POVs on People, Places & Planting
I’m starting a blog series of sorts writing about what I think is important to some in the Gen Z population. As a team member here at Passion2Plant and as a Gen Z myself, I believe that pastors and especially planters are sometimes not as concerned with what this key demographic is concerned with. For starters, let’s talk about mental health.
The stigma surrounding mental health, thankfully, has lessened over the years. This has helped Gen Zs not only seek therapy more but also have a deeper understanding of the importance of mental health in general. This has led them to value it more as something that can make or break their relationships. In my own experience, if you don’t value my mental health, I have the inclination of not wanting to associate with you. Unfortunately, Gen Zs are also more likely than previous generations to report that their mental health is poor.
Perhaps mental health is important to my generation because we have been the ones to have to go through what other generations didn’t or did but to a lesser extent. A 2021 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation stated that:
It is also important to note that mental health issues can start young and have more to do with skin color than we think. In the campaign for her new book, Racial Innocence, Tanya Katerí Hernández states “Latino children as young as four years old have higher risks for mental health problems the darker their skin is."1 According to the American Psychiatric Association, racial and ethnic minority youth are more often referred to the juvenile justice system rather than to specialty care when compared to white youth.2
Whether this is because they experience more mental health issues than previous generations or simply because they are more likely to report them is up for debate. However, it is very apparent that mental health is a key issue that is important for Gen Zs. If this is an important issue for Gen Z, how does the church respond?
According to Lifeway Research, 49% of pastors say they rarely or never speak about mental health to their congregation.3 That is a lot of pastors not speaking or rarely speaking about one of the most important things to Gen Zs. Of course, this is not to say that churches everywhere are not taking mental health seriously. If your church is, that is wonderful, but if yours isn’t (or you know you can do more to speak about it), you’re alienating much of the Gen Z population from your church. Personally, if a church attended did not take mental health seriously or only tried to pray away the issues I was going through, I would not want to be at that church. The resources for learning about mental health are out there and are more accessible than ever before to churches and pastors. Church leaders and pastors should utilize them as much as possible in order to understand what Gen Zs are going through relating to mental health but also know how to respond to those in their congregation and be able to provide valid options for healing. Three resources to begin to educate interested planters/pastors are:
Black and brown people report experiencing more mental health problems, therefore it is important for pastors and churches to understand their perspective as people of color. Especially in light of everything that has happened in the last few years in America. Thus, the effort for non-POC pastors becomes twofold – they must understand mental health and its importance and must also try to understand the POC perspective. There are great resources for doing just that. Books such as Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison and Healing Racial Trauma by Sheila Wise Rowe are good books to read on understanding this POV. Additionally, I Bring the Voices of My People by Chanequa Walker-Barners is a good book to read on this subject from a woman’s perspective.
Lastly, I’d like to make you aware that there are few Zs like me who are also Umms not quite feeling like the church building is actually where we find the church family that cares and much rather meet up in places like the comedy club my Dad started in our neighborhood because he says he’s bringing joy and laughter to the community, have dinner at a favorite restaurant with friends to catch up on life and know what we each have to pray about as we try to figure out what God wants to do in our lives and even meet up with a local church pastor who wants to “get us” at the local coffee spot in the neighborhood to shoot the breeze.
This is just my point of view (I'm the one Gen Z) but I hope this post has made you think of the perspective of black and brown people’s mental health and also why mental health is important to the broader Gen Z population, in general. As stated, Gen Zs are more likely to report poor mental health and as such, it has become an important issue for us as we are more aware of how it affects our lives. So perhaps pastor/planter, it should be an important issue for you too.
1. Tanya Katerí Hernández, Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality (Boston: Beacon Press, 2022).
2. “Mental Health Disparities-Diverse Populations,”American Psychiatric Association, accessed March 31, 2022, file:///Users/mac/Downloads/Mental-Health-Facts-for-Diverse-Populations.pdf
3. “Mental Illness Remains Taboo for Many Pastors,” Lifeway Research, accessed March 31, 2022, https://research.lifeway.com/2014/09/22/mental-illness-remains-taboo-topic-for-many-pastors/
Going to a NaLEC conference and Exponential was essentially my return to church or church-like experiences since the pandemic started in 2020 and it was an interesting experience to say the least. NaLEC, which stands for National Latino Evangelical Coalition, gathered to talk about the important part Latino evangelicals play for the future of the church. It was a great event that I found myself enjoying very much. The host, Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, was a great speaker and really instilled in me the importance of the Latino community not only in evangelicalism but also in the country. In the first night service, something he spoke about really resonated with me and it was how politics and misinformation often gets in the way of our better sense. We are so much more divided by politics now, especially because of the misinformation on social media.
Misinformation has been a thorn in the side of many people these past few years thanks to the ease of which it can spread through social media. In his message, he called for us to not simply pass on everything we see online as the truth but to authenticate it on our own before spreading it to those who follow us. Not only does spreading misinformation make us and those who follow us ignorant, but the arguments with others that follow it puts our community in a negative light to outsiders looking in. Overall, I had a great time at the NaLEC conference, but it was only possible because the event was bilingual. Although I am Latino, I do not speak very much Spanish. I’m not sure how prevalent Latinos like me are but I’m sure I’m not the only one out there. This event being bilingual helped me understand everything that was being talked about and in turn, a better appreciation for it overall. Additionally, I found myself saying things in Spanish when the event was over as I had been surrounded by both English and Spanish most of those days. It brought out what I had inside. I also enjoyed how familial it felt. Latinos are all about family and being at this event felt like being part of a big Latino family. Everyone hugging and being genuinely happy to see each other.
At Exponential, I felt like I was at something akin to Universal Studios or Disney World and not just because it took place in Orlando. The church it was held at was huge and the worship team was amazing. It was definitely a fun experience, and I learned a lot from people. One of them was Daniel Yang in the Unprepared: Trends for 2050 You Can’t Avoid workshop. What Daniel Yang talked about was very interesting to me because he talked about how a lot of young people are becoming part of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. He stated that a lot of religious terminology being used today has been removed from its religious context. I can understand that younger people are not as thrilled to label themselves as religious. Especially now with the issues such as those facing the LGBTQ community, many younger people want to distance themselves from organized religions that they believe spout hate and intolerance. However, these young people are still looking for a spiritual connection to or from something. This kind of spiritual connection is more of a personal one for them that doesn’t involve a god per se. I found it interesting because the common perception is that younger people are not spiritual and are more atheistic or don’t consider spirituality in their personal lives. Yet, the truth is that they are quite spiritual whether that be through things such as new age ideologies or other pseudo-spiritual perspectives on life and the universe. Why is it that my generation is not finding what they need in the church? A question for another post.
Another interesting thing I took away from Exponential is the importance of church planting and how it can impact communities positively. Churches are much more than simply places to worship God. They are supposed to impact their communities in a positive way through helping the poor and those in need, at least that’s what the Bible I’ve read says. I appreciate Exponential because, by equipping pastors with what they need to plant churches, it helps suffering communities get the help and care they need.
As one in the Gen Z population, I left these events thinking about how my generation is going to impact not only the church world but the world in general. Gen Z's are the future and I appreciated that the people speaking at these events took the time to learn about the importance of understanding my generation and were teaching others on how to impact us today so we can feel part of what God wants to do tomorrow.
Samuel E. Rios currently serves as Operations Assistant at Passion2Plant. He is a cum laude graduate of Southeastern University with a B.S. in Psychology and minor in Religion. Sam will be sharing his thoughts via Gen Z POV posts.