How Research on Young Adults Informs Evangelism
PUBLISHED: Great Commission Research Journal
In a time when the church is missing members of the younger generations, it is important to look to generational research and listen to compelling voices regarding currents in the culture, with the aim of informing evangelism among these generations. This treatise provides an analysis of two missiological-relevant aspects of these generations: profile and receptivity. Based on this analysis, the author proposes correctives to increase the effectiveness of evangelistic efforts.
Scanning the roughly 200-person church service, making a mental note of the many older adults in the chairs, my visceral reaction was, “Where are all the young people?” Though the scene was marred, like a masterpiece painting with missing brushstrokes, what I observed that January, 2019, morning at a campus of The Summit Church in North Carolina (pastored by SBC President J. D. Greear) was no surprise. Based on the data available (Barna Group, 2020; Clydesdale and Garces-Foley, 2019), this church is not an outlier. The demographics of this church were not a surprise for me, nor would they be for anyone who has observed what has been reported across the ecclesial spectrum. Even prominent churches such as this one does not know how to reach and retain the younger generations.
Having a noticeable demographic missing from church is a problem. When the next generations are missing, the church’s growth and future are threatened. Thus, when the Great Commission Research Network chose to address this topic at its conference in 2019, I saw a worthy research project to pursue. This article allows me to put into writing the key concepts which surfaced from that study, to not only document my findings, but also to contribute to solving this puzzle challenging the 21st century church.
For those of us from among the older generations, relating to and reaching members of the younger generations can seem intimidating, if not impossible. When I joined a very young staff at Sandals Church when I was in my late forties, people glared at my gas-guzzling SUV and my belted phone holder. They kept asking, “How old are you?” Although I may not have been as generationally attuned as I should have been, serving for five years at that youthful megachurch opened my mind to alternative ways of thinking, especially concerning evangelism.
This overview of generational research focuses on developing applications to reach younger generations with the gospel, not on merely reporting generational characteristics. Amid my analysis, I have threaded practical insights to inform evangelism. This will lead to the rationale for why I favor a particular biblical approach, along with three guiding directives aimed at improving our efforts. First, we must begin with what we know of these younger generations.
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