How Our Generation Is Reaching Our Generation
According to a study in a book called Lost and Found, less than 30% of people between 18 and 29 go to weekly religious services across our nation. And of those 70% who are un-churched, 22% have always been un-churched, while 62% are de-churched (meaning that they went to church as children but now do not go).
This is our generation.
You’ve heard stats like these before. The conventional methods of the church are not working because our generation is a whole different animal than the one that came before us. Our generation can be characterized in many different ways, but I think there are three things that most define what makes us different from the generations that have come before us. We are obsessed with appearance, we desire to experience real things, and we are extremely skeptical. To combat these things I see three more things emerging from Church leaders across America: Professionalism, Reality, and Lives Devoted to the Gospel. These ideas are slowly starting to spread across American Churches, and they are working.
If I asked anyone in our generation or any student in any church whether or not our culture, our generation, is obsessed with appearance, everyone would undoubtedly say yes, would they not? We see it everywhere from celebrity culture, to movies, to shows like Cribs and America’s Next Top Model. Pick up any magazine at Borders and you will see fashion tips and beauty secrets. The church is timing in on this idea. We have new church buildings and pastors that are in shape. We all wear nice clothes to church.
Some of you are sitting there wondering why what we look like is so important to reaching our generation. Let me help you see. Imagine if I was standing next to you talking about this very subject, and I was wearing jeans that had one leg ripped off at the knee and a shirt that was torn and sleeveless and three-year-old faded flip-flops. Unless I was talking about how to look homeless, none of you would take anything I said seriously. Why is that? It’s because we don’t trust people unless they look like they know what they are talking about. This has to be big for us, but it can’t be too big. Appearance without authenticity is nothing but a church fashion show. That is why these next two points are probably more crucial than the first.
I believe that our generation seeks reality. The TV shows of the 80s and 90s were characterized by fictitious families with fictitious problems. Full House, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Seinfeld. You could jump in on any episode without seeing the ones that came before. That is what that generation wanted. We, however, want something different. We want shows like American Idol and Survivor. We want things that are real, and we want to see people live their lives out in front of us. Even the sitcoms today are based upon stories that feel real. You can’t just jump into an episode of 24, Lost, or even The Office. These shows are based upon a continuing story. Our generation doesn’t give value to things that don’t hold up practically.
Why do you think the hypocrisy of the church is such a big deal to our generation? The way they see it, if we believe something that even we can’t live out, it isn’t real at all. But some people out there are making it real. One of my favorite stories about evangelism comes from a book called Blue Like Jazz. The book is a biography of Donald Miller’s Christian life.
Donald goes to a school called Reed College, which is known as one of the most liberal schools in America. During the craziest weekend of school, the campus security blocks off the roads so that cops can’t come on campus and the whole school has a huge party with drugs, drinking, and sex. It was during this that Donald and the handful of other Christians on his campus set up a confessional booth in the middle of campus. Donald describes the situation as he was sitting in a chair in the booth when the first guy walked in and sat down. The guy asked if he was supposed to start telling Donald what he had done wrong. Donald shook his head “No, I’m going to confess to you.” So Donald asked forgiveness for the church’s sins, his own sins, and the sins of his friends.
He was completely real with the people that came in that night. While only a handful of people wanted to know more about Donald’s faith, you can bet that not a single person walked away that night with a negative view of Christianity, and for any of you that have tried to witness to a friend, that is a huge step in the right direction. Being real with people can change their entire perception of us.
Our generation has an eye on everything that the church does. Things like the Internet with sites like YouTube don’t allow anyone to get away with faking it. There are tons of videos on YouTube about the hypocrisy of those in power. I was so bored one day that I watched a lot of them. It made me realize how famous people and institutions in our world can’t really hide anything, so if they are not at or above par at all times, someone will find about it, it will inevitably end up on YouTube, and next thing you know, the whole world knows about it and they’re discussing it on the E! channel. We as Christians face this same scrutiny. Our ideas cannot just be ideas to us. We have to live lives devoted to the gospel.
One of my favorite books that I have ever read is called The Irresistible Revolution. I’ve had many discussions about it in the past because of how radical it is, but I think so highly of it because it is about a man who doesn't just take care of his community. He lives with his community. He sees the stories of the Bible lived out every day of his life. I experienced this same thing when I was on a mission trip with my school last spring to San Diego. David, the leader of the community we were with, was talking to me one day and I asked him how much it took to run the community that he led. Since all of the people in the community spent every day giving out food and working with the less fortunate, none of the people that lived there was bringing in an income. He told me that it took $15,000 a month to run the place. He said that they never, in over 10 years, had missed a payment! It all came in from somewhere. He certainly didn’t know where.
You see, when people live out their lives in pursuit of the gospel, something crazy happens—they start to see what they believe come to life! And I guarantee you that any twentysomething that sees it will be mesmerized. I’ve watched it happen. You know why? Because you can’t fake reality; you can’t hide it when God works. When Christians are real, people will notice. We don’t have to stand up and shout in people’s faces for them to notice us. It will happen without us trying.
Our generation is a hard group to reach, but we are reachable! When Christians are relevant, when they are real, when they live their lives devoted to the gospel, they won’t have to try to bring in the young un-churched. They will come running, looking for an opportunity to live lives that mean something, because that is what we all want: Churched or un-churched, we want to have lives of meaning.