In a recent issue of The Baptist Times, editor Mark Woods addressed the motivations that will bring young adults to church participation. Although I understand that church participation does not necessarily equal discipleship, bringing people into the faith community is certainly a first step in that direction.
Woods provides the following warnings as we present the case for Christianity to young adults:
- If we portray faith as all demand and no blessing, it is no wonder if the attractions of the present trump the call to conversion.
- If we cannot give young people a cause they believe is worth living for now, it is no wonder if they dismiss us as irrelevant to their lives today: we are.
In order to present a faith that is beneficial, relevant, and challenging, we will have to engage young adults (and all people in this postmodern context) in several ways.
First, there must be an experiential element. Worship must involve both the senses and the intellect; if we do the former we will gain permission to do the latter. Worship can involve music, testimony, scripture, media, drama, the spoken word, and visual arts to build an experiential bridge that worshippers may cross to come before God.
Second, the faith must be participative. This begins with worship but also means that those new to the church must be given opportunities both to serve and lead. New participants with leadership gifts may not be ready to teach but they can organize ministry projects and community-building activities. The challenge is to keep them from becoming spectators.
Third, we must be relational. People will put up with a lot if they are loved and accepted. Small group involvement continues to be the best way to do this. New attendees will flourish if they know someone cares about them and support them.
Fourth, we must be authentic in our involvement with those who are new to our church fellowship. This begins with the conviction that we care about them as persons made in the image of God rather than numbers to add to our roll. We must maintain this stance even if they are reluctant to embrace “church activities” or only come on rare occasions. We love them for who they are rather than what they can do for the church.
Fifth, most of all, we must keep in mind that we are inviting the unchurched and dechurched into a transformative experience. If they truly encounter the Living God, their lives will be changed. This may not happen overnight, but it will happen. This is our central message and hope.
Are churches up to this task? We will only find out if we try.