I was asked about my faith background recently and whether it’s something I’ve paused during college. I won’t call it a pause. I will call it a modification of expression.
I grew up United Methodist. I’ve gone to the same church my whole life, and ever since I could walk, my parents made sure I participated and served in as many roles as possible. From the choir to the usher board, my faith journey felt like a conveyor belt that led straight to Jesus.
Going to college, I found out how wrong that imagery was. I met people from many different walks of life, with belief systems very different from my own. I heard people’s stories of encounters with Christianity that I had never experienced. I went to other churches just to see what was out there. My faith journey became more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.
I found that I felt God more closely while spending time with the people God created than in a church service.
I felt God while writing poems with my friends. I heard God while listening to the band practice for their next performance. I saw God in the sunsets while sitting by the reflecting pool and watching my peers go on about their activities for the evening.
I found a hundred different spiritual expressions in moments that weren’t inherently related to Christianity. And I heard teachings from Christian leaders that did not sound Christlike to me. I had to ask myself, “What do I believe?”
Older members of Gen Z are asking themselves the very same thing, as we find ourselves questioning the religion handed down to us from our parents. A study by Springtide Research Institute reports that 61% of Gen Z consider themselves affiliated with a religion. And of the unaffiliated, 60% say they’re “at least slightly spiritual.”
Springtide’s executive director, Josh Packard, in an article co-written for Religion News Service with Casper ter Kuile, noted my generation’s “organic and free-flowing approach to spirituality.”
“Gen Z members are doing this expansive and curious work of constructing their faith whether or not faith leaders are showing up to guide them — but when caring adults walk alongside them and invest in their lives, it makes a difference,” they wrote.
Surprisingly to me, TikTok has a large spiritual usership. My “For You” feed has offered pastors explaining Bible stories; young people doing their best impressions of church services; guides to better tarot readings, which crystals are best for which manifestation, religions from other countries; people questioning everything. From religious discussions to agnosticism and atheism, what people share on the platform encompasses ideologies from literally everywhere.
My generation has access to information from all over the world at our fingertips. We see the injustice people face locally and globally — and we choose compassion. We choose to get up and do something to help, even in the most miniscule ways.
As Barna reported in 2018, “To Gen Z, the right beliefs are the ones that don’t hurt anybody.”
We have protested, shared information and started GoFundMe accounts. We have walked with people at night to make sure they arrive safely. We have gone out to meet the needs of others in whatever way we can, because we believe it is the right thing to do.
Churches everywhere are looking for ways to attract younger members. Incorporating new things into our faith practices, breaking away from how it’s always been done, assessing whether what our church teaches is inclusive of the concerns of the youth, acknowledging and implementing the ideas of younger members — these are the things that can attract newer, younger congregants.
Answering the question, “What do I believe?” has not been easy. I still don’t have all the answers. I found a general tarot reading for my sign online that resonated with me. I found a Bible study group that was geared to people my age. I took up meditating and journaling about my day.
I used to think that I was leaving the church entirely, but I realized that what I was looking for, what I needed, was simply a modification of what I already had.