Reaching the Next Generation: Amaze Them With God

I beg of you, don’t go after the next generation with mere moralism, either on the right (don’t have sex, go to church, share your faith, stay off drugs) or on the left (recycle, dig a well, feed the homeless, buy a wristband). The gospel is not a message about what we need to do for God, but about what God has done for us.  So get them with the good news about who God is and what he has done for us.

Some of us, it seems, are almost scared to tell people about God.  Perhaps because we don’t truly know him.  Maybe because we prefer living in triviality.  Or maybe because we don’t consider knowing God to be very helpful in real life.  I have to fight against this unbelief in my own life.  If only I would trust God that God is enough to win the hearts and minds of the next generation.  It’s his work much more than it is mine or yours.  So make him front and center.  Don’t preach your doubts as mystery.  And don’t reduce God to your own level.  If ever people were starving for a God the size of God, surely it is now.

Give them a God who is holy, independent, and unlike us, a God who is good, just, full of wrath and full of mercy.  Give them a God who is sovereign, powerful, tender, and true.  Give them a God with edges.  Give them an undiluted God who makes …

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Reaching the Next Generation: Challenge Them With Truth

In the church growth heyday, scholars and pastors were wrestling with how to reach out without dumbing down.  Today I would argue that we reach out precisely by not dumbing down.  The door is open like never before to challenge people with good Bible teaching.  People want to learn doctrine.  They really do, even non-Christians.  Whether they accept it all or not, they want to know what Christians actually believe.  Young people will not put up with feel good pablum.  They want the truth straight up, unvarnished, and unashamed.

Thom Rainer did a study a number of years ago asking formerly unchurched people the open ended question “What factors led you to choose this church?”  A lot of surveys had been done asking the unchurched what they would like in a church.  But this study asked the formerly unchurched why they actually were now in a church.  The results were surprising.  11% said worship style led them to their church.  25% said children’s/youth ministry.  37% said that sensed God’s presence at their church.  41% said someone had witnessed to them from the church, and 49% mentioned friendliness as the reason for choosing their church.  Can you guess the top two responses?  Doctrine and preaching—88% said the doctrine led them to their church and 90% said the preaching led them there, in particular, pastor who preached with certitude and conviction. One woman remarked, “We attended a lot of different churches for different reasons before we became Christians.  I tell you, so many …

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Reaching the Next Generation: Hold Them With Holiness

Let me make this clear one more time.  I’m not arguing that thinking about music styles or paying attention to the “feel” of our church or trying to exegete the culture is sinful stuff.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be asking questions related to cultural engagement.  What I’m saying is that being experts in the culture matters nothing, and worse than nothing, if we are not first of all experts in love, truth, and holiness.

Look at what God says in 2 Peter 1:5-8:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Did you pick up on the promise in the last verse?  If we are growing in faith, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, we will not be ineffective ministers for Christ.  If ever there was a secret to effective ministry, these verses give it to us.  Grow in God and you’ll make a difference in people’s lives.  If nothing of spiritual significance is happening in your church, your Bible study, your small group, or your family it may be because nothing spiritually significant is happening in your life.

I love the line from Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “What your people need from …

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Reaching the Next Generation: Win Them With Love

The evangelical church has spent far too much time trying to figure out cultural engagement, and far too little time just trying to love.  If we listen to people patiently and give people the gift of our curiosity we will be plenty engaged.  I’m not arguing for purposeful obscurantism.  What I’m arguing for is getting people’s attention with a force more powerful than the right lingo and the right movies.

We spend all this time trying to imitate Gen X culture or millennial culture, and to what end?  For starters, there is no universal youth culture.  Young people do not all think alike, dress alike, or feel comfortable in the same environments.  Moreover, even if we could figure out “what the next generation likes” by the time we figured it out they probably wouldn’t like it anymore.  Count on it: when the church discovers cool, it won’t be cool anymore.  I’ve seen well meaning Christians try to introduce new music into the church in an effort to reach the young people, only to find out that the “new” music included “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “Shout to the Lord.”  There’s nothing worse than a church trying to be fresh and turning out to be a little dated.  Better to stick with the hymns and the organ than do “new” music that isn’t new or do the new music in an embarrassing way.

The evangelical church needs to stop preaching the false gospel of cultural identification.  Don’t spend all your time trying to figure …

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Reaching the Next Generation is Harder and Easier Than You Think: Grab Them With Passion

Getting a book published is a funny thing.  People you’ve never met suddenly think you’re amazing.  Other people you’ve never met (but may leave a review on Amazon) think you’re the scum of the earth (and not the good Pauline kind).  And lots of people expect you to be an expert in things you don’t know much about.

After my first book came out, Why We’re Not Emergent, pastors and other Christians started asking me how my church reached out to young people.  “I agree.  We don’t want to go emergent,” the questioner would ask.  “We need sound doctrine.  We need good preaching.  But what do you do in your church to reach the next generation?”  My usual response was, “Nothing.”  I wanted people to understand that there’s nothing fancy or brilliant about our church strategy.  We are just trying to be faithful.

But after awhile I began to sense that “nothing” was not a terribly helpful answer.  So I talked about our campus ministry, and staff structure, and our small groups—all of which matter.  But this kind of answer seemed like more of the same.  “If you want to reach young people you have to have this program, or capture this feel, or go for this look.”  Don’t get me wrong, thinking about strategy, structure, and feel is not sinful.  I’m thankful for all the people in our church who work hard in these areas.  I try to be wise in these areas.  But this is not the secret to …

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