The Church is always looking for the best way to reach people—especially the younger generations.
Over decades, we’ve tried everything to reach Gen X’ers, then Millennials, and the treadmill won’t stop. And, reaching the next generation is obviously a valid concern.
However, even good pursuits, however, can get off course. Sometimes, out of desperation, we turn to pragmatism to see young people come to Christ, or at least come to church.
As a millennial writing to people of all generations, I want to be clear that reaching young people isn’t that complicated.
We need the gospel, not “highs” or moralism.
The problem: people see many of my generation grow up without any Christian influence, and many more millennials leave Christianity behind as we reach adulthood.
Naturally, people ask why. In my humble experience and opinion, I see that the Christianity marketed to my generation often falls into the category of either moralism or emotionalism. Neither of these will ever bring people to true Christianity: only the Gospel will.
We Don’t Need to Get “Church-High” Anymore (or ever)
By the time millennials came onto the scene, we were neck deep in a church growth movement that focused heavily on a Sunday morning experience and emotion.
The main ministry of the church shifted toward weekly revivalist-type experiences that were more engaging than a traditional worship service.
The, “This is the “not your grandparents type of church,” method of evangelism.
There was/is a high priority placed on the production value of the band, the lights and sound, and the charisma of the speaker. In and of itself, valuing these ideas isn’t a bad thing.
The problem happens when production value swallows up the reason that the Church exists.
By overvaluing our guitar solos, we may undervalue God’s word. By overvaluing our preacher’s jokes per minute, we lose sight of how deep in the Bible we are searching. By overvaluing how services make us feel, we are undervaluing how well they actually equip us for the Christian life (Ephesians 5).
The line between engaging worship service and inspirational concert can be thin.
Many well-meaning parents search for these ministries to bring their kids to, thinking that if Sunday is a little more eye-popping then their kids are more likely to enjoy going to church.
This isn’t illogical, and it works. The issue is if going to church is merely an event people go to and enjoy, then they may love Church, but they don’t necessarily love Christ.
The gap between those two loves is eternally significant.
On top of this, you can get sucked into the spiritual-emotionalism of church camps and retreats. Both of these things are good, but they can become experiences that we use to maintain enough spiritual vibe until the next high comes around.
We can become people who subsist off of engaging worship experiences, always needing a new high when we feel less emotionally engaged with God.
Being devoted to this cycle can turn us into spiritual thrill-seekers whose passion for God is ironically self-centered—based on how strong our recent spiritual experiences have been.
On the flip side, we should want to become disciples whose desire for God grows based on a love for who He is and what He has done.
As people get older, the spiritual highs aren’t strong enough anymore.
When you become an adult or go off to college, you realize that there are plenty of engaging things to do with your time. Since Jesus was something that was added to the person’s life as a consumer good, He can be easily exchanged out for things that seem to be more exciting. This is a huge reason we see millennials and young people leave the church as they age; they were never there for Jesus from the start.
This isn’t to say that God can’t or doesn’t use churches that lean towards this method of ministry. But we should be cautious that the main thing remains the main thing, and that we are winning our kids to Christ, not to church activity.
Bad Moralism Corrupts Good Gospel
Alternatively, Christianity can become rote behavior. In an effort to avoid emotionalism, we may trap people in moralism. This will fail to create disciples of Christ just the same.
Christianity becomes a guide to living better. The Bible becomes a book of stories that teach us how to be brave like Daniel, obedient like Abraham, or great like David. It becomes a law code we must adhere to, rather than the eternal story of God’s gracious redemption.
Following this pattern, Christianity becomes living up to standards and behaving perfectly.
For a while, this may seem to work. We may have plenty of spiritual gusto to pursue a relationship with God based on observing all the rules. At some point, we will break down in one of two ways.
We may collapse into the exhaustion and shame of not living up to that standard; On the other hand, we may grow to resent God and His word, thinking that Christianity is all law and no grace.
What We Need Instead
What the next generation really needs is the unadulterated God of the Bible. If we believe that Christ builds His church, that God calls the chosen, lost sheep back to the shepherd, and that the Good News is truly beautiful, then we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Ministry becomes telling people about the good news of Jesus, not about trying to conjure emotional response or restrict everyone’s behavior. The cure for emotionalism and moralism is Gospel.
The Gospel is better news than a rush of emotion, an exciting event, a law to observe, or a burden to bear. Jesus is the King of all kings. The God who created everyone and everything came down to Earth in the humility of a man, lived a perfect life, and suffered for the sins of those who rejected Him. He died and rose again three days later.
He ascended to Heaven and invites us to lay down our lives, pick up our cross, and follow Him into eternal life. Put that on display. Show that to your kids.
Demonstrate how the reality of this Gospel message radically changes our whole lives.
That is beautiful enough all on its own.
The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifestation Against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson
Desiring God by John Piper