Meet Tim. Tim is 25-years-old and considers himself a Christian who's never really been a huge fan of church. Give Tim a Sunday morning service, and he'll show up every once in awhile. Give Tim a group of close friends, and he'll show up to church most of the time. Give Tim a cause to live for, and you may see Tim more than you want to.
Ten or 20 years ago you could throw open the church doors, plan a few events here and there and call it good. People would come, people would sit through service, and people would come back next week.
Not so true with this generation. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with a Sunday service; in fact, it's fairly important for the believers to gather together (Hebrews 10:25).
However, I can't help but be alarmed when I see how many college students, twenty somethings, and young 30s are absent from the church. It makes you stop and think: What is the future church going to look like if we're missing a really big demographic?
So, what went wrong? Why don't we see the next generation connecting with the church?
I'm not necessarily trying to sound the alarm or push the panic button, but I think it's something every Christian should wrestle with, especially if we are committed to the next generation.
I'm also not recommending that we do anything to change the content of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, but the context in which it is presented must always be changing. When it stops changing, the church has become irrelevant to a younger generation that is searching for the answers to life's real questions.
Think of the story of Paul in Acts 17. Paul studied the Athenians, he sat in on their debates, and he became a part of their lives.
"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'" (Acts 17:22-23)
Once Paul understood their worldview, he was able to contextualize the gospel message in a way that connected with the Athenians. Every follower of Jesus Christ is called to do the same.
Every day, we are called to present the gospel message to people in a way that connects with them.
So what connects with a 25-year-old young man such as Tim? What will connect with Tim in a way that draws him to see the church as an integral part of his relationships with God? Here are a few suggestions.
Tim wants to be a part of something that's bigger than him. Sounds simple.
Tim wants a cause, something that he can believe in and something that he can give his life to. For a generation that connects practical acts of love and service with authentic Christianity, it's essential that we connect younger people with a cause. That cause, or selfless act of love, will lead them to an understanding of Jesus Christ. Why? Because that's how they connect with God.
What's a cause? A cause can be something as simple as caring for the widow across the street or collecting used bikes for the kids at the homeless shelter. A cause can be tackling the issue of microfinance in third-world countries or mentoring students in a local second grade class. A cause is simply an act of love that is motivated out of a purely selfless motivation. No ulterior motives, just a desire to make the name of Jesus great.
In other words, this generation wants to have church on Sunday and church on Monday, when their small group of friends gather together to help clean up a neighbor's home. If church is a gathering of people who proclaim and glorify Christ, Monday might soon become the new Sunday to many young people. Give Tim a cause, and you'll connect Tim with a God who came to give life.
Next, Tim doesn't want to do this alone.
Let's be honest, it's just not as fun. Give Tim a group of friends who are committed to living out their Christian faith together and who are committed to bringing the love of Christ to others through serving and you've got a recipe this generation can connect with.
I've seen young people go to a church they don't like, sit in a service that doesn't speak to their life, and even participate in activities they don't care about because their friend goes to church there. Not only do they want a cause, but they want to be a part of a tribe, a close-knit group of people united by a common purpose.
So what can we do? I think we just started the process by at least identifying the problem. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must begin to connect a younger generation back to the church. Not the building, but the life-giving community of believers that are committed to growing in Christ and sharing the love of Christ to others.
Next, find the Tims in your life. Help them get connected to a cause and connected to other people, and you might just find out that Tim will stick around for awhile.
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