Many Christian leaders are alarmed by the statistics for how few young adults come to church. Though there are many reasons why the next generation is finding other things to do instead of church, one reason is the preaching. Some churches think they can attract younger adults by watering down the sermon. From my observations, watering down the gospel message actually produces the opposite result because young people believe there is no point in going to church if nothing the church believes has substance anyway. Other churches have attempted to force the gospel message on those who attend through manipulation or guilt based methods. This has not worked either because young adults do not simply accept what they are told; they want to discover it for themselves.
Young adults are drawn to passionate preaching that is relevant to daily life. They do not just want a passionate communicator; they also need that communicator to connect whatever is being said to real-life experiences.
Many churches have discovered several keys to relevant, passionate preaching. One of those keys is to base the sermon on a single passage of Scripture. Young adults expect something in a sermon other than the pastor’s opinion or some pop psychology thinly disguised as a sermon. Therefore, the entire lesson should be wrapped around a single Scripture passage. Though we sometimes think that using a large number of additional verses helps prove our point that often just confuses those who are trying to follow our train of thought. This is especially true if the young adults we are trying to reach do not have a strong church background. Young people without a strong church background do not know all the Bible stories or where the books of the Bible can be found. Jumping around from passage to passage is very confusing to them. Furthermore, if refer to biblical stories as illustrations, we are going to have to take the time to tell that story to the audience. We simply cannot assume they already know it. Since we can only hold the attention of our listeners for a certain amount of time, we have to choose carefully how many of those stories we might tell in one sermon. The same would be true about using various words that may convey signiﬁcant meaning to a churchgoing audience but that have no meaning whatsoever to a non-churched listener. If we want to use words such as grace, trinity, mercy, redemption, or born again, they will have to be deﬁned. Otherwise a younger audience may have no idea what we are talking about.
In addition to using Scripture eﬀectively, be prepared to discuss deep and complex issues with relevant application. If young adults have made the eﬀort to come church, they want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life’s perplexing problems. They want to know why evil exists and why there is suﬀering in the world. They want to know why God lets bad things happen to good people if God really is so powerful. Based on extensive research, Lifeway Christian Resources has discovered that “young adults are allowing these questions to change the way they shop, educate themselves, read, and even listen to music.” Lifeway concludes, “It’s a mystery to many young adults, both inside and outside of church life, why more Christians don’t take their responsibilities [about such issues] more seriously.” Eﬀective pastors, teachers, and Christian leaders spend time studying the deep issues and are prepared to incorporate them into their sermons because the next generation wrestles with these issues on a regular basis.
As the sermon draws to a close, it is important to challenge young listeners to consider how the truth of the Scriptures just taught can be applied to their daily lives. Though it is unlikely that they will make any spiritual commitment instantly, they should be challenged to think deeply for a period of time and then act on their reﬂective conclusion at some later point. This is in no way a suggestion that we should no longer give invitations or oﬀer people an opportunity to trust Christ; it is simply a realization that the next generation is going to need more time than may be allotted in a typical closing song of a church service. Inviting them to a prayer room to talk with someone further about the implications of the sermon or giving them an email address or phone number they can text with questions about the sermon may be more eﬀective. Young adults need to be challenged to reflectively contemplate biblical truth and make a commitment to that truth, but only after they have come to a well-considered conclusion. In my own ministry, I often tell students in advance of certain dates when we will be having a baptism or some other spiritual milestone and ask them to come see me before that date if they are ready to make some type of spiritual commitment. That allows them time to consider making a spiritual decision but does not force them to decide without having thought it through completely. When we get frustrated with how long it takes for young adults to move to a place of commitment, we must remind ourselves of that wonderful biblical truth that says no one comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him or her. Let us teach and preach the Word, ﬁlled with His Spirit, and patiently await the Father to draw the next generation to Himself.
Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.