According to the Evangelical Alliance, over 80% of people become Christians before the age of 25.
Here at NISCU, we are committed to the idea that if you want to reach children and young people in schools, then you have to have a church that makes youth welcome.
But the narrative we all hear is that youth are abandoning the church in their droves.
These statements are not unrelated! So what is the issue with youth and what do we, the church, do about it? Or should the question be, what is the issue with me and what am I going to do about it?
I remember first coming to work in the NISCU office. I didn’t relate much to young people. They tended to congregate in large groups on the street, they talked a language I didn’t understand and the technology that was a complete mystery to me was their natural environment. In short, I was intimidated.
Ten years on, young people still congregate in large groups, talk a language I don’t understand and their technology is even more of a mystery to me. But I am no longer intimidated. I have learned to love young people, I want to advocate for them and I am passionate about them being on fire for Jesus. So what changed?
I did. So here is some things that changed for me, and can also change for you if you are willing.
I grasped the idea that the Kingdom of God is multiethnic, multicultural and multigenerational. I realised this when it comes to our friends from Africa or Asia or other exotic parts of the world. I understood that they come from a different culture, speak a different language and that I needed to make some accommodations for them to make them feel loved and at home. In our church, we even include the occasional song in a different language. One is called ‘Imela’ which means, in an African language that I can’t even name, that God is Great. Because He is, in any language.
So what really helped me was the realisation that youth also come from a different culture and speak a different language and we might need to make some accommodations for them. This came home to me when a young person said to me, ‘that was sick what you said, you’re really wicked.’ Believe it or not, that was highly complimentary and nothing at all to do with the state of my health or the progress of my sanctification! Now this can seem intimidating and the temptation is, let’s not talk to a teenager because we won’t understand a word they say. If indeed you manage to get a word and not just a grunt.
But I remember once going to visit a farmer friend of mine who lived in Eskdale, and listening to two locals having a conversation. I kid you not, they discussed the weather, the sheep and the state of the dry stone walls and the only word either of them ever uttered was ‘aye’! Now if I can learn to interpret ‘aye’, then surely I can learn to interpret the far more expressive teenager grunt! So I made a decision, to quit opting out of communicating just because I felt intimidated. If all else fails, I can always pray for the spiritual gift of interpretation!
And why not sing the occasional song that our teenagers can relate to? I have a tip that works for me. When the drums are too loud, I turn my hearing aids down!
As for that technology… if you ever visit the NISCU office you will discover that my computer-related meltdowns have become a thing of legend. But now I have discovered a solution: I ask a teenager, while they still know everything! It really does work! I haven’t clue what they do to make it work, it just does. And here’s the thing. When I ask a teenager, it makes them feel wanted and needed – if a little bit smug too. And when someone feels wanted and needed, they also tend to feel loved and are far more likely to keep showing up. And what is more, I have discovered that teenagers are quite capable at a few other things too. So in our church, as well as running the PA desk and all things technical, they are also musicians, stewards, children’s workers, servers of coffee … They love to be involved, to feel important and to have something to give. So give them the opportunity!
In short, I have found out a simple key. Here it is. Teenagers are people! Just like you and me. They want to feel needed and important and significant. Just like you and me. Human needs are the same whatever the language, whatever the culture. So why not indulge in a little cross-cultural ministry – go show some love to a teenager. I wonder what our churches would look like if we all tried it?
P.S. No teenagers in your church? Well, you might find some on the street corner, or outside the corner shop, or in school…