Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Two

Jimmy Long, a campus minister with InterVarstiy for over twenty years, has extensive experience working with young adults, especially those from a postmodern perspective. In his book, Generating Hope: A Strategy for Reaching the Postmodern Generation, Long writes about the need for churches to help young people feel like they belong even before they become Christians. Long points out:

People today are more open than ever to hear God’s Story because of the emptiness and brokenness of postmodern life. The Gospel story intersects with this generation’s experience in a number of ways [including that] they feel unwanted and unneeded, [and] God’s story offers them a place of belonging, a place for involvement, and a place where their lives can be used in service of a purpose that is larger than themselves.
Churches that fail to help young people feel like they belong will eventually die. Referring to how important it is for churches to make young people feel like they belong, Ed Stetzer says that some churches are “dead for lack of friends.”  

Long and Stetzer join a growing number of voices calling for the church to throw open its doors and welcome nonbelievers to participate in various activities in the church. Churches will not always be able to say yes to postmodern people’s desire to take part in religious ceremonies, but the more often churches can allow it, the more positively postmodern people will respond.
Church leaders might legitimately ask how allowing the next generation to take part in certain religious ceremonies is connected to helping postmodernists feel like they belong and thereby discover genuine faith in Christ. Dr. Wayne Oppel, who holds a doctorate in strategic leadership and has over thirty years of experience in leadership development, conducts workshops around the nation to help Christian leaders learn how to reach the next generation. He teaches workshop attendees:

The new theological thrust will be a return to the tradition of faith, especially the faith of classical Christianity expressed by the fathers of the church, the ancient ecumenical creeds and the practices of worship and spirituality found in the great traditions of the faith community.
He goes on to elaborate that churches that want to reach the next generation will have to give “greater attention to the ritual as symbol, more attention to [religious] ceremony … and more frequent celebration of the Eucharist.”

People with a postmodern worldview are looking for experiences and for a sense of belonging. Religious ceremonies can provide both of those. As church leaders spend time with young people helping them prepare for these ceremonies, they also build relationships. Real relationships combined with the experience of partaking in the ancient ceremonies of the church create powerful connections in the minds and hearts of the next generation. During those times they are more open to the Gospel than ever. Church leaders must seize those opportunities and share the Gospel with the next generation and watch how God calls those young adults to Himself.

The above article is adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks.


  1. To be quite honest, with respect, this could not be more un true. Yes, we all are looking for community and belonging regardless of which generation you stem from. But to say that religous ceremonies are something that will encourage commitment to Christ, is a completely false stament. Of course there are a small number of people who would find this appealing. But the hard truth is that there is an even larger majority who find these rituals and ceremonies stiffling. Inviting others into our privite expressions of faith is not something that will reach the next generations, infact more and more studies show a disengagement from the structures that be. Stezer himself pushes missional living, not attractional. If there are people who truly believe revamping and revitalizing church services and events will some how attract, they are most definately disengaged from the masses of a post christendom society. Again, while a small percent may respond to some degree, the majority will not.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you make a valid point. But I also think that churches can use ceremonies as an effective outreach tool. I have used weddings and baptisms very effectively in Vermont. People are looking for certain things from the church. We can exclusion people because they are not members or we can use their interest as a bridge. I choose to build a bridge.