Reaching a Younger Generation with the Gospel
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Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1 Cor. 9:19-22).
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Paul taught one gospel, but he knew that how he presented that gospel depended on the cultural backgrounds and experiences of his audiences. His principle of adapting his presentation to fit the audience is helpful in our challenge to get the gospel to millennials today.
In 2018, John Boitnott. a journalist and digital consultant who specializes in helping companies be successful in our modern age, published an article in Inc magazine entitled "Don't Understand Millennials? These 6 Insights Will Help You Work with Them." His purpose, of course, was to help employers work more effectively with millennial employees. But the principles he laid out can be adapted for use by churches that are serious about reaching young people with the gospel.
Here are Boitnott's six principles, with my suggestions for how they can apply to churches:
Principle #1 - Millennials grew up in the technological age. They have never known life without cell phones, computers, and the internet. If a church wants to reach millennials, technology must be part of the package. Churches that resist using technology in their messaging are setting themselves up for failure in reaching young people.
Principle #2 - They probably know more about the world. They are exposed to the rest of the world in a way that older people cannot appreciate, especially the widespread injustice and oppression that plagues our species. That aligns perfectly with the gospel's message of reconciliation and doing good to others. Young people need to see what the gospel has to offer to a world broken by sin.
Principle #3 - They are highly influenced by the media. They are accustomed to being bombarded by a torrent of fragmentary information from multiple sources, so their attention spans are shorter. There is a place for deep, extended studies of the Scriptures, but there is also a place for a steady stream of "sound bite" truth nuggets that appeal to the young. Churches must figure out a way to provide those nuggets of wisdom.
Principle #4 - They may have less respect for traditional authority. Yes, that can be a problem. But it can also be an advantage, especially for churches that are based on the principle of autonomy and independent thinking. The idea of serving God without the domineering hand of a bureaucratic authority structure ought to resonate with young people--if we can convey that idea in a way that they understand.
Principle #5 - Their life goals may not align with yours, and that's okay. Jesus taught His disciples that their life goals were different from the rest of the world's, too. That's the very definition of authentic Christianity, and churches that are smart will emphasize that aspect of their faith. A church that is not ashamed to challenge the self-centered, consumeristic spirit of modern American culture is more likely to get a hearing from young people.
Principle #6 - At the end of the day, they still have the same core desires. They are human beings with the same fears, dreams, weaknesses, and struggles as the rest of us. They are not exempt from the demands and promises of the gospel. Our challenge is to help them recognize the relevance of the gospel to their daily lives, and package it in a way that enables them to see it.
God loves millennials, too, and so must we. A church that desires to reach millennials with the gospel must first take them seriously, and not write them off as hopelessly unspiritual.