Are We Listening to the Next Generations?
It’s pretty clear to most people that the two youngest generations in the church speak a much different language than us “older” ones. It’s a language that may be hard to interpret if we are not intentionally listening. I’m referring to those between 18 and 40.
If we are going to communicate the Word of God to these generations we must first understand how they think and speak so that we can share the truth of God in a way they will understand. There’s no point speaking English to a person who only understands French. What is said may be true but it will have no effect on the recipient.
1. Teaching that impacts
A young man sent me this message, “We’d like solid, engaging and relevant teaching (not just facts, but how the facts impact life). We also want clear stances on things, not just assumed opinions. Real solid Bible teaching.”
Young people want teaching that is authentic, not a game of “How good can I make my life look on the outside.” People who can’t be real with them will not be able to listen or speak into their lives.
I was at a conference recently with many young people and I was refreshingly surprised at how open they were to talk about difficult issues in their lives. They want practical answers that can help them walk through life and honour the Lord.
2. Why does it matter?
“Because I told you so” doesn’t cut it with young adults, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. They don’t want to be told something is important without an explanation of why. Personally I feel this is where we have failed many young people. We expect them to trust our view of Scripture without a thorough explanation of it.
Sadly many church leaders will not take the time to have a discussion and work through Scripture. Instead of discussing, they shut down conversations that would help young people understand the truths of the New Testament church.
If we are going to listen effectively we need to hear their honest questions. We need to take the time to disciple them as equals and not as children who should blindly do as we say. They want to be taught with teaching that is solid and relevant to their lives. That’s exactly how the apostles taught as well.
3. Biblical substance is important
Quite frankly we can learn something from young people in this regard. If it’s not in the Bible, they don’t have time for it. Arguments such as, “You wouldn’t visit the Queen wearing that outfit would you?” are viewed as spiritually useless. They want to know what God says about life and they want to follow God’s Word.
When we add opinion that is not based in Scripture we lose them. If we are not willing to stand on Scripture alone, they are not willing to stand next to us. I admire them for this return to a more orthodox view of Scripture. A young man told me, “We can be ‘New Testament principles rooted’ without being legalistic.” Amen to that!
4. Relationship not rules
Young men and women today want a real relationship with God and the church family. They want that relationship to be defined by their love for Him and others and not by the things they should or shouldn’t do. This is actually much closer to the early disciples.
Organized church systems that preach a narrow view of living for God will not be able to keep young people for long. They want to go beyond the 4 walls of a church building to know God more. It’s a wonderful attitude actually. Something we should all desire.
5. Acceptance is paramount
I can’t stress this enough: An exclusive attitude is repulsive to the younger generations. One of the main reasons they are leaving the church is the prideful attitude of condemning and judging other Christians. I’ve talked to so many young people, especially in conservative churches like the assemblies that disdain the “holier than thou attitude” of many church groups.
They cling to the words of Jesus to love others, the words of Paul to put others first, and to strive for the fruit of the Spirit.
6. Community is a must
Young adults want “people to see a church in action more than merely organized to make church on Sunday morning.” They want to see programs that involve the whole church to interact and grow as a family. The idea that we would come together for just a few very structured meetings is not enough. They want more.
It reminds me of the early church in Acts, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
7. Loyalty is not a spiritual gift
Gone are the days that a program, event or meeting format needs to last forever. Young people have no problems stopping or completely changing if it’s not working. They are much more open to constant tweaks and changes. They are willing to talk about the issues that face them and meet them head on.
This “always improving” attitude is great for the church. We tend to settle in and get comfortable in how we function. We become complacent. They keep us on our toes. Without them we would probably grind to a halt. Many churches who have suppressed youthful enthusiasm has found themselves empty. We need a healthy balance of their desire to grow and never stop.
8. Worship should be vibrant
Whether we like it or not, young men and women view worship in a very specific way. They see worship as an outpouring of what’s inside (a rather biblical concept). To them worship should be alive, joyful and full of expression. It’s no wonder that many are dissatisfied with worship and prayer when they are told not to be too loud, or too emotional or too happy.
I’m not in the 18-40 crowd but I have always felt that worship should never be sorrowful or morbid. We are alive in Christ. He has set us free. Young people don’t want to attend a funeral service and be told that is how to worship. They want freedom to express their hearts without fearing rebuke.
9. Outreach means going out
What most people call outreach is really just inviting people in. Organize an activity and then invite people into the church to participate. Today’s younger generations want authentic outreach and discipleship. They want to reach a world that is hurting by being involved in the communities in which they live.
A young person told me, “We are not to be a holy huddle, but the world should be able to see our genuine love for each other. The world craves community. Believers have a genuine bond in Christ and should be the greatest example of love and community.”
10. Strong leadership
One young woman told me that strong leadership was so important but not leaders who are controlling. This has sent many away from conservative churches. Pastors and elders who rule with a heavy hand and do things their way will not listen to young adults.
Those who hold onto traditions and place them alongside doctrine can’t exist in the same church as most young people. I don’t blame the youth for seeking God in other churches when tradition is being promoted as equal to the Word of God.
11. Disciple me!
This came up over and over in my discussions with young people. One college student said to me, “I think the leaders in the church or mature believers should choose a younger man/woman and walk through what it is to be a man or woman after God and how to lead in their homes in the future and discover what their spiritual gifts are.” Another told me, “Discipleship is a big area that I feel most churches are lacking in.”
Sadly he is right. Many young people go through their entire Christian lives without having a single person disciple them. Not to teach them knowledge but more importantly how to love the Lord and how to live a sanctified, surrendered life.
12. Involving them in church life
It goes without saying that a person desiring to grow and serve the Lord will not want to stick around if they are being left out of the church. A young man said, “A lack of involvement is one of the top reasons I hear from my peers when they discuss why they are unsatisfied or have left their church.”
There are many ways to involve young people in the church. If you don’t know of any, ask them how they want to be used. Work with them to grow in their spiritual gifts. A person plugged into the church is less likely to abandon it or the faith.
Please understand this is a very large topic and it’s impossible to address all the issues and angles in one article. I could have expanded on this and made it a 10 part series. It’s meant to foster discussion. Take these things to your young people and ask them what they think. Ask them if there is anything else they would add. But do ask them.
Take the time to meet with them and listen to their hearts. Not with a critical, harsh spirit but with a heart of kindness, love and understanding. Don’t dismiss them when they share things you don’t agree with. Learn from them and respect them. You will be amazed at how it can transform your church.