Thriving churches are figuring out how to engage all generations in the Gospel. More than any other, this generation of youth and young adults is looking for a faith that makes a real difference in life, not just inside the walls of the church but outside the walls of the church, too. They are longing to see that Jesus is living and active in our world today, not just for an hour on Sunday, but all of the time and in all areas of our lives. Young people are looking to see if our faith makes a difference in how we act and react, and if our faith makes a difference in the struggles in our neighbourhood and world.
As I have conversations with this generation, follow social media and read the studies being done recently in Canada (e.g., Hemorrhaging Faith – http://tgcfcanada.org/hemorrhagingfaith/), I repeatedly hear three things this generation is longing for in Christian communities.
Authentic Community – This generation wants church to be a place where they (and we!) do not need to worry about “image control”; worry about this issue affects youth in so many places in our world today. The desire is that our communities would provide places of genuine care and belonging. Folks could come with their real questions, doubts and struggles and these things would be welcomed, not just tolerated but truly welcomed and invited into the community. They are asking to see a willingness to tackle tough questions in light of today’s culture and to be given opportunities to wrestle with the truth of Scripture in light of what we see in our world today. Authentic Christian communities display that they are not afraid of the world or the tough questions but are wading into the world with the love, grace and truth of Jesus. Today, young people need a place to belong as they discover what it means to believe. Then, slowly, often very slowly, they will become surrendered to Jesus and – again, slowly – line up their life and behaviours with Kingdom ways and values.
This is my story. I became a Christian as a young adult while studying at university, all because a community of Christians loved me, cared for me and gave me a place of belonging – even while I questioned their beliefs, wrestled with my own beliefs, wrestled with the effects of faith on issues of this world and wrestled with how belief would change me and my behaviours. I needed to know belonging and community before belief. I needed to see, feel and experience that the faith of these Christians made a difference in how they treated me (even when they disagreed with me). And, I needed to see how these Christians treated the world in which we live.
I have seen authentic Christian communities created in coffee shop discussions, small groups and youth groups. I have seen it online, and in post-sermon dialogues after services and during multigenerational service projects as Christian communities create spaces for people to be authentic about where they are in their journey toward Christ.
Mentors – This generation is asking for people who are further along in the journey to help them navigate this complex world. They are not asking for someone to wag a finger at them and point out all their short-falls, but they are longing for more mature believers who can be an encouragement, a sounding board and a support as they try to figure out what faithfulness to Jesus looks like in their life.
Churches are finding ways to build connections that link youth and young adults with those who are further along on the journey (that’s the polite way of saying older adults). Some churches are making special gifts such as homemade quilts for each high school graduate they know. They are putting together “exam survival packages” to send to students, and they are pairing up prayer partners across the generations. We need each other in the body of Christ.
Real Authority – This generation is not satisfied with sitting on the sidelines. They want to make a real difference in the world. This is not just washing the dishes after the church supper or taking up the offering but they are seeking opportunities to make a significant difference. They want to be part of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. We need to give them our trust and the authority to live out their Kingdom dreams.
Do not be afraid if their dreams look different from your dreams. Believe in God’s work in and through them; they will bring new life to our congregations and be a part of establishing new, creative congregations. We have youth and young adults that are leading the way in the Kingdom: we have young people leading youth groups for people to discover Jesus in their high schools; we have youth leading food drives in their cities; we have youth going overseas to be the hands of Jesus; and, we have young adults intentionally choosing to live simply, in community, in the forgotten neighbourhoods of our world to display Christ’s care to those neighbourhoods.
These are beautiful things this generation is longing to see and experience in the body of Christ. They are calling us to good things. They are calling us to be the Church. How can you give this generation places of authentic community, mentors, and real authority to make a difference for the Kingdom?
Rev. Renée Embree was the Director of Youth & Family, and is now the Community Pastor at Hillside Baptist Church (Moncton).
This article was commissioned as an online feature for Tidings magazine and can be viewed on the Atlantic Baptist Women website (atlanticbaptistwomen.ca) in March 2015. Beginning in 2015, see online Tidings magazine articles, made for women of faith, making a difference where you are.