Dan Blythe issues a challenge to those churches that are really concerned about reaching young people
The Barna group carried out an enormous survey (the largest in its history) when it listened to 25,000 teenagers across 26 different countries, all aged between 13 to 17. They called it the ‘Open Generation’, because one thing that they noticed from this generation, Generation Z*, is that they are very open to listen and to learn from different cultures and contexts
The challenge I always ask myself and church leaders is, if they’re the open generation, are we the closed church? And when I say closed, I don’t mean closed in theology, because I think your theology is your theology. I’m not saying you need to be open in that way. But just in terms of our approach: are we open in our conversation?
I always encourage church leaders to think more about circles than rows, and to think more about listening to young people, rather than just speaking to them.
If you think about our Sunday services, this is just an element of church: it’s not the whole thing. But in a Sunday service, you come in, you sit in a row, and you listen to someone preach, which is brilliant. But for young person, they’ve got ten questions on the point that you preached. And so allowing them to have circles for conversation and questions, is a really important part of actually helping them have a sense of belonging.
When you listen to a young person, they feel valued and so I think we need to keep creating those spaces to hear from young people and move forward together?
This is of course how they experience secular education where classes have opportunity for questions so there’s an expectation that this is how learning happens. When they come to church it’s a bit foreign to them.
I know that many churches have small groups and discipleship groups. In some places these are an optional extra, but now they’re actually becoming the backbone of youth ministry.
COVID caused a lot of youth ministries to realise that it has to be more than an event, it has to be close personal, like Jesus walking with his disciples. And I think the churches which are really seeing, young people move forward and grow spiritually, and even sometimes numerically, are the ones which are really putting a lot of effort into that personal trust building relationship circle. Maybe you need to make that happen in your family and your church?
*Generation Z are those born between 1996 and 2010, ie aged between 13 and 27.