Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How Churches Can Relate to Postmodern Young Adults

Most churches are struggling to reach young adults because life as a young adult in America today really is different than it was twenty years ago. Some of the church's struggle comes from a lack of understanding of the postmodern worldview which most young adults in America have now adopted.

Researcher George Barna describes the postmodern viewpoint as one in which each person makes decisions about how to live based on feelings and experience. He goes on to explain that in this world view no one has the right to say any of those decisions are wrong. Instead, if a choice is deemed right by someone, it is therefore right for that person and others must be tolerant of that choice. Because postmodern young adults see life as a series of subjective experiences, the things that matter most to them are having experiences and building relationships with others. Many postmodern young adults consider themselves to be quite spiritual and may even believe in the existence of a personal God, but they do not feel they have the right to compel anyone else to believe in God.

Because so many young adults now share this worldview, when church leaders attempt to share Christian concepts with these young adults, it may require different methods than in the past. One effective method is to use stories from our own lives, especially about our failures and weaknesses. Postmodern young adults grew up in a culture of brokenness. There is a good chance their parents are divorced. A large number of them have at least one parent who is suffering from some type of addiction. One out of three of the young ladies and one out of seven of the young men have been sexually abused. Life has been very hard on them even though they are still young. They are not interested in hearing how "perfect" we are or how "perfect" we think our faith makes us. They are not interested in hearing about a fairy tale world where people just say a prayer and all their problems go away. They know that world does not exist. Instead they need to hear about our own spiritual journey with all its bumps, setbacks, troubles and hardships. They need to hear about the times we doubted and were afraid. They also need to hear that somehow we received enough strength from our faith to keep going despite our troubles. They need to know that there is hope to be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

When we discuss spiritual issues with young adults, we should be prepared for them to bring up complex issues. Their questions will not be simple or easy. If a young adult has made the effort to show up at church or seek counsel from a pastor or youth minister, they are not interested in a light devotional or a pre-packaged answer. They want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life's perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists and why there is suffering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad stuff happen to good people if God really is so powerful.

The day of eating pizza and having a 15 minute "feel good" devotional for youth group is over. Today, churches that want to minister to young adults had better plan for lengthy discussions that will not have simple conclusions or easy answers. That doesn't mean they still don't like to eat pizza, it just means that free pizza will no longer satisfy the deep longing young adults have for answers to the complex world they have been thrust into. Churches willing to invest the necessary time, energy and love into the lives of young adults and journey with them through the difficult questions and experiences, will find those young adults quite interested in what the churches have to say.


  1. Pizza and warm fuzzy feelings have never worked -- or else, with all the youth groups out there, we would have never gotten to the whole "postmodern" phase to begin with!

  2. Amen, Terry. Great article. Truth is, most divorced, addicted, broken, baby boomers have the same "postmodern" worldview as young adults. We really missed it years ago when we started asking adults in Sunday School, "What is your opinion?"; "How do you feel about this?". I have no problem with the questions, BUT I have a great problem with the LACK OF BIBLICAL RESPONSE AS THE FOUNDATION OF BELIEF. Decades ago we put all thoughts, opinions, and facts on the same plane and began to subscribe to the postmodern worldview IN THE CHURCH.

    So we find ourselves trying to return to the Bible. Praise God He is faithful. Every age group needs this approach.

    Great job!

  3. I forwarded this blogpost on to my pastor. Great stuff. I really want our church leaders to think about this issue a LOT. Thanks for saying it so well and so succinctly. Our church is great, but a lot of the leaders are of a generation that just does not ‘get it.’

    For example: My next-door neighbors are about 30 years old: double-income, no kids, 2 yappy dogs are their babies; wide-screen TV to watch football, every electronic toy imaginable. No social skills, no concern for anyone else AT ALL. Proud, independent, self-reliant, scornful of others, scornful of tradition, rude, selfish, clueless. –and- miserable, paranoid, and addicted to anti-depressants. Their empty, meaningless lives give them no satisfaction at all, but they are vehemently opposed to hearing any truth or receiving any kindness from us, whom they do not trust-- because they found that we “are religious”. If they are examples of the future, America is in for trouble.

  4. Steve Carter, North CarolinaFebruary 25, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    I enjoy your articles. Thanks for all you do.

  5. Joan Palmer O'Connor, Spartanburg, SCFebruary 25, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    This blog is excellent and succinct.

    Sometimes I think that youth and young adults also need a quick course in anatomy!!!!!!!!!

    Their endorphins have been maxed out by tv and computer images.
    They keep wanting to be tintillated.
    Do they understand that their physical bodies CAN come under Someone else’s control and be trained to
    be altruistic? The greatest example of this is the One who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom.

    Yes,… may they be very impressed by visualizing our experiences, our highs and lows, and God’s provision, shepherding, deliverance in them all. May they want to be like Paul and Peter and John and missionaries and other heroes of the faith.
    May they accept their Savior who sees them as unique and has gifted them for service to Him. May they love Him back.

    May the unction of the Holy Spirit then be their moral compass helping them choose nothing less than God’s best for them.

    May they throw out what is not His best.
    May their vision be transformed by the renewing of their minds so they can PROVE what is the will of God.
    May they be not shortsighted, but farsighted.

    Appreciate all you do for fellow pastors in Vt and for the congregations God is raising up.
    To God be all the glory.

  6. I am not a young adult, as painful as that is to admit. But it seems that the approaches you suggest would work with my generation too.

  7. Great post Terry. I am in this age group that you speak of. "They are not interested in hearing how "perfect" we are or how "perfect" we think our faith makes us." Excellent point. I feel we do this far too often. In reality, it is "Christ in us the hope of Glory" and all we can really do, is to reflect our Saviors love the best we can. A great way to do that is by sharing our stories. We are all lost and "filthy rags" so we should be able to relate to everyone in that regard. Great points.

  8. I read this a couple of days ago, but had to come back and read it again. It makes me think about so many things.

  9. I appreciated your latest blog and I know it's right on. We sure do have have our work cut out for us. As you said in your blog, "it takes a lot of time, energy and love", but it's a necessary investment. and we will pay a price if we don't make it.

  10. Thanks for this piece. As I read, I pondered: it's as if God is moving the church away from all forms of triumphalism - "say a prayer, and it's all beautiful." The reality of faith in Christ is far different than that too often portrayed in the pulpits of the land via TV and megachurch multi-media productions. Though millions continue to "believe" in a triumphalist version, and continue to hope it's true (such "true believers" keep TV gospel-hucksters in biz), the edifice of "success, fame, fortune and skinny bodies with beautiful hair" is fading rapidly. God is "wounding" the church, because, as Henri Nouwen so wisely notes: it's the wounded healer who is able to bring gospel to the world.

  11. Pastor Dorsett, thank you for inviting me to read this blog. I plan to pass this on to others. God Bless.

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