Feb 17, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Jennie Allen on Gen Z, Tech & Formative Suffering


As leaders continue to navigate what digital discipleship can look like in a season with significant suffering, women and younger generations are serving as models of hopeful resilience and strength even amidst hardship.

In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, host and Barna president David Kinnaman sits down with Jennie Allen, president and founder of IF Gathering and author of Get Out of Your Head. Together, the two discuss what Allen is learning from women and Gen Z, the relationship between suffering and spiritual formation and why she remains hopeful for the future of the Church.

On the Resiliency of Women & Younger Generations
In a recent Barna report on Gen Z, respondents from this young generation report that of all the emotions they feel regularly, feeling tired ranks high on the list. Young church leaders and younger generations alike can agree that times of disruption take a deep emotional and mental toll, especially when one is searching for the energy to continue to engage. Still, despite this shared emotional experience, younger generations continue to push forward with bold faith.

Allen expresses her hopefulness for the ways in which suffering is shaping younger generations. She views suffering as a “backwards gift” that has made this young generation “tougher, less distractible and more resilient.”

Another group that Allen has found tremendous hope from in this challenging season is women. Despite the difficulties this last year has brought, with many women shifting to teaching roles when their children’s schools shut down, Allen continues to see this group as some of the front-runners in community and justice work.

Allen shares, “Women are rising up in their communities. They are the ones that are actively making plans of restoration for their communities. They’re the social justice workers that I know. Women I see right now are mobilizing and being strategic about how they spend their lives to love people well in their communities.”

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On Gen Z & Technology Use
Recent Barna research shows that the top three experiences Gen Z gets through social media is feeling connected to the world, feeling connected to others, and staying informed. By understanding these values as key drivers of screen time, parents can start having more informed conversations with their teens about healthy boundaries with tech use.

While there are times where stricter enforcement of restrictions may be needed, Allen emphasizes the importance of starting with a collaborative, conversational approach to boundaries around technology. She suggests, “Make sure that you’re giving enough trust and letting [Gen Z] build their own convictions about it. If you think they’re going to obey your rules on technology for the rest of high school, I think you’re setting up a losing battle.”

Allen has been delightfully surprised by the mindfulness she’s witnessed in this generation, noting that her own kids are more thoughtful about habits around technology than she is at times. Leaders can learn a lot by watching how this technologically savvy generation interacts with their devices.

On Suffering & Spiritual Formation
For Allen, there is no spiritual formation apart from suffering. Even while acknowledging the pain and loss that this year has brought for many, she views it as a welcome gift for the American Church that has too often been stunted by comfort. If comfort has been what’s led people into complacency, suffering might be what’s needed to “wake everybody up.” With an eternal perspective in mind, Allen notes, “if more good is done for the kingdom in a difficult situation, I would pick it over an easy situation where no kingdom work is done.”

Much of this deep work in individuals and the Church will likely be more subtle and hard to see from an outside perspective, but Allen believes that it is a real gift. She notes, “It won’t look like it from the outside, but I think underground the Church is being purified.” She adds, “We get to stand back from our very short lives and decide how to live again, and that is a gift. Very few people get that opportunity as a whole generation alive on earth.”

Allen remains quite hopeful for a greater unity and rootedness as the church comes into a new season moving forward. Even with the hardship of this past year, she shares, “The church could have its greatest years in the next decade and I don’t think that’s a stretch.”

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About the Research
Gen Z Data: This data was collected from June 15-July 17, 2020 using an online consumer panel of 1,503 U.S. teens and young adults ages 13 to 21. Quotas and minimal weighting were used to ensure data are representative of known U.S. Census ethnicity, gender, age, and region.

Photo by Ralston Smith on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2020

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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