by Timothy Agee
From the May 2013 issue of Gospel Advocate magazine…reprinted by permission.
In the midst of a culture filled with smart phones, social media, streaming video and on demand TV shows, churches of Christ across the country are struggling with how to attract and retain young adults within their congregations. In this context, the church is sometimes viewed as a relic that has trouble relating to the younger generation.
In response to this issue, some churches have embraced a strategy that has watered down the message of the gospel and that relies heavily on entertainment and social interaction to appeal to young adults. They emphasize the “experience” without the religion. They try to make the church “cool” by changing it to look more like the world. But if we do not take the time to teach them the Bible, can this approach possibly lead to an authentic relationship with Christ and His Word? Will they find answers to the deepest questions about their faith and be prepared to face the world with all of its dangers? Will they ever be motivated to take ownership of their faith?
When facing this challenge, we must realize that the church, as established on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), is still relevant today without our intervention. When we attempt to make it more relevant for today’s young adults, we may actually make it less relevant by taking the focus off the most important things, thereby compounding the problem.
Young adults are smart enough to see through things that are superficial. If we try to use entertainment, they will move on to something else once they find a better alternative. If we try to make the church appear more like the culture, they will quickly see it as a cheap imitation. If we present them with only a shallow representation of the Word, they will look for something else to fill the void and will quickly be “devoured,” “scorched” or “choked” by the influence of the world:
And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them (Matthew 13:4-7 ESV, emphasis added).
Recent research supports the notion that young Christians are looking for more biblical substance within their churches. In You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, reports on a five-year study completed in 2011 that explored the reasons why young adults leave churches. In this study, the Barna Group found that 59 percent of young Christians disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15. Of those surveyed …
- 23 percent said, “The Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.”
- 20 percent said, “God seems missing from [my] experience of church.”
The study of God’s Word is so important for the development of mature Christians that the apostle Paul made it a strong point of emphasis in his final letter in the New Testament to the young preacher Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17, ESV).
Regardless of the method utilized in reaching out to young adults, the church must maintain an emphasis on building a lasting relationship with Christ through consistent Bible study and life application. Instead of dumbing down the message to the point where it is unrecognizable, we must treat young adults as intelligent individuals who are looking for biblical answers to their deepest questions. If the church fails to do this, someone out in the world will be more than willing to jump in and fill the gap with something other than biblical truth. The same Barna Group study shows that young Christians are desperate for answers:
- 36 percent said they “don’t feel that [they] can ask [their] most pressing life questions in church.”
- 24 percent said, “Faith is not relevant to [their] career or [their] interests.”
- 23 percent said they have “significant intellectual doubts about [their] faith.”
Young adults who are struggling with issues of doubt, questions regarding their faith, or questions of how the Bible applies to life outside the church are not finding a hospitable place for addressing these issues. They are actually afraid of the consequences of voicing their doubts and questions. We must respond by providing them with an environment where they are encouraged to share their struggles and doubts, receive biblical answers to questions regarding their faith, and consistently hear the fundamental teachings from Scripture.
In some cases, a church may not have ministry leaders or teachers who are equipped to provide the right type of instruction or answers to tough questions. With this in mind, the following resources can help with providing a structure for biblically based classes or personal study.
Fundamentals of the Christian Faith
- Baptism 101: What the Bible Says About Baptism by Tim Alsup (G55702, $8.99)
- Waves of Change: A Guidebook for Helping Young Christians Deal With Change in the Church by Kyle Butt and Stan Butt Jr. (P14008, $8.95)
- What Do I Do With A Mustard Seed? A Teen’s Guide to Christian Faith by Phillip Eichman (G55665, $8.99)
- Horizons – a quarterly textual study for teens from Gospel Advocate Publishers ($3.49 for student book; $4.99 for teacher’s manual)
Answering Tough Questions of Faith
- Hard Questions, Real Answers by William Lane Craig (C44875, $16.99)
- The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers) by Mark Mittelberg (T15911, $14.99)
- The Big Book of Bible Difficulties by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe (B71584, $29.99)
- Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan (B75758, $14.99)
Christian Evidences or Apologetics
- Reasons to Believe: A Survey of Christian Evidences by Chad Ramsey (G55610, $8.99)
- In God’s Image: A Study of the Nature of Man by Chad Ramsey (G55917, $8.99)
- God’s Words: Perfect, Reliable and True by Bret Carter (G55993, $8.99)
- I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek (C45612, $16.99)
- On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig (C64881, $16.99)
Links above are the to GospelAdvocate.com web store. Items not available on the store can be ordered from Gospel Advocate Bookstore by calling 1-800-251-8446 (product numbers are listed to the right of each resource above).