Photo by arastorguev/DepositPhotos

A Church out of touch?

Millennials value strong message, not flashy medium

Is the medium the message or is the message the message, regardless of medium? As social and new media exerts its ever-increasing influence, what does that mean for the Church and preaching the gospel? In particular, what does it mean for the Church and its effort to reach out to young non-Christians?

Barna Group, a faith-based research company, says it is not uncommon for young people to think the Church is an out of date, out of touch institution that doesn’t reflect their values. As a result, 59 per cent of young people disconnect from the Church, either permanently or for an extended period of time.

In an effort to reach out to the younger generation, many churches have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and perhaps Instragam. They might incorporate lively music on Sunday mornings and the pastor might wear jeans. While these ideas are a good way to reach out to some 20-somethings, those initiatives focus on the medium and not the message.

“I think it’s the followers who haven’t done a good job of portraying Jesus, but if you think about young people and their values—justice, inclusion and more—those are all biblical values,” says Andrew Mills, a pastor at Plattsville Evangelical Missionary Church in the Waterloo region.

“I don’t think (young) people are against Jesus, but repelled instead by the Church.”

It would seem then that it doesn’t matter if a church tweets every day; if the message isn’t right, it’s not going to resonate. As a result, churches that want to reach out to young people need to rethink Christianity within the context of modern culture.

“We are living in a personalized world and therefore we will be more individualistic in how we appropriate Christianity and our Christian lives,” says Charles Price, lead pastor at The Peoples Church in Toronto. “I think every medium can be harnessed for the Christian message and every medium should be.”

Those born in the post-modern era have grown up with a set of values that seem to contradict the common (if misunderstood) messages of the Church. With these new values, there is a social shift and that means spiritual expression is changing.

Mills, 30, says this is a great time for churches to reflect on their role and rethink their representation of Jesus on earth.

“There has been a cultural transition and it’s a chance for us to work within in this culture. The biggest thing for the Church is we need to get back to actually living like Jesus Christ.”

This new culture includes new ideas, asking difficult questions and being okay with not having answers. When the teachings of Jesus are properly communicated, young people will find that the core messages align with their own values. God will speak to them regardless of the medium.

“Focus on the deepest needs that young people have and don’t try to put them into a box or make them conform to anything. Deal with issues of the heart. I think that’s what Jesus did,” says Price. “If God is real, then He is real, and He will meet them in that deep area of their hearts. If we address those issues and not recruit people into a system, but love people and bring value into their lives and I think that will resonate with a lot of people.”

Do you agree? Should the Church be doing more to meet the needs of younger demographics? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Dear Readers:

If ChristianWeek has made a difference in your life, please take a minute and donate to help give voice to stories that inform, encourage and inspire.

Donations of $20 or more will receive a charitable receipt.
Thank you, from Christianweek.

About the author

Special to ChristianWeek

Caitlin McKay is a writer from Toronto. She covers a variety of topics including international development, politics and religion.

  • Roxy F.

    I agree that it’s the message that counts, not the medium. I think many churches have lost the truth – that its God’s Spirit who speaks through them, not their efforts at attracting people and trying to work around the modern world. Yes, be sensitive to the needs of each generation, but there’s no need to treat people/talk to people differently than Jesus did – we must always present the Gospel at church for that is the power of God’s Word.

  • Greg Marsh

    Hi Caitlin,
    I agree with your supporting clause, “When the teachings of Jesus are properly communicated . . . ” As the modern western Christian church sees staggering declines in attendance, membership and philosophical agreement to its teachings, one place it must start to regroup and re-grow is getting back to the simple grace-based teachings of Jesus.

    In His words are most things all people (regardless of age) seek either ongoing or at different times in their lives. This includes a source of love for everyone including oneself by an all-powerful and all-loving God, a sense of order (particularly in times of chaos and upheaval), a sense of purpose, and the provision for hope.
    Preaching Jesus will not attract all people; some will see faith in a single religion to be outside of what he or she is wanting. But to many, it will be welcome news, a welcome message, regardless of the media that presents Jesus words.
    Thanks for your column

    • richard benoit

      thank you for your respond and stay the salt of the world. we only live once and may regret not sharing to some of the children of God.

  • Al Hiebert

    Which “church” is Barna talking about: “59 per cent of young people disconnect from the Church”? And what should Canadians conclude from Barna’s US survey? With over 35,000 Christian denominations now on our planet, how can anyone generalize about them?

    I understand that the recent “Hemorrhaging Youth” study of Canadians who have left “the church” found some 80 of Catholics had left, some 50 of maineline Protestants had left, and some 30 of evangelical Protestants had left. How can tinkering with medium fix that? I see no such mandate in our Lord’s Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20).

    • Rob Horsley

      As a point of clarification, I don’t think that tinkering with the medium is the point the article is making here, as “Millennials value strong message, not flashy medium” would seem to indicate.

      I believe the Barna study was meant to indicate the “Church” universal. But you make a good point about the difficulty in generalizing. Personally, I belong to one of the fastest growing denominations in the United States and Canada, The Evangelical Covenant Church (of Canada, in my case). But even within that, I’ve seen my fair share of young people disconnect for one reason or another, often in their early university years.

      Personally, I think if anyone, young or old, is coming in with the mindset of “when the Church changes to meet MY needs, THEN I’ll consider coming back,” they’re asking the wrong questions in the first place.

      • Al Hiebert

        I agree, Rob Horsley, “they’re asking the wrong questions in the first place.” My concern is that they are leaving & think they know why — they’ve been there, done that, and are interested ‘No more.’ I still think that all evangelical churches that now do not do so, need to focus more on Matt. 28:19 “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” I suspect fewer would leave then.

        I think also that a large segment of those who leave are expressing the values they have learned in secular education at all levels. They have likely been insufficiently grounded in biblical convictions to withstand the attack on these by secular education and the media.