The problem: Francis Schaeffer observed, “Not being able to change, to change under the Holy Spirit, is ugly. The same applies to church polity and practice. In a rapidly changing age like ours, an age of total upheaval like ours, to make non-absolutes absolutes guarantees both isolation and the death of the institutional and organized church.” Change and transformation are at the very heart of the gospel. Change and transformation are evidence of spiritual growth. Yet, people and organizations resist change. Too many churches yield to the pressure of the change resistors and lose their spiritual edge and ministry. Here are four ways to reach the next generation:
- Be culturally relevant: How can the church relate to contemporary culture & contextualize the gospel in that setting? Understand the culture you are trying to reach [missional]. The truth of the Bible doesn’t change but how the church communicates and implements the faith must change from generation to generation, and from culture to culture to be effective and relevant. Every church is affected to some degree by the culture of its community. Answer the implied question, “Why would this next generation want to go to church?”
- Continually evaluate the culture and the ministry: To remain relevant and reach each generation with the tools of that generation you must regularly evaluate. The men of Issachar who joined David in his battle against Saul were described as, “Those who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” [1Ch. 12:32]. There is an ongoing need to evaluate in order to understand the times. Similarly, at Corinth, Paul sought to be sensitive to what was happening in the culture for the purpose of winning souls for Jesus [5x “I might win”]. Paul became: as a servant, as a Jew, as a Gentile, as weak -willing to accommodate self to Scripture to avoid stumbling another [1Cor. 9:19-22]. A healthy church is flexible in areas of culture and Christian liberty but does not compromise biblical truth. Be flexible: able to change without becoming an old wineskin, while still maintaining stability.
3. Recognize emerging cultural values: Postmoderns are pluralistic but the 1st Century Roman Empire was much more pluralistic than North America today. Characteristics of today’s post-moderns:
a. Denial of personal objectivity [I do believe in God, but that’s how I was raised. No one can know for sure].
b. Knowledge is uncertain [the government says smoking is bad but who really knows for sure].
c. Absolute truth is replaced by relative truth [if religion works for you … that’s great].
d. Tolerance is the mantra [unless there is a claim of absolute truth].
e. General cynicism [the Bible will not be accepted as authority until they see how it applies to them].
f. Rejection of meta-narratives for mini-narratives [cf. every culture has an ideal of how things should be, that there is a problem(s), & seeks solutions].
4. Characteristics of churches that are effectively reaching post-moderns:
a. Not ashamed for passionate love for Jesus: C.S. Lewis, “the great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it is true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it is good for society or something of that sort.”
b. Promote incarnational ministry: Realize that postmoderns are on a spiritual search and go to them & engage in daily life like Jesus [enter the culture]
c. Engage in service: Community service
d. Participatory & experiential praise: Model vulnerability and awareness of God.
e. Expository teaching: [especially narratives]
f. Connect with tech
g. Live community: Develop trust & intimacy over time; use community groups that stay together for years not months; post-moderns may want to get to know the people of God before wanting to get to know God. Help people experience Christian life as a journey/process in relationship with others.
h. Lead by transparency and team: Authenticity is key. Don’t seek to entertain but to engage, connect with people by letting them know you’re seeking to follow Jesus too and you’re not always successful
i. Casual and fresh style: Casual atmosphere but respectful of God. Things feel fresh: change is welcomed and the organization is loose and flexible.
j. Generation integration: Balance youth and experience to create generation integration. Look for and develop future leaders who display integrity and character and challenge and empower them. Let them make a difference control their destinies and participate. Youth are not simply future leaders but are up front and behind the scenes leading and directing the church.
A Pastor’s Perspective: Preliminarily, there is nothing wrong with focusing on an older generation. Nevertheless, I really value reaching the next generation and so our church invests time, money and vision to reaching youth and young adults. I try to avoid acting like a hipster to try to attract young people and seek to be authentic. Our staff has generation integration, and I’m regularly monitoring the demographic mix of our congregation to evaluate whether we are reaching young people. Nevertheless, I know that there will come a time when I’m unable to reach 20-somethings effectively. By raising up young men as Bible teachers and providing opportunity for them to teach regularly we are more likely to be effective in reaching the next generation. Also, I’ve surrounded myself with leaders who I respect who I’ve entrusted with the responsibility to help me realize when I’m not being effective in reaching the next generation so that my role can change for the good of the church and the kingdom. It’s a scary proposition but I believe it is healthy if we intend to reach the next generation.