Many Christians I speak to have a general negative sense of the future of American society. This is predominantly true of the older generations who have experienced more of American culture. Many of them remember when our country practically shut down on Sunday because that was the day everyone went to church. This was of course not true in the majority of America, but this was especially true here in the Southern states. Slowly, they have watched Christianity become more and more marginalized in our culture.
With every new generation, America becomes increasingly secularized. The desire to dechristianize our culture is in full swing. Many other cultures have already experienced this at a much faster pace than America. Russia used to be a very Christian culture. There are over a hundred cathedrals in Russia, reminiscent of an era only found in history books. The USSR was a totalitarian regime that refused to compete with the loyalties of Christianity, and they instigated the anti-religious campaign of 1921-1928 to remove the influence of Christianity in the culture. Russia is now know as one of the foremost secular states in our world.
Closer to home, the United Kingdom has become increasingly less Christian. There has been a steady decline of church attendance in Britain in general. Many of the churches that remain churches have small congregations or have become historical locations. However, the many churches are being bought and repurposed into carious forms of housing, clubs, music theaters, and the like. Does this mean that something similar is coming for American? Probably…
According to recent studies, the newest influential generation is exceedingly less Christian than the previous generations.1 These are known as Generation Z, and they are born between 1997 and 2012. The oldest of them are finishing their college education or entering the work force. This is also the largest generation in American history as our population continues to boom. In 2020, they comprised about 40% of the consumer market.2 This generation is knows very little of Scripture or has any biblical background because they have been raised to distrust institutionalized religion. They often see religious groups, particularly Christians as corrupt and hypocritical. This means they are increasingly post-Christian. This is different from a pagan or pre-Christian society, and this is different from an atheistic society. A post-Christian society has a generally negative perspective towards the church and Christians.
So, how are we supposed to reach a generation coming from a very post-Christian culture? Certainly, the above trends make the task more difficult if not insurmountable in some cases. However, the problem is not impossible. Below are three lessons I have learned in evangelizing this generation.
- Be Distinct!
Before attempting to engage them with the gospel, it’s important for a Christian to remember that Jesus called us to a different dynamic of life. We are to be very distinct from the culture as stated in Matt. 5:48. The whole of the sermon on the mount is replete with examples of followers of Jesus called act differently than the culture surrounding them. However, Jesus also sent his followers out to engage the world only a few verses prior in Matt. 5:13-16. Thus, for a Christian to have an effective witness among peers and members of the community, he or she must live among them but not as one of them. There should be a noticeable distinction between the Christian and the and the non-believers. To be as one of them negates the power and necessity of the gospel, and to remove oneself from the community is disobedience to Jesus’ command to engage them with the gospel.
2. Be Available!
Part of engaging this generation with the gospel is to readily be available to them. As a student pastor, I am more available than the average person because my schedule allows it. If a student or a parent of a student say they need to meet with me, then I rearrange my schedule to accommodate them. The average person has a less flexible work environment. Nonetheless, we are to be available. The best way to accomplish this is maximize your opportunities. If you are at a football game watching your son play, then invite some non-Christians to sit with you. This will build a relationship and makes you available. Be a person who is up for hanging out at the coffee shop.
3. Be Articulate!
The last one is probably the most difficult, but I believe it is essential! A Christian must be able to articulate his/her faith in a way that addresses apologetic issues. The road to post-Christianity was paved with doubts about theology and science. The average person does not have a general understand of Christianity or Scripture any longer. Therefore, today’s Christian need to be able to articulate faith, Scripture, the gospel, and how to become a disciple.
This process is a much longer process than it used to be. James Emery White argued that previous generations had a working knowledge of Christian values and they were much easier to evangelize because they had context for the faith. He further argued that today’s generation will take much more time and process for them to move towards accepting Christ.3 This means that a Christian must be willing to invest the time into the relationship with someone to guide them to a relationship with Jesus.
Part of this journey will be answering questions and wrestling with topics. Generation Z seems to be very intellectually minded. They are far more educated pertaining to apologetics than previous generations. Again, this is because the pathway to post-Christianity is paved with doubt. Now, the doubts did not propel people towards post-Christianity, it was the lack of answers they received that propelled them. Therefore, it is essential that today’s Christians have a working knowledge of theology and apologetics. Furthermore, it is important to know how to find answers when an unexplored question arises.
A note here…. I do not intend to characterize this relationship as a standing meeting for weekly debates. This truly is a friendship where open and honest conversations can be had. The Christian should never assume the position of the antagonist but a friendly guide.
In conclusion, the Christian should seek to share the gospel with others. The Christian should be distinct from the non-believers in the conduct of their lives in such a way that displays the humble authenticity of a follower of Jesus. A Christian should be available for non-believers in order to lead others to faith. To the extent, a Christian should pursue such friendships with intentionality. Finally, a Christian should be able to articulate his/her faith in such a way that makes Christ appealing.
- Barna Group, “What Will It take to Disciple the Next Generation?,” Barna Research Group, August 27, 2019, https://www.barna.com/research/disciple-next-generation/, Accessed on Sept. 1, 2021.
- Jeremy Finch, “What Is Generation Z, and What Does It Want?,” Fast Company, May 4, 2015, http://www.fastcoexist.com/3045317/what-is-generation-z-and-what-does-it-want.
- James Emery White, Meet Generation Z, (Baker Publishing Group: Kindle Edition, 2017), 109.