In a recent post I shared three secrets I’ve discovered working with young adults that are making a big difference in our church:
- Give up trying to do so much ministry
- Get rid of your best quality people
- Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus
The response to this was huge, so I’ve decided to share three more that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.
In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.
It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve decided to share three more secrets that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.”
Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.
All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.
#4 Make it known how average you are
Millennials are sick of slick. Consumer culture surrounds us and it gets worse every year. We’re not just being sold products—increasingly we are the product.
So don’t try too hard to win our loyalty or we’ll see through it. If you want our trust, what we first need to see is authenticity.
“Pastors need to let their dirt be seen.”
Young adults don’t want polish, and this is especially true when it comes to faith. We want a spirituality for the trenches. We want to see others who follow Jesus with dirt on their face.
That means pastors need to let their dirt be seen—their inabilities, their sins, their bleeding wounds. Basically, their desperate need for Jesus.
“We want a spirituality for the trenches.”
A revolution would start if young people no longer thought of us pastors as “professional Christians” (whatever that means). If they see that we’re normal, just like them, then they’ll realise they can be just like us—equally legitimate followers of Jesus, and leaders in their own right.
This couldn’t be more true in Australia, the most egalitarian culture on earth. Here down under, if leaders want to call people up higher, first we have to get down lower. We need vulnerability written all over us.
#5 Stop telling people to invite their friends
Young people in our church often invite friends, even friends who don’t follow Jesus. But not because I tell them to. Instead, it’s because some Sundays they find themselves thinking, I wish I’d invited my friend to this, they would have loved it.
If we’re serious about reaching the world, we need to stop telling people to invite their friends—and instead shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.
“People who don’t follow Jesus have huge roadblocks to faith.”
Our Sundays are far from perfect. But as we’ve reimagined them with outsiders in view, here are some things we now do differently.
We’ve stopped talking about “non-Christians” or “unbelievers” like they’re some strange group out there. We’ve stopped trying to just sound spiritual when we pick up the microphone, and to instead speak about real things Jesus is doing in our lives.
I’ve started to define terms like redemption and Old Testament and even God. Even if I need to pause mid-sermon to do it. Even if all the Christians in the room already get it. (By the way, this helps them communicate their faith better too).
“We need to shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.”
We’ve started answering questions that embarrass us. Like those ones about sexuality. Or world religions. Or the supernatural. Or like the series we’re about to start on big objections—Bible errors, hypocrisy in the church, religious violence, evil and suffering. The list goes on.
For people who don’t follow Jesus, these are huge roadblocks to faith, maybe the reason they don’t believe. So care enough to go there. When you do, you’ll discover what we have: people will invite their friends without being asked.
#6 Promote other churches over yours
I speak to lots of young people at my church who are part of another church too. There they serve on band or in kids ministry. Often it’s the church they grew up in. Even if it’s small and turning grey, they have a heart to see it thrive.
I’m so encouraged when people tell me these stories, and I cheer them on. I don’t want their undivided loyalty to my church. I want to bless and equip them so surrounding churches benefit too.
“Jesus said the world will know us by our love for each other.“
Here’s why: that was my story. At eighteen, I was struggling to lead a youth group in my home town. I was so thankful to find a church on Sunday nights that strengthened me to go back and fight another week. So thankful that I’ve now become one of its pastors, so I can do the same.
Hey churches, this isn’t a competition. Too often we’ve seen ourselves as footy clubs fighting for top place on the ladder. Wrong analogy: we’re actually players on the same team.
I was recently interviewed at a nearby Christian school. With hundreds of teenagers listening, I was asked where to visit if they want to explore faith. So I told them about three other great churches in the area before mentioning mine.
“This isn’t a competition. We’re on the same team.”
Revival is coming. But not before churches bury the hatchet. Jesus said the world will know us, not by our infighting or our one-upmanship, but by our love for each other.
That’s what young adults want to see in a church. That’s the Jesus they’re drawn to. So let’s stop building our own little kingdoms and get on with building his.
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For more ideas, check out my original post, Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.