Many pastors and Christian leaders worry a lot about the shifting culture of the last twenty years. We can worry about a lot: being branded a bigot, losing tax-exempt status, being persecuted. Who knows? We can worry (which is a sin, by the way).
Or we can see the shifting culture (and the new generation rising with it) as an opportunity for the gospel. James Emery White notices the opportunity in his book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World.
Strategies to Reach Gen Z
He also provides pastors/leaders the secret to reaching Gen Z: there is no secret! Most of the prescriptions he gives in the book come straight from the pages of the Bible. It is a matter of living it out. Here are three major methods he unpacks in the book with a final ingredient necessary to make it all happen:
White instructs churches to be countercultural, which means being “truly Christlike” (81). Faith without works is dead, so we must allow our beliefs to shape our conduct (James 2:20). If we genuinely live out the Christian faith, White believer churches exhibit an attractiveness to the wider world. They are different than the world and offer much better things.
A countercultural church is marked by generosity rather than greed, fidelity in relationships rather than casual hook-up, serving others instead of hoarding things for oneself. Living the Christian life is the first step to reaching unbelievers.
The church can use many different “voices” when it speaks. It can use a gentle, popularizing voice which only affirms the culture. Unfortunately, capitulating the culture’s current view on whatever ethical issue only leads to the decline and death of most churches.
Rather than compromising, White desires churches to speak “prophetically”: courageously speaking the truth. For White, the problem isn’t having enemies, “It’s having the right ones for the right reasons” (101). We must not be jerks, of course. But upholding the truth of the Bible on, say, homosexuality will cause opposition from the world.
Provocatively, White asks the question, “Would MLK be heard today?” (102). Probably not, if he refused to speak prophetically. But he did and our country is much better for it. Maybe our churches would be much better if we preached prophetically too.
Imagine a spectrum from 1-10: 1 is someone with absolutely no knowledge of God, while 10 is someone who accepts Christ. Too often, White argues, we approach people today as if they are a 8 or 9 in knowledge: all we need to do is present the gospel and they will accept it (108). But what if people’s starting point is a 2 or 3? What do we do then?
We must view evangelism both as a process and an event (108). Events may produce an opportunity to share the truth about God, but much more follow up is needed. Indeed, authentic and real relationships are the key. Also, we need to explain what we do in worship and other Christians practices. Most younger people do not know intuitively how to pray or read the Bible. We need to explain these things.
The Binding Ingredient to Reaching Gen Z
White closes his book with a seeming surprise on how to reach Gen Z: “If there is one trait I would wish upon pastors and church leaders around the world, it would be this: I wish they were more aggressive” (158). White uses the word “aggressive” not to mean an angry reaction, but something like passionate endurance. Pastors need passion to reach the new generation and endurance over the long haul. All the strategies presented in the book require both: Living out our faith requires courage and intentionality. Speaking the truth boldly requires, well, boldness. And being process-oriented in evangelism requires endurance and patience.
Be aggressive. Stick to the mission even when it’s hard. And see it through to the end. Reach Gen Z.
This was part two in a series on Generation Z. To find part one, click here.
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