I started attending church in the second grade. I spent most of my childhood and teen years in youth ministry. I went to a few different churches during that time and saw different variations in youth ministry. As I got older, I also began volunteering on the junior high and high school worship teams, so I got a behind the scenes look at how things worked. On top of that, my father served in youth ministry and I would tag along. I was lucky in that I got to see the way he thought about doing youth ministry. I got to sit in on a lot of conversations between him and other youth ministry workers, and so even at a young age I had a good grasp on the varying issues that youth ministry leaders had to deal with and the different philosophies that people had when it came to reaching young people with the Gospel.
Everyone had different ideas about what would be the best way to reach young people. I started out at a large church that sought to make first-timers and non-believers feel welcome. I loved growing up in this church; it was always a fun, welcoming place, with a great sense of community. I loved getting to spend all weekend there each week. Over time my family began going to a smaller church that met at my high school, and my father ended up working in youth ministry there. This youth ministry sought to go deeper on specific issues.
During my junior high and high school years in the larger church, there was a fear that young people were easily “turned off”. Every effort was made to make church dynamic. There was a constant change between games and worship, and the messages were kept short. The Christian messages always included scripture and Christian teaching, but were typically brief and surface-level. Many messages seemed to be geared towards why being a Christian would help people in their life. “Christianity has a lot of benefits and that’s why you should be a Christian” seemed to be a popular teaching topic.
Can I just take a moment and suggest that this new generation is ripe to hear the word of God?
Young people are ready to talk about the important, complex, and deep issues. This generation wants to talk about uncomfortable topics. As the church, we do not need to shy away from going deep about issues of our faith and what they mean. Young people are engaged, they’re thirsty for more information.Young people are ready to talk about the important, complex, and deep issues. This generation wants to talk about uncomfortable topics. - Jimmy Wallace Click To Tweet
If we cater our church messages to be general, non-controversial topics, with little respect for why Christianity is even true, we are going to risk missing this current generation. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the way we approach things. I want to keep in mind the current, growing audience. This generation is full of passionate, truth-seeking people, ready to go deep into the weeds and understand the complexities of the issues they are faced with. At least in these respects, this generation is much like the first-generation Christian believers in the New Testament. When Paul went to preach to the Roman believers, he knew they had strong opinions about life, religion, morality, and everything else. But many of these people were drawn by the power of God’s word. They, who had been seeking meaning, goodness, and truth elsewhere, were suddenly passionate Christians ready to spread what they believed, even in the face of terrible persecution.
We don’t need to approach our youth with “kid gloves.” Today’s young people are more capable than much of the church gives them credit for. Young people want to deal with real issues that have consequences, they want to be challenged and want to accomplish great things in their lives. If we as the church cannot provide them with that challenge, cannot speak to them meaningfully on controversial issues, cannot teach them about the world around them, cannot give them real meaning and purpose, then they will seek that challenge elsewhere. Are we prepared to allow them to find only the answers this world has to offer?
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
Jimmy Wallace is a Police Officer, a Field Training Officer in Los Angeles County, a Christian Case Maker, and host of the Incarnate Investigation Podcast (featured at ColdCaseChristianity.com).