Children born between 2011 to 2025, also known as Gen Alpha, are growing up in a vastly different environment from their predecessors. How can Christians reach out to this generation who are tech-savvy and resistant to religion? HarvestKidz associate pastor Glordia Goh shares her views.
Mark McCrindle, a TEDx speaker, demographer and futurist refers to today’s generation as “Gen Alpha”. This generation of children are born between 2011 to 2025, and are fast reaching two billion across the world with 2.5 million babies born worldwide every week. McGrindle estimates that within four years, Gen Alpha will outnumber the Baby Boomers.
Born into a world that has advanced significantly in technology, this generation has already shown how differently they act and think, compared to their predecessors. To reach this generation, it is vital to understand what makes them tick.
At a workshop at the Virtual Missions Conference organised by City Harvest Church’s The Harvest Network last year, Glordia Goh, an associate pastor at Harvest Kidz, City Harvest Church’s children’s ministry, taught on reaching the Gen Alpha. For the past 20 years, Pastor Glordia has been serving the children of CHC; right now, she oversees a zone of over 400 children and is in charge of CHC’s playgroup and pre-school services today. In addition, she travels to many countries to help empower children’s ministers in their skills and igniting their fire. Her passion is to raise teachers to be relevant to reach the next generation of children.
UNDERSTANDING GEN ALPHA
Gen Alpha is the most technologically savvy generation of all time. They are growing up with technology like 3D printers and biometrics, and most of them start using tablets and smartphones before they speak their first words.
They will also be more educated than the generations before them. Technology and education is constantly available to them and they are used to having information at their fingertips. They are wired to have access to all content anywhere and at any time, and they will continue to expect things to be “on demand”.
Old models of learning are becoming obsolete for this generation, McGrindle postulates. These children will learn at their own pace with personalised learning experiences. In schools, Gen Alpha children are moving from a structured, auditory method of learning to a visual, hands-on method. They will acquire problem-solving skills and experience peer-to-peer learning.
There are already schools that have shifted from the traditional forms of interacting with Gen Z to the methods more suited to Gen Alpha students. For instance, they encourage students to use tablets to create projects and share work with teachers and classmates.
As technology continues to advance, Gen Alpha children will soon prefer communication via images and voice control over typing and texting. Smart devices are becoming part of family life. They are growing up with the familiar voices of Siri and Alexa in their homes.
When it comes to religion or belief systems, it will be hard to persuade Gen Alpha, who dislike existing structures. This, however, does not worry Pastor Glordia. “We have the Holy Spirit who draws people to Christ. It will be through the power of the Holy Spirit that we see them come to Christ,” she told her audience.
Studies have shown that for Gen Alpha, religion is going out the door. Even many of their predecessors, Gen Z, who are aged between 10 and to 24 in 2022, have already decided that religion is not for them. The number of people who have religion has been declining for several generations and with each new generation, the percentage of unbelievers grows in number.
The Singapore Census 2020 showed that 20 per cent of Singapore residents reported that they have no religious affiliation. The census, which polled Singapore residents 15 years and older, also found that younger people were more likely to have no religious affiliation.
“People rely less on religion to provide them an explanation for the many things that happen in life; instead they look to the sciences,” says Dr Mathew Mathews, a principal research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). “Religion as an institution is no longer playing a major role in one’s life and so fewer people will pass faith down to their children.”
Another reason for the decline is the fact that their parents, the Millennials, are leaving their faith. Four out of ten Millennials report that they have no religious affiliation. According to a 2017 Pew survey, they identify with being atheist or agnostic, or say they are “spiritual but not religious”. As Gen Alpha watch their parents leave the church, they will likely follow suit.
Yet these young people will continue to seek the things that traditional organised religion provides—religious beliefs, and more importantly, a sense of community, guidance, purpose and meaning. When they cannot find those things in their parents’ religions, they will turn elsewhere.
On top of that, many young people feel alienated by mainstream religion because of their sentiments toward LGBTQ people and women. Many of them are put off by news headlines on scandals of religious leaders, and also the idea that anyone who is not part of that religion is inherently bad or wrong.
Another reason Gen Alpha is leaving the faith is that they have different priorities that they may have learned from their parents. Sunday, which used to be a sacred day set apart to worship God, is now a day filled with sports, entertainment and other festivities. There is simply no room or time for religion.
The books they read has also drawn them into fantasy worlds, and many young people today are attracted to mystical beings and magical entities.
WHAT CAN WE DO FOR GEN ALPHA?
Build up nurseries and preschools. Nursery and preschool leaders are on the front lines when it comes to reaching Gen Alpha. The first few years of a child’s life are critical because he learns much in those early years as he explores the world with curiosity.
Far from simply babysitting children, nursery and preschool leaders have a unique opportunity to help Gen Alpha develop a strong foundation in the first three or four years of their lives. As they invest in the little ones’ lives, they are sowing a seed, even if they may never see its fruit.
Capture their attention with visual content. If you are serving in children’s ministry, you have a great opportunity to influence the next generation by producing or pointing them to videos that can help them come to Christ and grow in their relationship with Him,
You can start a YouTube channel, or upload videos to Vimeo, and invite kids and parents to follow. There are many contents available online that can help Gen Alpha children know Jesus and grow in their relationship with him. Harvest Kidz has its own YouTube channel which features Bible lessons for children of all ages.
You can also use video clips in your teaching. Gen Alpha children listen with their eyes. You can capture their attention with short video clips or visual images. As communicators to children, we should be talking less and using more images and videos.
Having said that, children still need to detach from the screens and gather before God in a still, quiet manner. You can do this by having short prayer time—ask the kids to bow before God and spend one minute listening to Him and then a couple of minutes talking with Him.
Help them to encounter Jesus. What Gen Alpha needs more than anything is a growing relationship with Jesus. Jesus can become their constant friend who is always with them. Parents and teachers simply have to point them in that direction and pray that the Holy Spirit will work in their lives and bring them to the saving knowledge of Jesus.
Teach them to hear from God. It is essential to teach them to be spiritual, to be led by the Spirit. One way is to set up an environment for the children to have consistent encounters with God.
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a methodology that helps students of all ages to better comprehend their emotions, feel those emotions fully, and demonstrate empathy for others. These learned behaviours are then used to help students make positive, responsible decisions, create frameworks to achieve their goals, and build positive relationships with others.
Engaging them digitally. What have adults learned about digital engagement during the pandemic? Children, especially younger ones, need a structured environment to stay engaged as they are more easily distracted.
To get the full benefit of online learning, adults must intentionally create structures that promote collaboration, using a range of tools and engagement methods that promote inclusion and personalisation. Children use their senses extensively while learning, so adults need to make learning fun and effective through the use of technology.
Keep reaching out. God’s plan is for local churches to reach children and parents with the Gospel. But here’s the good news: as Christians share the Gospel with God’s anointing on our lives, we will see Gen Alpha reaching for Christ and going on to serve Him for life.
Evangelist DL Moody once said, “If I had my life to live over, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children with the Gospel.” It is a worthy and rewarding goal in life.