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.
In the Youth and Family Department of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, we encourage using programs like the 31-day Neighbouring Challenge, which provides daily challenges to invite you to see and join God in your daily life. We also do events like Tidal Impact, which is a mission tour right in our own backyard, where teens work together to impact a local neighbourhood – doing food drives, building playgrounds, visiting seniors, fixing up shelters, serving food and providing fun for kids. Tidal Impact allows people to see a glimpse of what happens when people join together to transform lives and communities. As youth have joined in God’s mission and have seen glimpses of God’s Kingdom breaking into their world, we have seen them recognize they need Jesus in their own life, to heal their own brokenness, to heal their own relationship with God and to give them on-going purpose in the world.
There is tremendous hope in Generation Z. I have seen youth from this generation showing and telling the gospel to their own peers, and even to their elders. I’ve seen them leading in significant ways: hosting Alpha in schools, bringing their parents to faith, wrestling with the tough questions in our world and in faith, creating videos that invite deeper conversations about life, responding to causes in our world in order to make a difference, raising awareness and money for kids affected by HIV and AIDS at Kamp Tumaini in Kenya, and fighting for girls to have equal access to education across our world.
These things reveal that there are those in the younger generation desperately longing for an alternative to a self-focused, entitled and consumer-driven society. When we empower and focus youth towards making a difference to some of the brokenness in our world, they are ready and willing to give their heart, time and energy. It is inspiring to see them leading the way – out of our churches and back into our neighbourhoods, schools, community centres, workplaces and world.
These really are exciting days for the Church in our world. Our children and youth calling us to remember our mission to show and tell the gospel: to get out of the walls of our church, to get out of our holy huddles, to get out of our homes and engage with what God is up to outside our door. It’s really exciting to engage with a generation that isn’t satisfied with only a private, personal faith, but longs to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. May you experience the thrill of joining God in what he is doing in this generation of youth and in our neighbourhoods.