It Takes Young Adults
By Paul Nixon
Never in the history of Christianity has a significant revival or church turn-around occurred without young adults. (Unless one of you church historians can correct me!) Jesus was 33 when he left this world. And most of those who traveled in his company were between 15 and 35 years of age. Granted, people did not live as long in those days. And with longevity comes certain gifts of maturity that may have been rarer then. The mellowing of Protestant Christianity on so many issues in the last century is a convergence of more old-people-wisdom along with the revolutionary sensibilities of younger folks in the culture.
I am not getting younger - nor anyone reading this. I am two decades past 35 and that shoreline recedes further by the day. In recent years, I have begun teaching seminarians. Before that I began working with church planters. These (typically) younger people are saving me in so many ways in terms of ministry effectiveness in this changing world. I hope the blessing goes both ways!
As I write this, I am on the airplane home from a consultation with a couple churches thinking about merger. The patriarch of the larger church is 90. The guy is still 18 in some ways - he is someone that any pastor could work with constructively in building consensus for change and/or big ministry decisions. But this nonagenarian commented to me quietly that there were some people in his church who loved to run their mouths in ways that were not always helpful to the church's progress. As a consultant, I figured out the identities of said persons - and they were each over 80 years of age. This, in a church where almost no one under the age of 60 was present in worship. At 55, I could have gone down for the children's sermon. Without some younger folks in the conversation, we won't get far there.
I was at the airport awaiting this flight when a colleague emailed me about a project he was working on: studying the Wesleyan revival in terms of how it might inform church turnaround today. He solicited my advice on his project. My response - if its just a bunch of old folks trying to do this - there is no precedent, with either the Wesleys or with Jesus, for pulling off a new thing.
We need a serious collaboration with young adults. Short of that, revitalization conversations are largely a waste of our time.
To add another layer of challenge - its not just younger people, but we need young adults from the emergent culture(s) surrounding the church. In many cases, these persons are less likely to be the same ethnicity as the older church people. They may not even be from a Christian heritage. However, if we can't start a conversation with some young people in the place where we wish to be church, chances are that all of our labor will amount to rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.
Starting in Fort Worth (April 10) and Houston (April 17), Epicenter is teaming up with Leadership Edges to produce a series of one-day ministry summits across the USA. The theme: Mobilize Your Church for a Better Ministry Story. In four movements, we will focus on critical steps related to engaging persons under 40 in a collaborative effort to do something amazing for God. After Texas, we will continue with Fairfax, Virginia (May 22), and on to Toronto (June 5), Buffalo (June 6) and Williamsport, PA (June 7). Then Virginia Beach (July 24-25) and the Los Angeles area (August 20). And so forth. For information on how to register for an event near you, go to this PAGE. Note that teams of 5 or more are significantly discounted! If you would like to buy a bundle of tickets for a group from a district or association, we can make you a sweet deal!
It takes young adults to do Christianity well. We at Epicenter Group are all about helping churches to partner with young people.