If you want to extend influence in the next generation, don’t go “old school.” Go waaaaay old school.
Look around. How many kids and young adults are in church? American averages are around 20% of the twenty-something population. Currently, while about 80% of teens are involved in church in some way, about 40% (research figures vary widely) will not return after adulthood, even when they have children of their own, and only 20% will return as regular, involved church-going Christians.
Youth are generally smarter and more knowledge savvy (this doesn’t mean wise or mature) than their parents and church leaders. Teens are reading more than ever, albeit it on digital screens. They are more culturally aware than most of their parents. Toddlers can use laptops while their grandparents can’t use a T.V. remote. Teens access vast arrays of information today that would not have been available even to the President of the USA in the 1980s, and they check up on the validity of parental or pastoral advice. Our youth are too smart to accept pat answers, and in fact, have trouble believing there are any right or wrong answers outside of mathematics (and some would argue the latter).
“Old school” church will not likely connect with many of our young Christ followers, and almost certainly not with their unchurched friends. Sing a few songs, sit and listen to a three or four point propositional statement of facts about the Bible, after reading a series of propositional statements about life in which every answer to every questions is either Jesus, the Bible or God, followed by a midweek experience of more of the same with a game of tag and some cookies thrown in, maybe a trip to an amusement park, and an assumption that mom and dad are going to teach them all they need to know. Old school. Okay – not the best of old school or any “school” in any era – but pretty common. It’s not working.
“Waaay old school” – Jesus stuff, I think might be better. Jesus told stories (“hey, have you heard the one about a lost pearl”) and referenced real life situations (“hey, check out that widow with a mite”). There isn’t a propositional sermon on file for the Master Communicator. He was “in your face” and fairly blunt about hard topics while for the most part sharing good news about God’s healing and forgiveness with invitations to follow.
The carpenter’s son invited people to live with him, walk with him, watch him, share his story with him and help people along side of him – pretty much right away (Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, etc.). Jesus saw needs and met them first (the blind, the leper, the hungry, the bleeding, the brokenhearted, etc.), allowing this to lead to conversation and then to the increasingly faithful obedience of a transformed life.
Start with good news, meet kid’s needs (and those of their parents, and young parents with kids). As often as possible, communicate with images, stories and metaphors. Focus on the truly hard, but only effective means of disciple-making – develop a few deep relationships that fully engage life which leads to a thirst for searching out the answers to questions this kind of approach naturally will raise. Then teach how others can develop these life-giving relationships. And be open to hearing some of the answers to leading and shaping the future of the church these really smart, Spirit-filled emerging leaders will come up with.
If we want to have influence beyond the generation of current church leaders among our children and youth, don’t go old school. Go waaay old school. Go Jesus style.