Reaching the next generation with the gospelby BSCNC Communications
In North Carolina, fewer than four percent of teenagers have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Among teenagers throughout the United States, only 1 out of 10 has a relationship with Jesus and 9 out of 10 churchgoing teenagers drop out of church by the time they graduate college.
“We haven’t offered enough of the truth that it makes a difference in how they live,” said Merrie Johnson. “One transformed life can multiply to thousands. We have to disciple them; we have to be faithful in doing that.”
Johnson, senior consultant for student evangelism and ministry for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC), shared during the recent Culture Reach evangelism conference in Winston-Salem about the importance of reaching youth for Jesus Christ. The conference focused on helping believers better understand culture and how to engage in gospel-centered conversations.
Johnson acknowledged that the current culture teenagers are growing up in is very different from the culture of their parents and church leaders. Technology drives society today, with many teenagers using text messaging and 45 percent of teenagers shopping online.
Yet, statistics also indicate that the behavior of Christian teenagers isn’t much different from the behavior of non-Christian teenagers. Although 92 percent of teenagers believe their parents want them to do the right thing, 8 out of 10 have lied about something significant, 59 percent cheated on a test last year, and 50 percent of high school students bullied someone last year.
“Are we developing student ministries or are we developing students? Are we just entertaining them?” Johnson asked.
Leaders must step up and be willing to invest in the lives of teenagers, teaching them how to know God and how to know the truths of His Word. Teenagers tend to think life is all about them – but that’s because no one has shared the gospel with them and they do not know they were created to know God and to make His name known.
“Students need someone to commit to them long enough to outlast all their push away techniques. Our job is to build bridges between the Bible and the teenagers’ real world,” Johnson said.
In order for that to happen, parents and leaders must be faithful in their own pursuit of discipleship, and they must faithfully teach students the basics of the Christian life, such as prayer and evangelism.
Alvin Reid, associate dean for proclamation studies and evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, also spoke to the need for impacting the next generation with the gospel. Reid pointed back to pivotal times throughout history, such as the second great awakening and beginnings of the Welsh revivals, when students stepped up and made a major impact in helping spread the gospel.
Students are not the church of tomorrow – they are the church of today – and so parents and leaders must start teaching students to think like missionaries and to make a difference for the gospel.
Although more teenagers are alive today than ever before, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention only reach half as many teenagers as they did in the 1970s.
Many churches do not reach teenagers because they never try. “Where is the passion for reaching teenagers in your church? This generation is hungry for something real. They are hungry for spiritual truth,” Reid said.
Too often student leaders communicate as little of the gospel truth as possible, when what students really need is for leaders to share as much of the gospel as often as possible. Reid encouraged leaders to “celebrate the greatness of the gospel.”
“We celebrate for the sake of believers and non-believers. Live so that others see the gospel. There’s one story in scripture: it’s redemption,” Reid said.
One way students see the greatness of the gospel and the desperate need for the gospel is through international missions. “Don’t let young people get out of high school before getting out of the country,” Reid said.
Reid also challenged parents and leaders to do more than the minimum and to give as much as they can to students. Leaders must focus less on rules and more on building relationships, less on institutions and more on movement.
“We can’t just tell students, we have to show them how to love other people. The gospel is the engine that runs our social ministries,” he said.
“Movements that started with a few have changed the world. The way to change your church is not an event. Teach clearly that the gospel changes everything.”