Due to the age of the younger ones in this generation, our team altered slightly our usual qualitative ethnography methodology. In-depth one-on-one interviews were conducted with those in the 17 to 24 age bracket and group interviews were conducted with those in the 13 to 16 range. This eCommentary seeks to present a snapshot of four trends that emerged from Gen Z Christians from 18 churches across eight denominations in Singapore. The trends presented are definitely not representative of the experiences of all in this generation but are worthy of consideration.
Gen Zs are at that point in their faith journey where they are questioning and exploring their faith and their allegiance to the church
The majority of the interviewees were second-generation Christians who had spent a large part of their lives in church primarily because of their parents. However, they are now coming of age and exploring their doubts about the faith as well as questioning their continued involvement in the church. Being the first full generation that never knew life without the internet, easy access to unlimited information means that they are exposed to alternative views on life and faith that are in conflict with what is taught by the church. A significant proportion of them started this journey of questioning between the ages of 13 to 14 but most commented that their experiences in Sunday schools and/or youth ministries did not allow any satisfactory exploration into these areas of doubt. Instead, what they experienced were simplistic answers couched in spiritual jargon that only caused further alienation between their faith and their lived experience.
“I can’t relate to all the spiritual talk that goes on in church, like they always ask us to pray, but I’m not sure if I’m getting blue ticks at all, or like, they always tell us to just trust in God, I mean, how does that even work?”
Gen Zs lament the “shallow” Christianity they experience in church
Particularly jarring to those of this generation is the perceived gap between what the church openly proclaims in the areas of love and community, and their actual experience of congregational life. They see that while the Bible is often cited as the most important aspect of Christianity, it doesn’t feature much in the actual life of the church beyond theoretical theology. Church seems more like a social club where most people lack real motivation to seek after God. They particularly struggle with the church’s perceived emphasis on areas like attendance, activities, and behaviour, which one interviewee described as “trying to disciple without love”.
“Parents will ask their children not to play with their phones in church, but I see the same people shopping online during service. During altar call, they will go to the front, kneel down and sometimes cry but the next week they will be doing the same things again.”
Prevailing culture raises difficult questions about the faith
Most of our interviewees struggle greatly with the implications that societal trends and popular culture place on the espoused beliefs of Christianity. With the church often preferring to view sensitive issues like LGBTQ+ from a binary position of right and wrong, there is seldom space or permission given to explore alternative viewpoints. As such, they feel unequipped to engage on such issues when “secular” arguments appear to be much more nuanced and well thought through. This puts them in a sticky position because they live in a world where it is almost impossible to avoid conversations on such issues. With the strong “cancel culture” of this generation, there is also very strong pressure for them to conform to societal and cultural expectations if they do not wish to be rejected by their peers.
“There’s a lot of pressure to support the LGBT narrative among my peers; if you don’t, you risk getting flamed. I had a professor who was gay and specifically asked me during class whether I support his views because he knew I was Christian.”
Traditional forms of evangelism are perceived to be no longer effective
Because non-Christians often have many misconceptions about the church, they are wary of almost anything that is associated with the Christian faith. When asked about how they thought such misconceptions came about, many Gen Zs believed that it was the influence of social media and on-line forums. For example, an interviewee in lower secondary was questioned about the tendency of the church to belittle and oppress women. As such, the majority of Gen Zs do not engage in traditional forms of evangelism such as street evangelism, inviting their friends to church events, or even telling others about their faith because it is perceived that such activities will not result in the desired outcomes.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about Christianity. People think that it is very high-commitment, so the way we do church is actually a huge deterrent. There is not much love in church as well and it is obvious to them. They feel that ‘you want to bring me to church, but you don’t love me’.”
The four trends identified above are not meant to be seen as a critique of this generation’s spirituality or a review of the institutional church in Singapore. It is simply a reflection of what was shared with us during our interviews. It is not meant to further exacerbate the tensions between the generations but to invite honest conversations that we hope will lead to greater unity through deeper empathy for one another in the body of Christ.
Alternatively, if you know someone in this generation who would be willing to participate in the survey, please help us by forwarding the link to them.