Many churches are struggling to reach the next generation. Churches are using a variety of programs to reach out to the various groups that make up the next generation. But such programs come and go. Perhaps instead of offering another program aimed at attracting the next generation, churches might consider something a little simpler. Here is a low cost easy to implement and surprisingly simple idea; learn to listen.
Young people have a lot of anxieties in their lives. Some of those anxieties come from pressure at school. Some come from family difficulties. Some come from financial pressures that the current economy has created. Some of these stresses are the result of poor choices young people made in the past. Some of them are the result of other people's poor choices that young people are being forced to deal with. Some of them are no one's fault, but simply the result of living in an unfair, unjust world. Even "successful" young people experience significant levels of anxiety because everyone expects the young person to keep succeeding in ever increasing ways. That's a lot of pressure for anyone to deal with, especially when a young person is trying to discover their place in the world.
Though young people will need lots of good advice from parents, teachers and godly church youth workers, young people are more apt to listen to such advice if those people first listen to them. If a church wants to reach out to the next generation, people in the church must master the art of listening. Letting young people share their stories of joy and sadness is important. Letting young people air their opinions and ideas on various subjects is also important. Being a caring person with a listening ear is often more important than having some pat answer for the difficulties of life.
Learning to listen can be hard because we will not always agree with what young people say. We will not always like what they say. But they desperately need us to listen. Listening to the next generation helps us understand them better. When it does come time for us to give them advice, the advice we offer will be better if we have listened first. It will keep us from jumping to wrong conclusions or answering questions they may not even be asking. Sometimes just one sentence, spoken at the right moment in the right way to the right person can change a life. But we won't know when that moment is if we spend all our time talking and not listening.
Churches seeking to reach the next generation may not need to spend a million dollars building a fancy new building with a Starbucks in the lobby or hire a staff of "professional" youth workers. They might just need to learn to listen to what the next generation says and when appropriate, offer the godly wisdom that can help steer young people toward holy living.