Saturday, September 22, 2012

Using Religious Ceremonies as Outreach Tools – Part Five

This week on the blog we have been discussing how churches can use religious experiences to reach out to young adults. In today’s post, we take a slightly difference perspective by discussing what happens when young people respond positively to the church’s efforts to engage them in spiritual experiences. Where many churches make the mistake is that once they get them involved in some initial way, they then just want young adults to sit and wait until they are older before they can become leaders. But that is just now that way today’s young adults think. Once members of the next generation come to a committed faith in Christ, they are no longer content to sit and watch others lead religious ceremonies. They want to be involved in leading themselves. We are entering a time in church life when young adults desire to be leaders in the church, not just attendees.

The elders and deacons at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT, fondly recall one Sunday when the church was only about five years old. At that time, the youth had just begun to lead worship once a month. They were still growing in their abilities and their music was much edgier than the congregation was used to, but the leadership team wanted them to be involved, so the youth were allowed to lead. On that particular Sunday, three rows of young adults were present in their customary section near the back. Halfway through the service, the youth praise team was singing a very upbeat song called, “I Am Free,” by Jon Egan, who is the leader of a group called Desperation Band.  The song was supposed to be what the church refers to as special music. That basically means the praise team was supposed to sing it on their own while the congregation listened. During the chorus of the song, suddenly those three rows of young people spontaneously rose to their feet and joined in singing the song with an enthusiasm they had never shown in church before. A wave of the Spirit flowed across the room, and the whole nature of the worship experience changed. For the first time, the youth band was actually leading worship and not just going through the motions. That particular group of young people has never been the same since. On that day, the congregation realized that God could use young adults in a powerful way even though it was different than the way worship was done previously.

Many churches may think they need to allow young people to take part in religious ceremonies only so that they can build “the church of tomorrow.” While church leaders mean well when they say things like this, what they are actually communicating to the next generation is that young people have no current value to the church. Young adults hear that message and decide that if they are not valued at church, they will go somewhere that does value them. Churches that do not value young people as the church of today should not be surprised when young people are not around tomorrow. If churches want to attract younger generations, they have to begin to value them the way God does. Young adults need a real connection to Christ. They are often looking for a deeper spirituality than their parents have. When we help them prepare for religious ceremonies, they can discover the faith in Christ they need. Once they discover faith, we must let them lead. When we let them lead, they will set an exciting example for others to follow and draw their postmodern peers into the church as well. Churches must begin to recognize that young people are gifted by God and can be used by Him in powerful ways. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy readily applies to young adults today: “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12 NIV). Churches that can help the next generation live out that admonition will have no problem reaching people with a postmodern worldview.

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

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