Generation Z, which includes people born between 1997 and 2012, is distinct from the Millennial generation, those born between 1981 and 1996, according to the Pew Research Center.
As the school year begins, this week’s clergy discuss how religious congregations can reach out to and keep the younger generation in the pews.
President, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Long Island, Amityville
"Nations cannot be reformed without the reformation of the youth,” according to a historic speech by Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad, the second successor, or caliph, to Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, believed and revered as the Promised Messiah of Islam by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The second caliph of our congregation coined this mindset shift for today’s Muslim world to prepare our youngest generations to lead the true Islam’s next Golden Age. Through regular meetings, classes, sports activities and community drives, youth are engaged to congregate, serve and pray together to support each other in their spiritual reformation. Gen Zers have also been furnished with an assortment of online mobile resources to strengthen their link with Islam. Podcasts such as Al-Hakam’s Inspire and Radio Ahmadiyya help teach Islam’s perspectives on contemporary issues. And Muslim Television Ahmadiyya is available on YouTube to connect our youth with the guidance of our current caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Overall, our community has sponsored more than 20 apps to allow for self-study and exploration. In our experience, youth have led the way on social media channels like X, Reddit and Facebook to defend our faith and spread its true message. That, in itself, is the strongest indication of Gen Z’s attraction to Islam.
THE REV. WILLIAM MCBRIDE
Religious Director, Interfaith Community Religious Education Program, Brookville Multifaith Campus, Glen Head
In responding to this question concerning our congregation’s ability to attract and keep Gen Zers, I’m afraid of overselling what we do for fear of a response from zoomers of “OK, Boomer.” But one of the keys to attracting youth that I learned from a youth expert is not to be afraid of young people no matter how they look or respond to you. Deep down they really want to be with you. This wise consultant also told me three things that our congregation tries to remember: “Kids are kids. They want to develop their skills, and they need to have healthy fun.” Our programs aim to address these important points. We sponsor movie nights, hold talent shows, design service projects and create videos thanks to Gen Z’s youthful exuberance and state-of-the-art tech skills. We hold retreats and coordinate rites of passage where young people lead us with hope. We are vigilant in finding opportunities to accompany them wherever they are. For example, the co-director of our religious education program, Cantor Irene Failenbogen, arranged for us to attend a middle school jazz concert and observe an inspired audience of all ages uplifted by the God-given talent of one of our Gen Zers.
THE REV. EARL Y. THORPE JR.
Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden, Garden City
Our congregation is intentionally open and welcoming to all ages and persons. As the pastor, I recognize that Gen Zers are the children of parents who may never have been affiliated with a church or had traumatic and hurtful experiences within a church. Our efforts to invite and welcome Gen Zers stem from an understanding that our fellowship and worship provide a safe space for parents and Gen Z families to explore healthy spiritual and practical relationships with an emphasis on inclusive theology and empowering programming.
Programming is the key. The ability to meet the community’s needs and provide essential programs, resources and support for a generation of young people is vitally important. This is principally because Gen Z’s interests, values and sensibilities have been molded by a society that fails to deal with a host of societal challenges, including civil and social rights, the inclusion of all people in society and economic inequity. Programming that addresses the needs of Gen Z families and people is a holy obligation that our congregation is called to fulfill. Not because it is a way to grow the church. Rather, the love of God through Christ and the church’s mission demand it.