Reaching Gen Z
“This is why we stan.”
As I read that sentence, my fingers itched to add the letter “d.” But knowing the young and brilliant author who submitted the article, I decided to reach out to him with my proposed edit. His response was informative: “Stan” is a made-up word that means “love and support no matter what.”
I never would have known that, had I not asked. I’m not a member of the Gen Z community, so when I use words like “goat,” “salty,” “wig” or “woke,” they’re spoken in the literal sense. Not so with Gen Z!
Reaching a generation other than our own may feel like learning a new language.
Reaching a generation other than our own may feel like learning a new language. It doesn’t always come naturally or easily—but if we’re serious about reaching that generation, we must become serious about embracing conversation, taking time to learn and being willing to change.
For four years, I held the title of “Editor of Young Salvationist”—a national Salvation Army- produced youth publication. I assimilated to the fast-paced, deadline-driven department and after 40 issues under my belt, I felt as secure as a hamster running around and around in its predictable wheel. However, I quickly realized that busyness does not always equate effectiveness. When I looked at the final product each month, I couldn’t help but question our magazine’s effectiveness in reaching young people today. Were we speaking the same language as our audience? Something had to change and it had to start with me hopping off the hamster wheel.
While attending a conference, my path crossed with MetaLeap Creative, consultants who specialize in redesign and creation. Hearing their experience and passion for effective publications, I knew we needed their direction. The partnership began in June 2018 as they led our team in fundamental processes to recreate our magazine—a journey that began by better understanding our audience. Who is Generation Z? What language do they speak and what type of magazine would appeal to them?
Understanding our audience was foundational to understanding how our publication needed to evolve.
This digitally-native generation grew up swiping on an iPad before speaking their first word. Barna Group describes Generation Z as the “first truly ‘post-Christian generation.’” More than any generation before them, Gen Z (born between 1999 and 2015) do not assert a religious identity—and this generation is the largest among the U.S. population today. Understanding our audience was foundational to understanding how our publication needed to evolve.
Though change seemed inevitable, our youth publication held great history. In fact, reaching young people through print has been a priority for The Salvation Army since 1881.
It all started in 1880 when a Salvation Army meeting filled a large Wesleyan Chapel in Blythe, England. A child stood outside the door—there was no room for her. Captain John Roberts’ (a Salvation Army officer/pastor) heart was moved. “Tell your friends,” he said, “that there will be a special meeting next Friday at six o’clock.” That meeting (held on July 30, 1880) was the beginning of The Salvation Army’s work with children, and the work spread rapidly—so rapidly that the editor of “War Cry” (the adult publication) received enough news about children to fill all of his pages. The Salvation Army’s founder, General William Booth, then decided that young people should have their own paper: “The Little Soldier.” And the man who started the children’s meetings, Captain John Roberts, would be the editor.
As I read that story, my heart was moved too. Young people are standing outside the doors of the church today. How are we reaching them? Are we willing to meet them outside and engage in conversation, in a language they understand?
The General of The Salvation Army, General Brian Peddle, expressed unwavering support for our request to redesign. Our rationale was in line with our mission as The Salvation Army—to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.
Our publication name was one of the first aspects that needed to change. We needed a name that would be understood by our audience—both those standing inside and outside the church. Then came design. Details from the size of the publication, paper type, topics covered, imagery used all became crucial to our discussion—aimed directly to reaching Gen Z through topics of faith, community and culture (our tagline).
Months followed and by January 2019 Peer magazine was created, along with peermag.org and social media platforms with intentional strategy to reach our audience through their language—videos! Our mission statement became: to ignite a faith conversation that deepens biblical perspective, faith and holy living.
Suggesting the redesign of a youth magazine that has been in existence for 138 years may seem courageous, but when change is led by the Spirit of God who moves our hearts to enhance his kingdom, then change isn’t embraced with fear, but rather with humility.
We cannot profess to know everything there is to know about reaching Gen Z, but we’re humbled to continue learning and striving to reach this generation with the timelessly relevant message of Jesus Christ.
Born and raised in South Africa, Captain Pamela Maynor studied elementary education at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. After graduation, she became a missionary to the U.S. Her desire was to introduce inner-city children to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. She met her husband, Keith, soon after and together they entered The Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training in New York in 2005. Commissioned two years later as ordained officers (pastors in The Salvation Army), they have served together in New York, New Jersey and now Virginia where Pamela is the Editor of Peer magazine at National Headquarters.