“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;” 1 Peter 3:15, ESV
A lot of times when I visit a church (or sometimes at my own church), I get this eager look from old people, as if they want to cheer, “Yes, finally someone under the age of forty is showing up! All is not lost!” And just like that, those eager eyes send me running in the opposite direction (okay, not like that.)
But seriously, a large percentage of young people leave the church in their twenties, and since I am still in my twenties and have gone to church consistently throughout the last ten years of my life, let me give some advice to the AARP crowd about how to talk to Gen-Y about church.
First, listen to where they are in their lives. Young people get a lot of messages from the culture about what the church is, and have a lot of things vying for their time. Let them give voice to some of them before you offer yours.And know that, of all the options that they have, you have one that speaks of true life and salvation, so…
Go to them in hope and optimism. As I alluded to before, if you come off as eager, you’ll just look desperate. If you say “What are you looking for in a church?”, it puts the onus on them. They may not even be looking for a church or want anything to do with a church, and will look at you as if you are coming to them to fulfill a need. Instead, talk to what knowing God in this place has meant to your life, and how the ancillary support system has helped you.
Speak in humility and have a message about how God has called you. They will expect you to preach at them, so make sure to make it personal when you talk about your relationship with God and His church on earth. Remember, they can listen to any message that they want to hear. You need to give them a reason to listen to yours.
And make sure you have a message that has theological content, albeit basic. Most young people won’t go to church just for the sake of going, so talk about your specific beliefs and about how Christ comes to you in His word and sacrament.
Do all of this in confidence, because it’s God’s work. Our socially liberal culture may seem appealing and act as if the church will eventually die out, but the peace that passes all understanding only comes through Christ. Churches may rise and fall, but God sustains them all.
Our culture preaches a message that accepts the breakdown of the family in all areas: divorce, premarital sex, living together without marriage (for many, many years even), and homosexual relationships. Many young people simply accept that a lifelong marriage is an unrealistic goal. This contemporary world is very similar to the one Jesus sent His apostles into to preach the good news and offer an alternative to the pagan lifestyle of the day. That is what you and the church have to offer Gen Y, thanks be to God.
The Lord’s House, not ours