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How Do We Reach Our Youth

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

A millennials perspective on how to reach our youth.

A little over a month ago now, I was asked by Nick (Instagram - @Knick_Knack_Music) to share my thoughts on how to reach the youth. When he first asked me to share my thoughts on this topic, I initially wanted to record a reel sharing my general thoughts; however I just couldn't. I couldn't reduce all of my thoughts and convey my heart behind those thoughts in under 10 minutes. This is such a layered topic full of nuances and responses to such questions are usually based on perspective and experiences. With that, here are the 3 topics I will focus this blog on as I add my voice to the conversation:

1. My experiences as a youth. 2. My experiences working with youth as a respite parent, alongside a spouse in full time leadership. 3. My experiences working with the youth ministry. My earliest memories of church were sitting in the balcony eating raisins and playing with my cousin trying to pass the time away. However, I do remember a particular Sunday when the Pastor preached a sermon on hell, I remember it so well because it scared the "hell" out of me. I was approximately seven years old and the way in which he described hell was enough to send anyone running to the altar and that Sunday, I did just that. As the years passed, I remember responding with much assurance when asked if I was Christian. I mean, after all, I did go down to the altar, I said the prayer, and repeated all the stuff the Pastor said so I wouldn't go to the bad place. However, I had no idea of what it meant to actually be a Christian - to follow Christ. I had no idea of what God required of me or what was done for me. I only knew that if I didn't become a Christian, if I died; I would go to hell. However, I had never heard the Gospel.

The Gospel, that is, Jesus (Yeshua or Y'shua) was born of a virgin, lived a life that we couldn't live and although being pure and blameless he died on the cross for our sins - that Gospel, the true Gospel was never explained to me. As time went on my mom attended different churches and the Gospel was always presented as sin keeps you from prospering, but it left me wondering, what is sin? Where does it come from? And how do we get rid of it? These questions were always nagging at me. I spent my teenage years and early adult life in this seemingly never ending cycle of highs and lows but couldn't seem to understand why I never experienced true change. I was left wondering why I was always struggling and condemning myself because of it? From my experience and that of those I've encountered over the years, when trying to reach the youth, it is important to tell them the whole truth.

When I was younger, my biggest pet peeve was adults who never told me the whole truth of an issue. Their failure to do so left me to do whatever I needed to do to find the answers on my own. From experience, when the youth have to find information on their own, especially as it pertains to Christianity, they find so many other distractions that keep them from the truth of who Christ says that he is according to scripture. This is why as a conveyor of truth we must stay in prayer and allow the holy spirit to lead the conversation and give the insight. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to make friends with the younger generation we forgo the truth because we think it's to harsh, we think we have to butter them up first, nawl sometimes we just have to tell it like it is.

When the spirit leads then your words will not fall on deaf ears. If the spirit is telling you to share your faith then that same spirit is already doing or have done the work in the listeners heart in order for them to receive the message. After all, if friendship is the aim, what kind of friend would I be if I see someone walking in a burning building and I keep pouring water on them so they won't feel the heat as they get closer to fire? If that makes since. We have to tell the truth. In my youth, I visited a number of churches, played games, made friends, sang songs and if you let me tell it back then I was raised in the church (lol), but didn't learn a lick of Gospel. Those things are cool, but the presentation of truth as well as critical discussions that gives space for verbalizing doubt, asking for clarity, and space for honesty should be available too. During my husband and I time as a respite parent we seen how not allowing space for this honest conversations can lead to performance based religion.

My husband I became full-time Respite Parents for a Christian organization in March 2018. At the time my husband was in full-time ministry at a church where we, at the age of 29 and 30, were considered the "youth". Before our arrival the youngest couple there was 45. We didn't have much of a youth group, but some of the members would bring their grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and the couple in their 40's had a teenage son and a tween daughter and they would bring their cousins quite frequently. Being that we were the " youth" the unspoken expectation for us, was to develop a youth group and bring in young families. This is one of the major reasons we became Respite Parents. We were from Georgia, recently transplanted to Ohio, and wanted to build relationships with those in the community.

As we began to lead our youth group of 7 -10 kids with the material handed down to us, we quickly notice our regular attenders knew what to say to every question, often joking around saying, "Jesus is the answer to every question." As we got to know them even more we noticed a big disconnect - they presented themselves one way on Sunday morning, however they were far from that person on social media. So in wanting to see where their heart was we sat aside the material and began class with an open format, asking questions and not being shocked by the responses to prevent them from shutting down. This in general changed the whole vibe of our time. The teens who once bickered about coming to youth group were some of the first to arrive. They thanked us for taking the time to hear their thoughts vs. telling them what to think and as the spirit lead we spoke truth no matter how hard it was to digest.

What I learned during my time their is that sometimes the body creates performers, people who know how to "play church" while being disconnected from the body. From personal experience, if this continues to go unchecked, the "performer" will run far away from church when life presents a difficult season instead of leaning into it. It's hard to keep up the act when life gets difficult. Whenever life becomes difficult it's hard to reconcile how a omniscient omnipresent God can be all-knowing and present and not move in the way you think he should. "I Surrender All" is easier sung than lived. When God brings you to a place where surrender is all that's left it's difficult to play the role of the good Christian and so many millennials like myself and generation z's feel as though, when life is difficult they have to leave the church to get themselves together. They don't feel comfortable with being undone in front of the body. Nevertheless, no matter the praises given to us by the youth; our format was not favorable to the older generation and neither was us being respite parents.

During our time serving at that church I noticed relatability to the community wasn't there. They did a lot for the community, but remained emotionally distant. Earlier on, I remember people making subliminal comments about my dreads then my afro after removing my dreads, comments about young people with tattoos and piercings, and how the younger generation are taking taking jobs away from the older generation...hearing these conversations only made me want to cover up my 4 tattoos and piercings and made me fearful of being seen for who I truly am. I felt as though, I would never be accepted if they truly knew me. In order to reach the youth we have to think about the line between Christianity as a culture, most specifically westernized Christianity and biblical Christianity as a life of repentance, surrender; submission. Raising a finger when you go to the rest room - that's culture. Now, if someone outside of that culture doesn't do that - it's not a heaven or hell situation, but sadly some people make seem as though it is.

Some churches are asking that the youth fall under their culture believing that the change of culture will then change their behavior and heart. However, from my point-of-view this creates a lot of fake Christians who look like a duck, quack like one, but once a trial hits them you quickly see they were never one. I've also been this person and when I was experiencing hardship, I would they try to cover up genuine feelings with excessive faith jargon, believing if I only talk positive and think positive then my problem(s) would disappear. Sadly, so many miss an opportunity to know God more by leaning into prayer, allowing themselves to be broken before the only one who can put the pieces back together, and allowing themselves to be weak so they can see the strength of Christ on display. If we want to reach the youth we have to stop acting like we have it all together and share our testimony in a way that makes much of Christ and not us.

My final thoughts are, in order to reach the youth we have to be willing to be used in such a way. Meaning we have to be prayerful about how to go about it and how to take heed when the opportunity to do so arises. We as older millennials have to stop being so shocked when we see our younger selves, our former way of thinking reflected back towards us. We have to remember that when were open and honest it creates a safe environment for others to feel safe with sharing. Also, remember these are kids not robots. Everyone is telling them what to think about everything and not so much how to think critically about all the information they're ingesting everyday.

Again, my voice in this discussion echo's my experience. Their is not one way that's better than another when it comes to reaching the youth. The most important part is doing our part as laid out in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Some people think it has to be this grandiose event and miss the opportunity to connect with youth right there within reach. Some maybe looking for it to be in the form of ministry opening, when God just might be asking us to mentor/invest time with a little cousin, or a niece/nephew, or your children's friend(s). You don't have to go out an adopted a family of 5 kids or be a youth pastor, unless God called you to that. I bet you know at least 2 kids right now you can reach out to. Pray about it, be intentional, and be open to how God leads you through it.

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