Communicating Christ to Younger Generations
Evangelism Leaders Discuss Reaching Changing Cultures
Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 10 -- More than 140 ministry leaders who gathered in Minneapolis this week heard a challenge to rethink evangelism strategy to reach younger generations.
Miles McPherson, pastor of the The Rock Church in San Diego, Calif., addressed the Mission America Coalition (MAC) gathering of evangelism leaders from around the country on Wednesday.
“If you want to get people to be fired up about evangelism and if you want to reach young people,” McPherson said, “we have to think of the starting point of evangelism….Instead of telling your story, listen to the cries of a broken world.”
Recent statistics show that 88 percent of churched young adults leave the church after leaving home (Lifeway) and 61 percent of people in their 20s who were once churched are now disengaged (Barna). McPherson’s church is an anomaly, thriving with 11,000 young worshippers in their teens, 20s, and 30s.
McPherson referenced Exodus 3:7 by noting that God always sent His deliverers at the response of someone crying out. He encouraged the MAC gathering to listen to the cries of the younger generation.
“Respond to someone’s pain,” he told the pastors, ministry leaders, and cityreachers attending. “Don’t assume you know their pain. Go listen. If we go to church and don’t deal with that, God says, ‘What good are you?’”
“Kids want to know how to stand up for righteousness,” he assured. “They want to be challenged and do stuff that we won’t do anymore. They have no fear....These kids are ready, they are willing. God made them to serve Him.”
Kids Who Keep Their Faith
Other speakers to the conference brought a message that resonated with McPherson’s. Kara Powell, executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, shared Fuller Youth Institute research with the Mission America group. She identified commonalties among college students who do keep their faith. One common ground was their understanding of God.
“They know that God is close and caring,” she said. She also reported that kids who kept their faith had experienced the opportunity to ask questions.
“Students who have a long-term faith…felt the freedom and had the opportunity to explore doubt. It gives them the roots and the wings that they need for all of the turbulence that awaits them in college,” she said.
Also, the more students were involved in intergenerational worship before graduation, the better they held to their faith in college, according to Powell. Worship with adults of all ages offers opportunities for young people to experience the support and encouragement of many in the church, not just other youth or a youth leader, she said.
Powell also brought up the issue that young people who go off to college do not know how to find a church. Jeff Schadt, founder of the Youth Transition Network, added that 93 percent of students leaving a high school youth ministry do not know the name of any college Christian ministry.
“We send our fruit off into enemy territory alone, with no connection to the Body of Christ—and then we are shocked at the outcome,” Schadt said.
In a panel discussion with a spectrum of youth leaders from across the country, panelists discussed how greatly technology defines kids’ lives.
“They don’t respond to email. They text, they twitter, and they talk on their phones,” said Chuck Klein, director of Venture Media for Campus Crusade for Christ. “They are not techies, they are just technology users.”
Klein said that young people are driven by extreme relational needs. “Inclusion is primary; who you know gives you esteem. Tolerance is needed to maintain relationships.” As a result, he said, the demographic called millennials (born between 1982 and 2000) are the most tolerant generation that America has ever had.
“They are not just relativistic, they are extreme amorality; there is no truth or right from wrong that is better than another,” he said. He also said they have a great potential to reach others for Christ.
“They are all aspiring actors and actresses; they are bold,” Klein said. “They have the capacity to take the gospel to the end of the earth. They are sometimes called the ‘broken generation’… and God uses the broken.”
Panelists also suggested that churches build outreach plans that depend on student leaders.
“Let youth own the ministry. Let them make major decisions. [You] just supervise it,” said Chue Tou D. Vue, youth pastor of the St. Paul, Minn., Hmong Alliance Church and liaison for youth for the Hmong District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.
“Involve them in our services and don’t be so worried about quality control,” agreed Paul Fleischmann, president of the National Network of Youth Ministries. “Take them camping and get them up in front of people [to tell about it]. Don’t worry about what they say.”
Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania ministries, one of the world’s largest Christian youth organizations, offered a hopeful challenge. He pointed out that most people come to Christ before the age of 20, and only half of millennials are over 20.
“Make it hard for them to go to Hell,” he encouraged those gathered. “We don’t have to be cool, we can be the strategists. When we dream for them they will come. If MTV and BET are the only ones who dream for them, that’s where they’ll go.”
“Whoever owns their heart has the most authority in their lives,” he said, urging parents to “build a culture in your home stronger than the culture destroying your kids.”
State of the Church
The conference closed with Dave Olson, founder of the American Church Research Project, discussing his current research. Olson reported that only the largest churches (more than 2,000 in attendance) and smallest churches (up to 49 in attendance) are growing. The vast majority of churches are shrinking according to his research, which is based on church statistics, not surveys of churchgoers.
“The smallest churches have intimacy—if you don’t show up, someone calls you,” he explained. “Large churches have money and resources and people to do really good ministry. Middle churches are too big to be intimate and too small to have money and resources.”
Olson identified the significant need for church planting. “Just as young people inject incredible energy into the human race, new churches inject incredible energy into the American church.”
“More well-conceived, new churches have to be the number one mission focus for every denomination and missional church,” he said. “We have to think of new ways to plant churches.”
He said the contemporary church is off-pitch in its culture. “We are discordant to our culture,” he said. “We say the gospel and do things in our churches and we are close [to the mark] but not quite because we don’t really love this culture that we live in.”
“A missionary needs to love its culture,” he said.
He depicted a long bridge with three pillars holding it up. The pillars represented doctrine, morality, and social ethics; the roadway was the message and mission of Jesus.
“We’ve made the mistake of mixing up the pillars with the road,” he illustrated. “Nobody becomes a Christian because of doctrine. People become Christians because they become captivated by Christ. In our interaction with the world, focus on the mission and message of Jesus,” he encouraged. Dave Olson’s research and presentation on the state of the church is available at www.theamericanchurch.org/MA2008.zip.
Dr. Paul Cedar, chairman of the Mission America Coalition, was encouraged by this week’s meeting. “This was one of the most effective meetings for the Mission America Coalition in our history. Our major focus was on how we can reach out to the younger generations of our society with the love and grace of Jesus Christ with the prayer-care-share lifestyle. The response of leaders representing denominational, city, marketplace, and other Christian ministries was outstanding.”
The Mission America Coalition is a network of national church leaders, representing denominations, ministries, and other key Christian leaders with a shared vision to collaborate in prayer, evangelism, and revival. Since its inception, leaders from 81 denominations, more than 400 ministries, and dozens of ministry networks have been involved in the Coalition. Mrs. Vonette Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ), Dr. Billy Graham (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association), and Dr. John Perkins (Christian Community Development Association) serve as honorary co-chairs. The Mission America Coalition is the U.S. Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization.
# # # For more information about the Mission America Coalition or the prayer-care-share approach to evangelism, see http://www.missionamerica.org/. To arrange an interview, contact MAC Director of Communications Susan Brill at 715-559-1068 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.