HOW TO REACH THE NEXT GENERATION
“Only 14 percent of young adults (ages 18-35) say they attend church because someone in their worship community cares deeply about them.”
What are you doing to reach the next generation?
Take a look around your church or small group fellowship. How many of your regular attendees are from the “next generation” following you? 10%? 20%? 50% or more?
If you see a healthy crop of young believers growing and being discipled in your church, congratulations. You’re a rarity!
As research shows, the majority of young people in our culture are suffering from serious neglect. Notably, they don’t feel anyone in church “cares deeply” for them. (Barna, 2019)
Anxiety, depression, stress, and suicide are on the rise. Fatherless homes are the norm, as are dual-income parents who are mostly unavailable to their children. Grandparents now raise our infants. And this is America! Other nations suffer much worse.
Despite our amazing ability to be connected through a multitude of communication channels, this generation feels more isolated and alone than ever. It seems as the Bible prophesies, that the love of many has grown cold.
Worldly news aside, even the statistics within our churches today show an alarming lack of love for the younger generations who follow us. Take a look at this brief excerpt from a current Barna Research survey:
“Just 14 percent of young adults (ages 18-35) say they attend (church) because someone in their worship community cares deeply about them... In other words, maybe young Christians don’t see ‘community’ as a primary motivator to be at church because their community doesn’t exist there, to begin with. After all, half of 18–35-year-old Christians (50%) say people at church are judgmental, perhaps one reason some of them feel they ‘don’t connect well’ (35%) or ‘fit in’ (23%) with a church community.” - Barna Research report: “What Young Adults Say is Missing from Church.” (Visit TheConnectedGeneration.com to learn more.)
Friends, this should not be so! The defining characteristic of a Christian, according to Jesus, is love, not judgment!
If you have ever felt genuinely loved you know that love is like a magnet, drawing you close and inviting you to intimacy even when you’ve been deeply wounded.
I have experienced such love, and I’m sure you have, too.
As a young girl fresh out of college, I was blindsided by the news of my parents’ divorce. My foundations were shaken, I had no job, nowhere to go, and I was crying out to God, wondering if He was even real.
Our family had always attended church faithfully. Both of my parents were leaders in their church and community. I believed in Jesus from an early age. But if my parents couldn’t hold their marriage together, what good was God, I wondered? Was there any love in the world?
Here’s what changed my life.
A friend of mine invited me to a little Baptist church that was BIG on the love of God. Relationships were a high priority there. I remember standing in line for a simple potluck lunch after the service, watching a married couple ahead of me talk to each other.
I didn’t know this couple, but the way he spoke to her was so completely different than what I had seen in my parents. He respected her. I could see the love of God in his eyes, hear it in his voice!
At that moment, I realized that love was possible and God was real. The love of God literally enveloped me as I stood there in line, and I recommitted my life to loving Him - despite my pain. I remember the moment as if it were yesterday!
No one had prayed for me yet!
The love I saw in that couple drew me like a magnet, to stay.
I went back to that little church, hoping to experience love again.
In time, another couple with a heart for students began ministering to me. They invited me to their home, prayerfully listened to my heart, and gave me the courage to love again.
IT IS BECAUSE THE GENERATION BEFORE ME LIVED THE LOVE OF GOD AND SHARED THE LOVE OF GOD THAT I RETURNED TO THE LOVE OF GOD!
THE JOSHUA GENERATION
Dear friends, my heart is so full as I write this! Many leaders have stressed the importance of reaching the “Joshua Generation.” My message is not new. But it is urgent.
I want to issue a wake-up call to our generation. It’s time to ARISE AND GO! (See Joshua 1 and Isaiah 58.) Many of us have had amazing encounters with God, as Moses did. Many of us are leaders and influencers in our churches or communities. Yet many of us are also content with the communities we have built around ourselves. Even in our churches, we tend to socialize mostly with those who are “like us,” those who fit into our age bracket or share common interests with us. We aren't actually releasing the Joshua generation into their destiny!
Here’s the rub: God did not call us to comfort, but to character!
My own teenagers relate stories to me about their friends’ struggles. As recently as last week, we took one of those teens into our home for a night. His mother was away; his father had kicked him out of the house in anger.
We gave this teen a safe place to sleep; food to eat. Had his older sister not intervened, this young boy would not even have had a change of clothes to wear.
He is the second child we have taken in over the past year, and our home does not have a spare bedroom.
My kids feel the compassion of Jesus for their own generation. Do we?
Do you see the child sitting alone in your pews? Do you see the one who can’t put down his phone? Please, I pray, consider that he may be immersed in his phone because no one has immersed themselves in him! Don’t let a simple device keep you from trying to connect!
Start with what he’s looking at. What games does he play? What personalities does he follow? Why does he like them? What does he want to change about his world? What does he want to be when he grows up?
Fear and insecurity drive our youth inward, connecting them with only shadows of people who are not really friends. We have an opportunity to change that - if we first make some changes ourselves.
A PASSIONATE GENERATION
There's a young man in our church who has already been married, divorced, thrown in jail, and addicted. He's trying to clean up his life. On a whim, a friend and I asked him, “If money were no object, and you had all the time in the world, what would you most like to do?”
Friends, this boy sat back down and talked to us about pipe-laying for the next twenty minutes! (Yes, you heard me right - he lays pipe underground and absolutely LOVES his job!)
He described the intricacies of pipe systems I didn’t even know existed with the kind of passion I usually reserve for Jesus! He handcrafts his own “bits” to use in sections of piping, because he can. He loves it! As we talked, the Lord showed me: one day he is going to love mentoring others in his gift as well.
One simple question led to the breaking of a dam in this boy’s life. When we finally parted, he hugged and thanked us. What did we do? We listened.
ARISE AND GO!
Moses and his generation did not enter the Promised Land. Joshua’s did.
Moses lost an opportunity when he judged God’s people in the Wilderness of Zin, calling them “rebels.” Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it in anger to bring forth water, disobeying God’s command.
Let's not be a people who encounter God yet become proud or selfish, falling into the very same sin of judgment this generation is accusing us of today!
No matter how old you are, YOU can be part of the Joshua Generation. It's not your age, but your heart that determines your destiny!
God’s very first command to Joshua as a leader is to “Arise and Go!” Let’s be willing to fight on behalf of those coming after us. It’s going to take a lot of love. A lot of prayers. And the willingness to be a little uncomfortable when they do things differently than we did.
Your desire to respond by faith and invest your love in the next generation will determine whether you leave a legacy beyond yourself!
I’m all in.
Will you go with me?
RESPOND TO THIS WORD
1. Educate Yourself - Click below to watch a webcast on the "Connected Generation" and how to reach them. Click the links within this post to read more about Barna's research on Millenials, Generations Y and Z, and the Connected Generation.
2. Sow into Youth - During the months of November and December, His Inscriptions will give a portion of all donations received to several worthy ministries to youth. Click below to donate and your gift will impact teens, young adults in America and children in the Dominican Republic! (Visit our "Donate" page to learn more about these ministries.)
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.