How can we reach this generation?
It is fair to say that the wider Church is struggling to engage with the current generation — what we dub Gen-Z (those born between 1995 and 2009) and Gen-A (those born after 2010) — and for those of us in the Anglican Church, reaching this generation is part of our mandate.
When a minister in the Anglican Church, like me, is ordained or licensed to a new parish we make vows or promises before our bishop using what is called the Declaration of Assent, and it includes words along the lines of, ‘the Church is called to proclaim afresh the gospel in each generation.’ Therefore, given that we are struggling to engage with this generation and it is part of our mandate to do so, what should we do?
The first thing we need to do is recognise that our ministry is a partnership between us and God, and that it is not solely our work. God’s Holy Spirit is going ahead of us and working in and around people’s lives; stirring hearts and minds. I once heard a preacher sum this up by saying, “Find out what God is doing and join in!” Therefore, it is our job to be ready and be prepared to receive those that turn to God, provide an explanation for the God they are coming to know, and provide a church family of which they can be a part.
Being ready means that we must do everything we can to make the gospel accessible to those outside the church. It means appraising everything we do and say and be ready to do away with anything extraneous that might block or hinder someone coming to know Jesus Christ. The beauty of the gospel message — the good news about Jesus — is that it can be applied and made relevant to any social or historical context, and this means it can be applied and be relevant to this generation.
The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, “Though I’m free and don’t belong to anyone, I’ve made myself a servant to all to win over as many as possible. I’ve become all things to all people so that by all possible means some might find salvation.” In the same way, we need to be culturally relevant to this generation to reach them with God’s love.
The Church of which I am a member has often found itself doing the same things over and over — using the same methods and practises it inherited from previous generations. There is nothing wrong with picking up some traditions along the way, things that previous generations found useful that we, today, still find useful, however, as Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If we are struggling to reach this generation and are doing the same things we have always done, well, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that we will need to do things differently and embrace change.
Change is always difficult because it means moving from a place of comfort, safety, and familiarity into the unknown, and this can feel scary, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar. To adopt change means to put to one side one’s own personal preferences, bend a little, and trust in God’s leadership. It means taking a risk. The Church is not designed to be a people stuck in one culture or century. We are, in some senses, a nomadic people, able to adapt to a shifting culture for the sake of those who God wants to draw into His community of faith. As I wrote last week, we are the only organisation that exists for our non-members, therefore, our ministry should be outward looking and our worship should be inclusive, welcoming, and seeker-friendly.
We, at St. Mark’s are very blessed to have members that have not only continued to do many of the everyday things that keep a church going, but have thrown themselves into trying new things, new ways of being and doing, and have done so with good cheer and confidence. We decided to keep the very best of the old and the very best of the new and provide practical help for the needy, put the environment at the top of our agenda, embrace social media (we have over 330 videos on our YouTube channel), vote unanimously to be inclusive to the LGTBQIA+ community, produce music videos that have had thousands of views, and use hip-hop and contemporary beats in our worship. Our church demographic has changed for the better, our church membership has grown, we have seen people come to know Jesus, and some of our long-standing members are rekindling their faith and drawing closer to God in their spirituality.
In the book of Acts Chapter 2, it was God who drew people to Peter who then preached the gospel. Peter was simply obedient in being ready to communicate and minister to the crowds. The Chapter finishes with the sentence, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Not Peter, not the disciples, but ‘the Lord’. It was and is God’s work and we are the humble servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. All we are called to do is be ready.
Dear friends, I do not know what the future holds for the Church here in Bermuda, or my own denomination, the Anglican Church. No doubt the way will be paved with obstacles and difficulties to overcome, but it is my hope that we will not stop persevering in that to which we have been called. We will continue to be the diverse, inclusive, warm, friendly, supportive, connected, humble, and welcoming church families that we are. We have the best news in the world, the best Saviour, the best spirituality, so let us share it so that people may come to know and be known by our awesome God.