Can We Reach the Next Generation?

By Will Graham   •   June 27, 2008

During the seven years I served as a local pastor, I often heard people say that youth are the future of the church. That is not the right perspective.

Young people are the church now.

Often we try to push young people off to the side, hoping our youth pastors will baby-sit them, when what churches really need is a whole-family approach–a holistic approach–to worship. Young people are a part of today’s culture-at-large, and the church should be no different. It’s always great to see young people take a stand for Christ, get plugged into the local church and take an active role in serving other people. The church is not complete without them.

Many churches see youth only in terms of finances; they don’t bring in money and they don’t give money. But young people can be an extremely important part of the church in worship, in leadership and in serving within the local body. A good youth pastor will make these kids into worship leaders and show them how to be active in the local church. A good youth pastor doesn’t merely baby-sit.

Give Them Something Real
It can be intimidating to reach out to youth with the Gospel. Sometimes people think you have to be edgy or change your message. But as I have worked with young people at our Celebrations, at BGEA pre-Festival youth events like Rock the City, or at youth initiatives with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada, I’ve observed that the next generation is just looking for something real. Part of this longing for something real is driven by reality TV shows that, in reality, don’t picture what’s real. Young people know that these things are set up, and it leaves them looking for truth, for what is right. In a world where everything is relative, youth feel a connection when they do hear truth. So many times we feel like telling them what they want to hear, but when we preach truth, we don’t have to sugarcoat it. Young people appreciate hearing the truth. They may not always accept it by surrendering their lives to Christ, but they always welcome an honest message.

The goal of a preacher is to communicate the Gospel clearly, in a way that everybody can understand. When you preach simply, anybody can come to know Christ–children, teens and adults.

That’s what we see at Crusades, Festivals and Celebrations. People of all ages come together, and some of each age group come forward to surrender their lives to Christ. At our most recent Celebration, in Burleson, Texas, we had a large response from youth. That’s not always the case. But in Burleson the local committee had a burden for their youth, and they had been praying for them. I think that’s why we saw so many youth surrender their lives to Christ. I’m not sure I’m the best speaker for youth specifically, but the thing about the Gospel is that when it is preached simply, everybody can come. It just happened in Burleson–not because of me, not because the messages were edgy, but because the people in Burleson were praying that the youth would receive the Gospel.

Same Message, Different Presentation
When we communicate the Gospel to young people, our message is the same as it is to anyone else, but we adapt our means of presenting it. This young generation can multi-task: they can text message, watch TV and read a book at the same time. So the goal of a youth night at a Crusade is to use a means that youth will appreciate. We incorporate experiences, testimonies, music and the preaching of God’s Word to create a multi-media effect–all to share the Gospel message so that we can reach a new generation. That’s why the music is a little bit louder, a little bit different, a little more upbeat. We use video presentations. We have been working Web casts into billygraham.org. People always resonate with stories, so we use personal testimonies of Christian young people. Younger people, starting with my generation, are interested in experience, even to the point where my generation overemphasizes it. But when we feature a testimony at a Crusade, it communicates in a way that makes the non-Christian young person think, “Wait, this is an experience that this person has had. I can’t deny that.”

Whether you are a young person wanting to reach your world for Christ, or an adult with a heart to reach the next generation, remember that the Gospel is the heart of your message. We may use different methods to change the delivery, but it’s still the Gospel that we preach. It is the same message, so long as we preach it truthfully every time to honor God. He says His Word does not come back void. Sometimes it’s the foolish things that God uses most to glorify Himself.

A Fearless Generation
My generation and the one behind it are coming of age at a pivotal time. We could, in a sense, win the world for Christ or lose the world for Christ. It’s been said that we’re one generation away from being an agnostic culture. We’re extremely close to that, but what excites me about the next generation is that they have a chance to take the Gospel to places my grandfather and my father never did. We can help people both physically and spiritually, in places no one ever thought we could, because technology is making the world smaller and doors that were once closed are opening. Communist Europe is gone, and my grandfather and my father were finally able to preach there. They both went into China, and now my father is even being welcomed to preach in communist countries in Asia. I think the Muslim world will be the big area for the next generation. Doors will open, and I am praying that this next generation will have the courage to take a stand for Christ.

We may also see the world turn on Christians like never before. This next generation may have the opportunity to lay down their lives to share the Gospel. They will have a lot on their shoulders, both good and bad, but I see a lot of good things coming. This generation can communicate so effectively. We’re not afraid. We want to go throughout the world. It’s my prayer that my generation and those following will continue to take the Gospel to a hurting world.

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