The 3M's of Reaching the Youth/Lost/Unchurched are the Mission, The Message and the Method. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” -Jeremiah 29:5-7
3. The Method
Barna Research cited 1 in 4 Christian Youth and 20 somethings stating that the church:
- Failed to prepare them for real life as an Christian adult in the world.
- Failed to teach the gospel and Biblical truth on a consistent basis.
- Failed to convey how faith was relevant to everyday life, vocation, and dealing with the world.
- 80% said they DID NOT have an adult mentor at church.
Many youth and 20 Somethings, who have left the faith, developed a shallow faith or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as Smith and Deton put it.
Our youth and the 20 Somethings stated that they want to live their faith while working in worldly areas such as Music, Film, Government, Science and Academia - all not necessarily supportive of Christianity.
Again, our youth see themselves as missionaries practicing their faith while living and engaging the secular world, they are not necessarily interested in creating or being involved in a All Christian Subculture.
In order to accomplish this, we need to address the Method we are using to pass on faith to their generation.
The first rule of public speaking (the one that many forget) is that it is the communicators role to craft a message in a way that engages and connects with the audience. It is not the audiences role to understand a communicators great information. If the message gets lost in translation, it's the communicators fault.
The method is built around a communicator's, parents or churches relationship with the audience rather than content. Outreach Magazine highlighted a study showing that the fastest growing churches all had one thing in common, they had effective communicators and leaders. I'm sure we can all agree that not all pastors are great communicators and Andy Stanley points out that when he went through Seminary, he had no classes on leadership. Not to mention what many people call leadership is really management. (See On Leadership)
In ministry, there are three approaches to teaching:
1. Teach the Bible to people - Verse by verse exposition is an example. Goal is to explain what the Bible means. "This approach requires no creativity.
2. Teach people the Bible - Impart biblical truth into the mind and heart of the audience. Use outlines and alliteration, etc., so they will remember. Goal: Did they understand and remember? Goal is information transfer.
3. Teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible. The goal is change and trust in God.
Many churches and bible studies I have attended, that list their goal as spiritual discipleship and maturity, predominantly use the first two means to try to convey faith. They believe by simply providing Biblical knowledge and information, strong faith and discipleship will follow.
Biblical Knowledge does not equal spiritual maturity.
As my friend Tim Kimmel told me "Lance, I know a lot of people who are very smart in the Word, they can read Hebrew and Greek and know the Bible inside and out. However, they are not mature Christians and you would not want them raising or teaching your kids."
Andy Stanley subscribes to the third point listed above. The point is not to make smarter sinners. The point is not to just cover the material. The point is to teach people how to be doers of the word, not hearers only.
One of the findings of the Fuller Youth Institute research on youth who do grow up and continue to follow their faith listed multi-generational church services as one of the factors for this. By this they mean, the youth and teens actively participating in the Church every week, not just the once per year youth service weekend. Teens as ushers and greeters, on the worship team, teaching Sunday school to the younger kids, reading the word during the church service. Some churches even brought youth representatives to serve on elder boards and other leadership positions in the church, not necessarily making the final decisions but providing input.
One of my biggest personal complaints of many churches I've attended is the unwritten resistance to allowing youth to participate. I've noticed this in many churches I've personally attended. My son sat in a service one weekend and heard that the church needed more volunteer ushers, after the service he immediately volunteered to be an usher. Later, he was told that they only wanted adults for these positions? What message did the church send to him?
Other Barna research showed that while many churches have done away with traditional youth rites of passage such as Confirmation, these practices were not only much wanted by youth but also essential for their spiritual development.
Barna research further added that many youth wanted spiritual guidance in areas such as finances, evangelism, marriage/relationships, college and career and vocation selection. We provide these classes and small groups for the adults of the church but many times forget the youth? There are also many great biblical resources and programs available designed specifically for youth that address each of these areas, but it is up to the churches to adopt these into their curriculum and process of spiritual development. See my Revised Legacy Dad Life Map for more details.
Okay, okay this is not all the churches fault. I sincerely believe that parents have the lions share of teaching many of these principles and of passing on the faith to their children. But, many parents are coming to church on empty, they are not teaching these principles at home and are outsourcing their responsibility to the church and youth pastors. Therefore, there are times when the church has to pick up the slack.
However, one of my biggest frustrations as a parent has been finding churches that connect and compliment what is being taught in our home. In fact...this is the exact topic of one of my upcoming posts and a new book by Tim Kimmel titled Connecting Church and Home. Along with Tim's book, we at Legacy Dad have tried to lead the way to develop a comprehensive parenting philosophy that starts at birth and goes to college taking both parents and children through specific spiritual development phases that are reinforced by the church. My problem now is getting my church to buy-in to this approach.
The problem is often the older generations, the ones in Church leadership, not fully understanding the younger generations and standing firm and sometimes defiant that the youth should just conform rather than try to change the world so radically. Many Christians complain about this website and the fact that I write to both a Christian and Secular audience. They feel that the best approach is to preach the Biblical truth bluntly and then the audience should conform and accept the word. I've watched many Christians take this approach with the lost, unchurched and atheists only to get a verbal backlash or simply ignored. They assert that it's the audiences fault rather than the messenger or the method used (Brute Bible Force).
I've also had discussions with many older generations that want to complain and denounce the youth and their social, technology attitudes as wrong. Countless older adults have complained about texting, twitter and facebook and they think it is a waste of time and degrades social skills. While there is some merit to this argument I also explained to one mother how traditional evangelism or ministry requires you to meet people personally or speak in front of large audiences, ala the Church. I then explained that to be considered a mega church in the U.S. requires you to have 5000 members or more and if you are one of those truly "on fire" pastors, changing the world for God, you may have a church of 10, 15 or even 20,000 members. She agreed. I then explained that I can pick up my iPhone and send a message, via social media, with God's word to 20,000 people in a matter of seconds. These people all voluntarily agreed to follow me and if they don't like my message they can stop following me at any time. I'm not a pastor and I don't have a building but I have a ministry. Many of our current youth are already embracing and using this type of non-traditional ministry to reach friends, peers and the lost in record numbers. The nuances and social preferences of our youth, although different from our generation, can be equally used for God's purpose if we are willing to embrace it and their generations calling.
In conclusion, I believe the Method has to do with engaging, connecting and showing our youth how to live and apply their faith to their lives, not simply conveying information or making the youth biblically smart. It involves designing Family Ministries to teach parents and youth Biblical life skills and worldview, ideally together at times. It does not water down the Gospel or Biblical Truth but finds new and innovative ways to convey Biblical Truth using technology, non-traditional methods and hands on experiences rather than traditional lecturing. It brings the youth into the process of daily Church functions, Sunday Services and advisory boards and gets ministry and the youth groups out of the Church building and into the real world, mentoring them on how to be salt and lights in the world but not of the world.
I can only pray that we as the older generations realize the importance of this mission and of embracing these new ideas regardless of whether we fully understand why they are so important to this generation. Every generation is different than the one before it and this one, while radically different from our own, stands at the door to be world changers for Christ if we only come along side them and empower them to carry their generations cross for Christ in their own way.
- Esse Quam Videri -