Yesterday, I recapped the first day of the Haemorrhaging Faith conference which has been running in Melbourne this week.
The first day of the conference was spent wrestling with the data of the Haemorrhaging Faith study and whether it was true in an Australian context, whereas the second day was a focused response to finding stepping stones for churches and ministries to start to transfuse life into the Australian church.
How do we move forward in a landscape where teenagers and young adults are leaving the church? Many of us have preached that faith is personal, but it has been picked up to the point that many people have made a distinction between Jesus and his church. The church has not done a good job presenting our faith as one that is attached to a ‘body’ that impacts everyone.
Furthermore, there was also a very real experience for many young adults of an unexperienced God, unanswered prayers and unfelt presence of the Holy Spirit. What do we do with these experiences and all of this data?
// KEYNOTE 4 – DAVE OVERHOLT //
How do we respond to the research. Out of the 2000+ responses completed, researchers discovered four common barriers to church attendance and the factors that motivate Engagers to attend and grow in their faith.
PARENTS: ENGAGED OR DISENGAGED?
The faith commitment of parents has an enormous impact on the faith and church participation of their children. If parents attend church but don’t model what they believe, it is far more likely that children will not take part in church when they grow up.
If parents prayed more than just at meals, talked freely about their faith and the bible, served together at church, worshipped openly and could wrestle with tough questions, the children were more likely to live their faith out and attend church in their adult years. Most Engagers had parents with high levels of spiritual disciplines.
- Equip Parents: If we care about our young people, we need to create and take ministry to parents very seriously, encouraging them to model their faith at home. There are two reasons that parents fail to disciple thier children, lack of time and lack of training (Timothy Paul Jones). Churches, don’t let lack of training be an issue. Disciple your parents.
- Pray First: Whenever there is a time of stress, anxiety, pain, celebration or joy pray first. Make sure that the first response is to pray, whether that is in response to good news or bad news so that youth can see we believe that God is moving.
- Email Out: During the week, email parents associated with your ministry all the positive things that are going on, how god is moving in their teenagers and questions to ask them that go beyond ‘how was church‘. Set parents up for the win, and everyone wins.
- Mentoring: The reality is that many students grow up without Christian parents. Mentoring becomes key, the need to see real faith lived out, outside of programs and church is huge. Involve key secondary adults into teenagers lives.
GOD: EXPERIENCED OR UNEXPERIENCED?
Dave put forward that this generation recognizes truth from their experiences. If they don’t experience God, then for them, he does not exist. For many, God did not exist because he did not answer their prayers as expected. This was particularly true when the young adult had experienced relatives dying or friends who had committed suicide. Their perception was that God had not come to the rescue.
- Write Down Prayers: I think this is a great point. Encourage students to write down their prayers so that when they look back, they can clearly see how God is moving and working. God doesn’t just answer prayers positively, he can also answer them negatively. Celebrate when you can see God moving.
- Make Sure You Tackle Problems: Dave encouraged every ministry to have at least one night every year, if not more when you tackled the issue of ‘When God Seems Like He Is Not There”. It’s important that students know that God doesn’t have to be felt to be followed. I’ve tackled this before here if you wanted some starters.
- Encouragement Circles: In your ministries, have an encouragement circle where you share how you see God moving in your life and in the life of others
- Ask Better Questions: Rather than asking the typical questions, like how your relationship with God is going, ask deeper questions. How are you being faithful to God? How do you see God moving? How is God being faithful to you?
COMMUNITY: ALIVE OR DEAD?
For many teenagers, God is not the problem, it’s the community of believers. Young adults have grown up with friendship and intimacy as some of their top values and if the community of faith falls short, it is proof that the church is not for them.
Young adults see hypocrisy and being inauthentic as a sign of a dead or dying community. They know we are not perfect, but if we make a mistake, we need to admit it and apologize. Many young adults felt like there was no place for them. There were no places for them to get involved and in many churches, it would take a short lifetime to gain the trust to do any significant ministry there.
This is huge, because Dave hasn’t seen anyone keep an alive faith without being connected to an alive community.
- Create Culture of Acceptance + Vulnerability: Work with influence leaders in the group to grow them in the areas of acceptance, vulnerability and purpose. Deal quickly with abuses of these values. Share life stories of your people that build up these values.
- Have Young People In Places of Significant: The front of church is a place of power. Ensure you have teens and young adults in the front of the congregation engaged in significant ministry. Young adults need to see that they can be used in ministry and are valued. Get at least one teenager to do something significant in church every week.
- Build Cross-Generational Relationships: Have prayer partners where older members in the church pray for younger members. Introduce your youth to people who have been faithful for more than ten or twenty years. Get mature disciples to tell their stories.
- Actually Like Your Church: Dave asked a really good questions, would you attend your church if you weren’t paid to be there. Young people see hypocrisy, and if you don’t want to be there, why should they? Make your community somewhere that you would actually want to be if you didn’t have a job there.
TEACHING: EMPOWERING OR RESTRICTIVE?
Many young adults leave the church because they believe that what the church preaches is repressive and behind the times. There are several topics that young adults feel the church is being left behind on.
These include topics such as, but are not limited to:
- Gender Roles
- Post Modernism
- Ultimate Truth
Unfortunately, the church has recognized that people disagree with them and in many instances, shied away from confronting them head on. Young adults want the church to say what it means, and mean what it says. They also want teaching to have a real-life application, something to actually help you live out your life today. Stories with real life scenarios are a reason to come back to church.
- Talk About Tough Topics: Own what you believe, say it with grace and conviction and allow for true debate and discussions. Don’t shy away from difficult subjects just because some people will disagree.
- Applications: Ensure that your messages have specific actions to tack. If, at the end of your talk, someone can still ask “How do I do this?” you have not applied it.
- Questions are King: Have a number or system by which people can text in their questions to be asked. Sermons are fantastic conversations starters and can lead to deep one on one conversations.
// KEYNOTE FIVE – DAVE MIERS//
The first two missionaries to the islands of Vanuatu, within minutes of getting off the boat had been clubbed, boiled and eaten alive. In the years that followed, there were many missionaries who went to talk about Jesus. More missionaries died, and yet that collection of islands is now dubbed by the Lonely Planet as the happiest place on earth.
Due to the work of missionaries who gave their life for the nation of Vanuatu, the vast majority of people in Vanuatu are now Christians. The great danger for Vanuatu is no longer whether you will be eaten or not for preaching Jesus, the great danger is that complacent cultural Christianity will move into their landscape like it has so many others.
How does complacent cultural Christianity arise?
- Generation one preaches the gospel
- Generation two assumes the gospel
- Generation three neglects the gospel
- Generation four denies the gospel
In a constantly moving faith landscape, how we do we avoid losing the gospel?
KEEP THE GOSPEL ON REPEAT
Christianity is not about new things, new ways or new ideas. It’s about rehearsing and going back to the old things again and again. There is not a soul in the world who doesn’t need to hear the message of the gospel.
In the midst of all this bad news, it would be a tragedy to forget THE good news. In our desire for a silver bullet to fix our churches, fix our youth ministries .. we need to know that in the gospel God has given us everything we need.
What is the gospel?
- That Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture.
- That he was buried
- That he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
- That Jesus is alive!
The message of Christianity is not a philosophy for living, it is a message about Jesus and the events surrounding him that happened in history in front of many eye witnesses, that happened in accordance with the scriptures that prophesied that he could come and be pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 52:5) and that he would rise again, defeating sin and assuring our salvation.
Do not fall into complacent cultural Christianity. Keep the gospel on repeat, for the gospel cannot be preached enough, heard enough, grasped well enough. Our primary task as ministers of the word is to keep the gospel on repeat.
We are only one generation away from denying or rejecting the gospel, but we are also only one generation away from changing the entire world.
KEEP THE GOSPEL ON REPEAT.
Those are my reflections on the second day of the Haemorrhaging Faith conference 2015 in Melbourne.