Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Three

Young adults have an incredible desire to “belong.” Many churches have been effective in tapping into that desire as part of their efforts to help young adults discover faith. This desire to belong does not necessarily mean that young adults want to join the church organizationally; it means they want to feel they are part of the group relationally. Henry Zonio, who is a staff member at Redwood Park Church in  Thunder Bay, Ontario, explains it this way: “We turn church into a club with membership requirements, which if not met means exclusion from the benefits of being part of the club.” Zonio goes on to say: “It is our job as citizens of the Kingdom to welcome people from all walks of life and at all points of their spiritual journeys into our communities. Doing that, though, takes risk. It takes willingness to struggle through the mess. It takes an unconditional love for people that goes beyond our preconceived ideas of what it means to be a part of a faith community.” Zonio is saying that we must find ways to help young adults feel like they belong to the group.

Though there are a many ways to create a sense of belonging, one way is to allow young adults to take part the various religious activities of the church. Obviously, they will not be able to take part in all the activities of the church, as some are reserved for genuine believers, but the more they can take part in, the better. The decisions churches make about what types of religious ceremonies to allow outsiders to participate in often say more about the churches’ commitment to evangelism than it does their theological positions. Finding that balance between theological integrity and intentional outreach can be a challenge, but it is a challenge worth engaging in.

Some churches may wonder if the next generation will just enjoy the benefits of religious ceremonies (such as using the church for a wedding) but never actually make a commitment to Christ or to the church. This is a valid concern. It is logical to conclude that some people will take advantage of the church. But the church has always had those in her midst who abused the care and compassion of the church for their own benefit. Why should we expect anything different from the next generation? Churches cannot allow the poor behavior of a few to keep them from attempting to reach an entire generation.

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

Read part one.

Read part two.

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