The other day a pastor friend wrote and asked me to respond to his blog about reaching 20 to 30 somethings for Christ. Below was my response.
Reaching the twenty or thirty somethings can be somewhat of a daunting task, to be sure. I believe that the American church is facing a “crisis of relevance.” Here are some thoughts I have, and forgive me ahead of time for the lengthy response. I just started writing and many ideas flooded my mind.
I think that your premise is a correct one, namely that the job of the church is to disciple believers. I think the real issue pertains to what kind of church one wants to be. To me, there are four kinds of churches.
First, there is the traditional church. This is the method that the next three methods of doing church that I will address are responding to. In America, people used to simply come to church. There was no reason necessarily to market the church because people went to church on Sunday morning. However, during the 1950’s/60’s there was a move away from church attendance which in turn facilitated the church growth movement. While depending on the denomination, traditions vary given their differing traditions, some things, however, remain constant. Every denomination has a culture, whether it is Baptist, or Methodist, or Pentecostal, some of which may be sacred cows that need to be abandoned that are based merely on tradition.
Second, there is the attractional church. The primary way to get people to come to church is to attract them to the Sunday morning service. This method’s modus operandi is to have programs that attract people to the church (Seeker sensitive churches would be a prime example).This kind of church is highly programmed centered. I am not sure that the attractional method has to be totally abandoned, given that there is something to the fact of making the church attractive to a contemporary audience. One of the pitfalls of this type of church is that the church staff has to put most of their time and energy into administrative duties rather engage in activities that result in missional ministry taking place. While in the contemporary American church administration is important, there should be time allocated by staff to disciple believers. As a result, discipleship is de facto, in my opinion, not taking place. There is just not enough time in the day to disciple people to be missional Christians.
Third, there is the emergent church, which in my opinion if modeled after Brian McCluaren, is a disaster. He repackages old fashioned liberalism with a postmodern outlook. According to McClaren, America is a postmodern nation and the church needs to adjust their ministry methods. I believe he is incorrect in his assessment. William Lane Craig is closer to the truth regarding postmodernism when he says, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” Postmodernism is unlivable and no one really adheres to it in total. In theory, postmodernism is relativistic and has a disdain for such things as propositional truth (hence the call for narrative preaching). In reality, postmodernism is relativistic in only two areas – religion and ethics. People think either/or in many other areas. In reality, what McClaren is advocating is the abandonment of truth, which is a position that is foreign to biblical Christianity.
The people group that this type seeks to minister to is the 20/30 crowd. I know the church that I attend is composed of largely of this demographic, while at the same time using a method that is antithetical to the emergent methodology. We have found that one does not need to succumb to the emergent ideas to be successful in reaching this group.
Last, there is the missional church, which I think most reflects New Testament Christianity. According to Tim Keller, “A missional church is a church that understands what it is like not to believe.” Its primary focus is not to attract people to the church through programs, but to reach out of the four walls and go get people (I believe some attactional methods are needed though). The ministry philosophy says that ministry, especially evangelism, should take place outside of the four walls, which in principal is antithetical to the attractional model. The missional model seeks to grow the church by building relationships with non-believers. Everyone is considered a missionary. Thus, the Acts concept of missions, namely carrying out the call to missions locally, nationally, cross-culturally, and internationally, is emphasized. Hence missions is much more than what the church does overseas. Everyone is a missionary which results in the idea that everything the church does is missions.
I will finish by adding what I believe to be some hindrances as well as suggestions that may help reach this age group.
(1) For the most part, we don’ know what questions this group are asking which results in irrelevancy. I think we should concern ourselves with the concerns of this age group by giving them biblical answers to their questions. A great way to find out what this age group thinks is to do short informal surveys at coffee shops or where this group hangs out.
(2) Examine church culture. Some of what we call Christian is not biblically based and actually repels this age group from church.
(3) Distance ourselves from political activism. This group has heard their whole lives that America is a racist nation. When they hear Christians say we want to go back to the way it was, there is an idea being reinforced that this is the type of culture that Christianity produces.(The book entitled In Search of Christian America by Noll, Hatch, and Marsden is a must read for every Christian). http://www.amazon.com/Search-Christian-America-Mark-Noll/dp/0939443155
(4) We don’t engage with the culture intelligently. I have many students that I teach at the university who reject Christ because of this. This is an unfortunate product of the fundamentalist movement and the Second Great Awakening (though both movements were needed, they both brought with their movement problems that we still deal with today).
(6) Rid ourselves of an us/them mentality. The enemy is Satan not flesh and blood.
(7) Unfortunately, Christians develop their own subculture. Most seminaries reinforce this subculture. As a result, a Christian ghetto is developed.
(8) A need for grace-based discipleship.
Your brother in Christ,