The 3M's of Reaching the Youth/Lost/Unchurched are the Mission, The Message and the Method. 2. The Message
Question? How would you communicate to your eighteen year old son if he had made up his mind to walk away from everything you have taught him morally, ethically and theologically unless you gave him a compelling reason not to? What would you say right now if you knew that was at stake? Every single week, somebody's son/daughter is out there and this may be their last or only chance for someone to reach them.
First, according to research and interviews done by David Kinnaman on why 18-29 year olds leave the church, very few cite theological or biblical reason. That is, they believe in the Bible and the word of God and are actually not interested in a water-downed, liberal version of the Bible. This actually surprised me given this generations liberal attitudes. What really drives this generation away and causes our current youth to become further disconnected is the other messaging not necessarily related to Biblical truth.
Overprotective—they see the church as a creativity killer where risk taking and being involved in the world/culture are looked down upon and discouraged. Shallow—having been fed a steady diet of “easy platitudes, proof texting and formulaic slogans,” they don’t see how their faith connects to every facet of life and how their passions, gifts and abilities can be used for God’s glory. Anti-science—they see faith and science as incompatible, even finding that science appears to welcome questions and skepticism, while matters of faith are not to be questioned and cannot provide logical answers to complex questions. Repressive—Religious Legalism— They like to challenge traditional authority while searching for greater understanding and applaud entrepreneurship. They feel the church stifles the individualist mindset of young adults. Consequently they perceive the church as repressive and slow to change and adapt. Exclusive—Christianity’s claim to exclusivity is a hard sell, simply because of how this generation has been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance, acceptance and grace. Doubtless—they don’t believe the church is a safe place to express doubts or admit that their faith doesn’t always make sense. “[M]any feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial and fact focused, as if people can be talked out of doubting.”
Add to this that this generation does not favor lecture type events and will usually not accept truth or influence (regardless of whether it's Biblical) unless a relationship and trust has first been established. So many churches traditional sermon/lecture format on Sunday does not resonate effectively with this generation and they won't absorb a message until they feel a connection and relationship with the person conveying the message.
"When it comes to youth ministry, the most effective, fun and engaging youth groups use communication mediums that relates to our generation." Video messages, facebook, twitter, texting and art are all effective ways to harness this message and keep the youth engaged. I talked with one youth pastor who gets text messages all night from kids dealing with real world issues. Abuse, drugs, cutting, etc. Many nights he was these kids only connection to someone who offered hope, love and acceptance.
My son also added "The best youth groups mix fun and the message. They start off with games or just socializing for the first half of the gathering before finally getting to the message. At this point, we've gotten our energy out and we are ready to hear the word. Plus, the message needs to be tailored to our world and our struggles. Everyday, kids are struggling with issues at home and school, these need to be integrated into the Biblical teachings. Sometimes just watching a short video and then asking people to speak or pray about issues in their lives is the most powerful. For our generation, it's about socializing and connecting, not necessarily the content of the message"
One of this generations biggest claims is that long to be in the world but not of the world. They want real relational ministry that reaches outside of the church walls. They want to participate in normal events (snowboarding, paintball, dances, concerts) WHILE learning and living their faith. Much like Daniel in Babylon, the want to effectively live and practice their faith while also engaging the world, culture, media and creativity. The concept of only practicing/learning faith or having youth group inside the church walls or worse, churches, parents and Christians that try to shelter and create a segregated Christian environment, only frustrates and alienates our youth and this entire generation.
"It's really your approach, and not your content, that determines how well that you engage people" -Andy Stanley
I'm guilty of this one too. We think that as long as we have a compelling message or speech, the audience will understand what we are trying to communicate. But, if the audience never feels comfortable or connected with the speaker, they will never actually hear the content.
My challenge to parents, churches and youth pastors is to look at the Message you are conveying every single day. Are you encouraging our youth to engage the world with their faith? Are you telling them it's okay to question their faith or have doubts? Are we creating youth ministries that utilize technology and communicate the message in a way that this generation finds compelling? Are we taking church events out of the church building and engaging the world, our communities and showing our children how to practice and live their faith in daily life? Do you encourage our youth to use new methods, technologies and unorthodox ways to reach the world and the lost? Are we conveying a message of Grace, Love, Acceptance and Compassion for the world or Fear, Condemnation, Judgement and Segregation?
The Bible clearly illustrates how people that practiced their faith while also living , socializing and even sometimes compromising, with the world and culture (for the sake of greater influence) were some of the biggest game changers and catalysts for Christianity. Daniel and Esther come to mind. Our kids and the under 30 generation see themselves as the modern day Daniel's and Esther's. They want to be able to socialize and connect with the lost/world while actively living their faith journey. Why are we not doing everything to empower, equip and encourage them for this Godly mission? If we have the Good News and God on our side, whom then shall we fear?
- Esse Quam Videri -
Part III is the Method