home builds, water projects, and learned about the civil war and its impact on the country. Despite their own personal challenges, the youth and young adults were highly engaged in advocating for justice and involved with current political issues. They shared their dreams of becoming teachers, lawyers and pastors, so they could influence the next generation in positive ways. Through their involvement in ministry, these youth were able to make a difference beyond the four walls of their church.
mosaic: As an ordained minister, how crucial
is the connection between engaging youth
and building the Church?
Louise: agree wholeheartedly with Marv Penner, a Canadian youth ministry specialist, who says that the single most significant spiritual responsibility of any generation is the spiritual well-being of the generation that follows. The Church is called to engage this generation by actively listening to them, radically accepting youth and challenging them to live as Jesus taught.
I think we often forget that church is one of the very few places in society where people of all ages gather. Not only do we sometimes forget how unique this is, but we sometimes grumble about our differences. There is no question that living together as a true family, with all ages and stages of life, is going to be difficult. I think we would do well to apply Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
Generation Z values authenticity. I can’t think of a more authentic way to build the Church than to have older generations share their faith stories with the younger generations. My grandmother, now in her 90s, has been one of the biggest influencers in shaping my faith, and that is largely due to her authenticity and passion to care for others.
*Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping
the Next Generation, Barna Group, 2018