Thursday, November 11, 2010

Communicating With the Next Generation

I often talk to pastors who are concerned because of the lack of young people they have in their churches. Some of these pastors have invested significant amounts of energy and financial resources into reaching young people. They have been able to get them to come to various activities and events, but seldom can get them to come to worship services. Though there are a variety of reasons for why that may be the case, I think the main reason is that most Sunday morning services simply do not communicate to the next generation in ways they can understand. Worship services are often designed in ways that communicate well to middle-aged and senior adults, but just do not capture the attention of younger adults.
If churches want to see more young adults in their worship services, they must begin to communicate in a way that the next generation can understand. Music is one aspect of that communication process. Younger adults tend to prefer instruments with more bass and percussion in the mix. They also tend to prefer the music to be more up-tempo. Because they are looking for ways to build a relationship with God instead of just learning knowledge about God, they prefer songs that can be sung to God, not just about God. Though changing the music that a church uses can be a difficult process, if we want to reach the next generation, this issue must be addressed.

A second aspect of the worship service that needs to be addressed is the visual aspect. The next generation is a very visual generation. Their entire lives they have watched TV, played video games, surfed the Internet and have become used to lots of graphics. This means that churches must learn to utilize power point for sermon notes, video announcements, and other types of visuals if they hope to communicate to the next generation. Just as a learning new music can be a challenge, so is using technology. But the reality is that the use of video technology is essential if churches want to reach young people.

We do not have to like these new innovations ourselves, but we do have to accept that this is just the way the next generation communicates. If we fail to communicate to them using these mediums, we will be met first with blank stares from the next generation and then with empty seats. The souls of our children and grandchildren are at stake. It is time to let go of our own agendas and redesign our worship services so they communicate the timeless truth of the Gospel in ways the next generation can understand.


  1. I like this.

  2. John Ambra, Dallas, TXNovember 12, 2010 at 4:41 PM


    Thanks for your timely admonition. I'm not sure if you are launching a multi-part series on this topic but may I make one other observation? That has to do with the proclamation, sermon or message within the worship hour.

    I think preaching style also has a huge impact on engaging a younger generation. How we present ourselves in the pulpit, or even teach in the classroom, will go a long way toward either building bridges or erecting walls with our hearers. Communication isn't complete just because we stand up and deliver some words, no matter how faithful we are to a biblical text or how much "contemporary" music we front load in the worship service.

    While older generations may be more tolerant of bombastic, high-volume, fire-and-brimstone preaching, younger people want a more conversational style. They want truth, they want authenticity, they want humility and they want practical application. But they don't want to be yelled at. And they're not all that impressed by rants against homosexuality, alcohol, tobacco, abortion and other "sins of the unchurched" although they would appreciate thoughtful, reasoned and biblical guidance as to how to engage a culture in which these issues are prevalent and need a compassionate Christian response and interface.

    In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul wrote, "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

    If we were to follow this model that is unequivocally Christ-centered while "others-focused," wouldn't it demand that we do everything reasonably possible to engage the next generation in a language and methodology that resonates with and communicates to them? Even if it is not what we grew up with or what is comfortable for us? Why do we hold a particular format or genre in such high regard and require that other people adjust to it if, indeed, that very thing which we embrace so dearly is turning people away instead of drawing them to Christ and his church?

    Depending on your search engine, it was Karl Barth, John Stott or someone else who once said, "Study with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other." I saw a variation of this that said, "Study with the Bible in one hand and an iPod in the other." Either way, effective cross-generational preaching and teaching requires reading our Bibles but also reading our audience and our culture.

    Don't skimp on truth. Don't be any less passionate about Christ and the gospel. Don't lose your fervor. But could you possibly dial back the volume a few decibels?

    And remember...Jesus didn't wear a coat and tie. And he sat down to teach. And he lived a long time before 1611. It's okay. Really.

    And, for what it's worth, I have a hunch that a good number of those in the older generations would welcome some of the above changes, too, if they were to be completely honest.

  3. John,
    Thanks for your comments about preaching. That will indeed be a topic of a future post. I may even quote you!


  4. Wow, Terry, I have no problem with the music comments becasue I agree with them. The thought of powerpoint turns my stomach, but might be just where I need to be thinking. Hmmm.... I prefer conviction when it happens to the other guys!