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How to understand Gen Z distinctives

Gen Z
Unsplash/Nicolas Lobos

Defining a generation is difficult. This is especially true of a generation characterized by individualism and resistance to group labels.

Generation Z, the people born between 1997 and 2012, represents the future of our country and the potential of our world. I spend nearly three-quarters of my week with Generation Z, and I believe this army of young people can and will make a lasting mark on the earth for Christ.

As a university president, I have the unique opportunity to rub shoulders with hundreds of Gen Zers. I spend a significant amount of time with them in meetings, events, classes and informal discussions.

Every bit of information — whether learned by experience or through others’ insights — sheds new, refreshing light on this new generation. One such insight comes from The Gen Z Effect by Thomas M. Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen. Extrapolating from their research, we learn that:

  • Before Gen Z, the internet was perceived as a privilege. After Gen Z, it is considered a human right.
  • Before Gen Z, failure was avoided. After Gen Z, it is embraced as fast as possible.
  • Before Gen Z, connectivity was a luxury. After Gen Z, it is a necessity.

This list indicates that Gen Z is driven by “purpose.” They are determined to achieve and enjoy a purpose-filled life. In his article for HuffPost, Zach Mercurio wrote, “The newest generation to enter the workforce, Generation Z should be called ‘The Purpose Generation.’”

What Mercurio discovered and many others are discovering, is that purpose is significant to this generation and its emphasis bleeds into every facet of their lives. According to Mercurio, employers need to know that Gen Z is searching to “discover a purpose that is worth committing to — one that is socially responsible, human-centered, and ethical.”

According to marketing research company Sparks and Honey, Gen Z exhibits the following traits regarding work-life:

  • They are eager to start working.
  • They are mature and in control.
  • They believe traditional choices do not guarantee success.
  • They communicate with symbols, speed and images.
  • Their social circles are global.
  • Entrepreneurship is in their DNA (72% of high school students want to start a business someday).
  • They intend to change the world.

Recently, I discovered that many college students mistakenly think they are millennials. This highlights an important point. We would be unwise to unknowingly and insensitively group millennials and Gen Zers together or confuse the two. Generation Z has real differences, strengths, and weaknesses that are worth paying attention to.

The Lovell Corporation confirmed this in “The Change Generation Report.” They stated that the top five work value priorities between the two generations are similar in two areas but have changed drastically in others:

millennial table

Millennials are driven by growth and lifestyle, and Generation Z is driven by growth and passion.

These changes have impacted our university’s student body. A few years ago, our leadership teams began noticing the student composition shifting. What we thought we knew wasn’t working.

Generation Z is different from millennials in many ways, but one difference that stands out is their motivations and drive. Gen Z is driven to make a positive difference. They carry generational gifting around purpose.

Competitive Solutions, Inc., a Georgia-based consulting company, says this: “Generation Z wants more than just a job; they seek a job with purpose, a sense of fulfillment that helps to move the world forward.”

Shane Pruitt, pastor, speaker, and author, stated in Church Leaders magazine that “Generation Z is globally minded and wants their life to matter. They’re not scared to die young; however, they are terrified to die at a ripe old age and have done nothing significant with their lives in their own age.”

Yet even with immense passion, Gen Z, like every generation before them, needs guidance to discover and fulfill their God-given purpose. My prayer is for mature Christians to be inspired and informed to help Gen Z become all they are destined to be. My prayer is that Gen Zers will be motivated and challenged to pursue the God-given purpose burning on the inside of them.

I believe every Gen Zer can serve God’s purposes in this generation. Let’s help them do it.


Adapted from Generation Z: Born for the Storm. Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Billy Wilson and published by Empowered Books (an imprint of ORU Press) and Forefront Books. All rights reserved.

Dr. William M. Wilson is the president of Oral Roberts University (ORU) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dr. Wilson is instrumental in developing Spirit-empowered leaders through whole person education to impact the world. He is known as a global influencer and a dynamic speaker with four decades of executive leadership experience. Wilson’s weekly television program, “World Impact with Dr. Billy Wilson” has been inspiring viewers in over 150 nations and multiple languages since 1998.

As Global Co-chair of Empowered21, which attracts Spirit-empowered principals from ministry, academics, and next-generation voices. Wilson is the Chair of the historic Pentecostal World Fellowship and holds leadership positions with the National Association of Evangelicals, Mission America Coalition, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the City of Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. 

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