Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” (Psalm 102:18-20)
The person who wrote Psalm 102 had this prayer for the next generation of people to be born into Israel. He prays that this future generation will praise God and recognise this God looks down from heaven and hears our prayers.
For us in Canada there are 2 generations that are under-represented in Presbyterian church life, those born between 1981 and 1996 called “the Millennials” (also called “Generation Y”) and the generation after that, born between 1996 and 2010 called “Generation Z”. What can the church do to reach out to these generations?
In the most recent Renewal News (Volume No. 24, Issue No. 3, Summer 2019 ) from the Renewal Fellowship, the 2 daughters of Pastor Ian from Glenbrook Presbyterian Church give us 3 suggestions. Lauren and Jillian give these suggestions as to what we as the church can do to reach millennials. I will let them speak for themselves in the 3 ideas they propose.
1) Clear Biblical Teaching. This first point might seem obvious, yet this does not diminish its importance. The gospel of Jesus Christ is attested to in
the authoritative and inspired words of Scripture, and it is this gospel that the church proclaims to the world. Many millennials are longing for direction and purpose in the midst of confusion and uncertainty. Thus preaching that is sound, clear, and rooted in the Scriptural witness is essential. Taking this a step further, it is also important that the church clearly teaches individuals how to read, study, and meditate upon Scripture themselves. When completing our undergraduate studies, we both were members of Erindale Christian Fellowship — an InterVarsity campus ministry group. We attended a small-group Bible study and were introduced to the method of inductive manuscript study. We read the Scripture passages and were encouraged to highlight, make notes, circle strange words and jot down questions. Scripture came alive for us as we attended that group. It became exciting to read Scripture together, to discover what riches could be found, and to deepen relationships with each other (in fact, many of us who were part of the fellowship together still meet for a weekly Bible study). We see the potential for our peers to come, question, wrestle, discover and grow in relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit through study of His word that is guided by church leaders, using methods that are engaging and invite the participation of those who come.
2) Genuine and Meaningful Worship. “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.” (In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen).
Many churches are looking to engage the millennial generation with up-beat worship, multi-coloured lights, videos interspersed throughout the service and an eye-catching Instagram account. These tactics may work initially, but many millennials are looking for more than the “glitter of success,” as Nouwen puts it. The Church does not need to become more “glittery” to attract young people. Our generation already lives in a world that promotes the loud and “glittery.” The Church does not need to become “relevant” for young people. The allure of the gospel is its “irrelevance in the contemporary world,” as Nouwen puts it. The countercultural messages of Jesus are powerful and sufficient. It is difficult to make generalizations for a specific age group without ignoring individual preferences for worship and teaching styles; however, from our own experiences, and the experiences of our peers, Christian millennials will respond well to worship services that are genuine and are firmly rooted in Biblical truths. For example, a full worship band is not needed every Sunday to ensure that young people are entering the church doors. A simple musical arrangement between a pianist and vocalist can be an effective way to lead God’s people in song. In addition, meaningful and reflective song lyrics are valued by young people, and yes, these lyrics can be found in hymns!
3) Personal Connection: An Invitation to Community & Discipleship.
Technology has had a negative effect on the quality of face-to-face connections that young people experience with each other and other generations. Whether it is at a bus stop or in a restaurant, it seems that our screens are more interesting than the people in our physical surroundings. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly evident that over-indulging in screen time and browsing social media can also have negative impacts on mental health. What a wonderful opportunity for the Church to promote face-to-face interactions in our world! Not only can we invite others into our Church community on Sunday mornings, but small groups and community meals are excellent ways of inviting young adults into a community. Countless times throughout Scripture, we find Jesus enjoying fellowship with people, including his disciples, Pharisees, tax collectors, Mary, and Martha, during meals. Although we are not privy to all of the conversations Jesus had during mealtimes, no doubt there were times of teaching and speaking the truth to those he was with. During our university years, we would frequently meet up with our campus minister at Starbucks. Not long after graduating, we discovered that our campus minister actually budgeted for these Starbucks meetings with students throughout the year, as much of his ministry involved sitting with us, praying with us, and paying for our Starbucks orders. He was “Jesus” to us and so many of our friends during our exciting, confusing and stressful university days, and his way of ministering to us, just as Jesus demonstrates, was so meaningful, yet so simple. For a generation that is starving for personal connection, perhaps a simple invitation and a listening ear is all that is needed to plant the seed of faith. Although the church is going through challenging times, we both are looking to the future with hope. There are great opportunities for the church to invite the young adults in their communities to new life in Jesus, and also to be participants and leaders of the church. Perhaps the first step is to listen — listen to the needs of those young adults in the community, listen to their struggles and joys, listen as they share what it is that they are seeking, and continually pray that renewal will be brought about in His church.
Recently, the leadership team (Session) of St. Andrew’s Streetsville decided that this is our new mission statement for the next little while: We are a missional, multi-generational and multicultural community of people learning to follow Jesus. While Lauren and Jillian’s thoughts are helpful to us in terms of reaching out the millennials (Generation Y), we must also remember that there are other generations in a multi-generational church family (the war generation, baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Z). The challenge for us is how we can reach out relevantly to the many generations with our church resources.