Many churches are having a difficult time reaching the next generation with the message of Jesus Christ. Not only are churches struggling to connect with young people outside the congregation, but they are also having challenges keeping those who grew up within the church.
While many churches are struggling to reach young adults, some churches are succeeding.
What is the difference between those churches that are effectively reaching the next generation and those who are not?
1. The next generation will attend a church that makes them feel loved.
This does not mean the church has to agree with everything young people do.
It also does not mean that churches cannot preach strong messages about sin.
It does mean that churches must demonstrate love and acceptance. Young people are struggling with a lot of issues. Their lack of emotional maturity will result in them doing things they should not do. Knowing there is a group of people that love them no matter what is very important. They will go to a church that shows such love.
2. The next generation will attend a church that proves love by its actions.
In our “everyone gets a trophy” culture, young people are used to being told that they are loved, but they see very little actual evidence of that love.
Parents say they love them, and then they proceed to get a divorce because they love their new girlfriend or boyfriend more. Young people go too far sexually in a relationship because they are told they are loved, but once the other person gets what they want from them, the relationship ends and the teen is left wondering what happened to love.
Churches say they love the next generation, but then fail to do anything that proves that love. If churches really love young people, they are going to have to put actions behind their words.
3. The next generation will attend a church that speaks their language.
Young people communicate in a variety of ways, but adults often misunderstand their love of music and technology.
Young people typically love music. They use lyrics for their social media posts and text messages. They use music to communicate their feelings and thoughts. Though they generally like music that is upbeat, what is more important to them is the meaning behind the words. They look to music to shape their philosophy and ideas about life. They want the words to describe their perceived experience with the world around them.
How does this impact music in the church?
Many young people I know are drawn to songs that let them talk to God, not just about God. They are also drawn to songs that talk about their experiences with God, not just abstract concepts about God. If churches want to reach young people, just speeding up the tempo won’t do it. Select songs that consider their life experiences and then talk to God about it.
4. The next generation will attend a church that lets them be involved in leading.
Young people are not interested in just sitting in the back pew and watching.
They want to be involved in leading the music, taking the offering, praying and teaching the classes.
Though they may need guidance in these types of leadership areas due to their maturity level, they can lead effectively in the church. Churches that do not let young people lead will not keep those young people very long.
5. The next generation will attend a church that makes sermons and Bible studies relevant to their real-life experience.
People of all ages find it difficult to be faithful to church when the sermons and Bible studies do not seem relevant to real life.
This is especially true for young adults. This is why many churches are losing the young people who grew up in church. Pastors and Bible study leaders need to think carefully about how they teach the truth of the Word. They need to give solid doctrine and historical Biblical context, but they also must offer applications of how that teaching impacts real life.
Churches that fail to do this will not only lose their young people, but will eventually enter into a state of decline as people of all ages look for a church that is more relevant.
Reaching young adults is not easy. There are numerous challenges. By following these five principles, churches can become more effective in reaching the next generation.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Terry Dorsett and originally published by Baptist Churches of New England.