Evangelism is a long-term journey, especially with today’s youth. It is a marathon. We have to allow youth to belong in our community – and join with us in God’s mission in our world – even while they are still unsure about their own faith. Youth are more communal and concerned about making a difference in the world than they were even a decade ago. They are looking to see if faith in Jesus makes any difference to the people around them, their neighbourhoods and world. Our youngest generation, Generation Z (born post-2000), most often has no religious upbringing at all. When it comes to faith, they are usually not starting from ground zero; they are often starting from a negative view of faith. Through relational connections and involving this generation in our community and mission, they become open to conversations about faith.
Evangelism happens alongside youth, as God knits our everyday lives together. It is not a big event, an altar call, or a few conversations. God may use these things at some point in a young person’s journey, but they cannot be our evangelism plan for today’s youth. Evangelism is an on-going investment in each other’s lives, as God reveals himself and his in-breaking Kingdom to this younger generation. It tends to be slow and steady: people slowly open up to ask their spiritual questions, slowly get to see the difference Christ makes in lives and communities, and slowly have their hearts softened to the gospel.
This is a real change, right? A decade ago many of our churches would never involve a youth in a mission trip, service project, the heart of our church community or in leadership, without that youth having first shown genuine faith in Jesus. Now, we know that in order to reach this generation we have to involve them in the heart of community, and even in appropriate leadership spots (e.g., designing service projects, creating videos or sharing their skills) while they are still exploring Jesus. Let’s not shy away from talking about Jesus and his Kingdom, but also we cannot put up walls that keep people from experiencing a taste, a preview of God’s Kingdom by joining with your community, and in your mission, before they believe.
This means we are seeking to create churches and leaders that equip Christians of all ages to join God in their everyday neighbourhoods and networks. We are challenging Christ-followers of all ages to open their hearts, eyes and ears to see where God is at work around them, in their ordinary lives, and to join this work. We’re reaching an emerging generation by raising up Christians who recognize that they are missionaries in the places where they live, work, study and play.