I recently read a blog that really made my heart pump. In this piece, Sarah Hall passionately argues that by focusing on evangelising to youth the Church is betraying its commission to evangelise to all and is excluding the older generation from being valued within the family of God. She feels that by focusing on youth evangelism (it’s worth mentioning her definition is 35 and under) we “mimic society’s idealisation of youth” and abandon Jesus’ heart to see all saved, no matter what their age.
I was wildly conflicted by this blog. I think it was natural at first for me (as someone passionate about youth and children’s work) to react to her seemingly dismissive attitude towards the significant need of the wider church to engage and draw in the younger generation.
Recent research has shown us that this generation, sometimes called the “lost generation” seems to be becoming disengaged with Church at alarming rates, and if the Church as a whole is to continue, something needs to be done. Investing in the next generation isn’t a new idea. Scripture is full of reminders to God’s people to pass their faith from generation to generation, and to proactively invest in calling the next generation to God.
In her blog, Sarah maintained that focusing on evangelism to “youth” (once again, it’s worth noting this is under 35s) excludes others who also need to hear the gospel. But the Talking Jesus Research shows us how fruitful that age range is. This research suggests that of the current practicing adult Christian respondents, 92 per centof them became a Christian before the age of 35.
If we are looking at the patterns of evangelism and when people tend to be open to Christ, it appears that this “youth” age range is vital to continue reaching out and helping people meet and know God.
It also appears to be an important time in keeping those who have come to faith. The same research shows that, of people who left the Christian faith, 74 per centdid so during that same age range. Again, showing us that this age group is not only vital for bringing people into faith, but also in getting it right so that we can continue to support and encourage them on their journey.
However, I did find myself agreeing with her wider sentiment. Her main concern is that no one is left behind; no one is excluded because of their age; no one should be made to feel unwelcomed or unwanted by God. I am certainly on board with her heart. I totally agree with her. I wave the rallying flag for this as well. The Church is designed to be multigenerational and every age is vital to it. The older generations are as vital as the younger. It is the diversity and unity of the Church that makes us a full body of Christ and people of all ages and backgrounds need to meet and know God. Absolutely!
But Sarah’s concern is that “the moment we say that our church is seeking to evangelise one group of people over another is the moment that we say that some people are more important to us than others.” I don’t agree.
When a church decides to say: “The 0-35’s seem to be particularly lost and need us to go out and find them”, it doesn’t mean that a church decides that all other people are extraneous. To have a focus on youth does not mean that a church will necessarily exclude the older generation. To put effort into the 0-35s doesn’t mean a church deliberately says to the over 35’s: “You don’t matter. I choose to do nothing for you.” It does not have to be an either or scenario.
To illustrate, I recently have had some problems with my back and my doctor recommended a specific set of exercises for me to do to strengthen those particular muscles and have less pain. I didn’t then think: “Well there appears to be a specific need here, so I am going to stop all other personal workouts and healthy choices because there is one big focus now.” In order to maintain and grow a healthy body, I kept up with all the other healthy stuff I am supposed to do, and also made sure I was adding those focused exercises for my back to redress the lack of strength I was having.
We can have both.
We can be a church who values all ages and helps them all meet and know God. We can be that family of God that welcomes and reaches out to people of all ages. But the answer isn’t to hide from having any focuses. We are facing a disconnected younger generation who desperately need God, as do many others of all ages. As a Church, we can respond to a specific need among the 0-35s while continuing to get on with the works of the wider body of Christ: to make disciples of all nations with no age limit.