Josh Ott from Grace Free Church in Cressona, Pennsylvania wrote a blog post that ran on the national EFCA blog. The post breached the topic on how to preach to millennials. The post Josh wrote was in many ways good. This post today is a response to Josh letting him know how millennials view many topics and how people like Josh can better engage them.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
O Lord, your unfailing love fills the earth; teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:64 NLT
Bourbon Street in New Orleans
Josh Ott from Grace Free Church
I was reading the national EFCA blog earlier this week when I saw a post from an EFCA pastor in the Eastern District that I wanted to write about. Today I want to explore millennials and evangelical culture and give some feedback on how people in the EFCA and other evangelical organizations can interact with millennials. As I will get into below millennials are a very different group of people who think, process and respond differently.
Josh Ott and Grace Free Church in Cressona, Pennsylvania
Josh Ott attended Trinity International University. He become the lead pastor of Grace Free Church in Cressona, Pennsylvania in January of 2008. He has held that position for 10 years. He has also done coaching since 2001 and it appears he is also coaching inside the Eastern District of the EFCA and other evangelical churches. That side business appears to have blossomed after January of 2018 according to Linkedin. His speaking and coaching course can be accessed here. At the EFCA’s Eastern District’s blog he has been an active contributor over the past year. These are some of the posts he has written at the Eastern District blog.
- “How To Grow Your Audience When No One Is Paying Attention.”
- “5 Social Media Tips That Will Actually Grow your Church.”
- “Your story isn’t over.“
- “What you need to say to younger leaders.”
Josh Ott likes the Philadelphia Eagles and is passionate about fishing. If my research is correct he has not published any books that I see at Amazon. It also appears as if Josh is not in the Neo-Calvinist camp and when I checked Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition I saw no articles published. Recently Josh published a post that was featured on the national EFCA blog that dealt with how to preach to millennials. You can read that post in, “10 Ways to Preach to Millennials.”
10 Ways to Preach to Millennials
Josh wrote what I would consider to be a solid post that looked at how pastors should preach to millennials. The millennials are also known as Generation Y. The birth years for millennials are from 1981 until 1996. Today’s millennials would be in the early 20’s to late 30’s. The age bracket is from 22 until 37. In the post he addressed ten ways to preach to millennials. Those 10 ways are as follows.
- Let your personality out. (God has chosen you to speak his word, let your personality out.)
- Be concise. (Be to the point they value time.)
- Communicate purpose. (Remind your audience that they have purpose.)
- Speak to their dreams. (Realize that their dreams may fail and connect with them.)
- Be transparent. (Be transparent about what you are communicating. Has it worked in your own life?)
- Inspire your audience to help others. (Inspire young people to go out and help others)
- Speak relationally. (Connect with your audience)
- Talk about why. (Talk about the why and engage with people.)
- Define the main point clearly. (Be clear about your main point.)
- Make your message flow. (Messages should flow from beginning to end.)
Response to Josh with 10 Ways to Engage Younger People
I am going to respond to what Josh Ott said in his EFCA blog post and look at issues that are of importance to young people. I like what Josh said in his blog post and want to counter by reminding him of how younger people view faith or other issues. These are the 10 ways Josh and others could respond to millennials.
- Engage intellectually. Younger people are much more intellectual today and they must be engaged as such. Explaining something and saying, “because that is how it has always been” just won’t work with many of them. Many young people have been introduced to new faith systems and ways of thinking because of the internet. You are now one generation into the internet and the net as I view it is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Its right there with the invention of gun powder. Many atheists say that the internet is where religion goes to die. You have a generation that has grown up with a different way of thinking that in a matter of seconds can access a number of resources that challenge “established” thinking. Engage millennials intellectually and don’t lean about resources within the evangelical industrial complex. With the scandals that have bogged down people like Ravi Zacharias don’t go to people for material and support.
- Address doubt and have a fresh way to look at it. Doubt is a reality for many millennials. Many are doubters and don’t view things in the way older people do. When you stand before millennials keep in mind that many people who are you speaking to will exit Christianity over the next two decades over a multitude of reasons. Teach them that doubt is a part of faith and draw from scripture to remind them that many people have been doubters. If you take a legalistic approach you are going to end up forcing people out the church. Older people are afraid of doubt when they honestly should not be.
- Encourage community that bonds with people on the outside of the church. Younger people don’t think of the church within the confines of the congregation. Many have connections with those on the outside of the church. Don’t try and get people inside the congregation but send millennials out and encourage them to get to know their peers. By having people reach out to those they don’t know they are also going to be healthier in how they look at things. It takes courage getting to know people of all different backgrounds and this can be good for their faith and development.
- Different definition of church. Many millennials have a different definition of the church. It may be in conflict with those who are older. The church is not a specific congregation or membership of believers. Church can be more broad than that for many people. Those who would disagree with this are the Neo-Calvinists, but that is for another post on a different day. Church can include neighbors, co-workers, family, friends, social groups, sports clubs and more. Millennials are very forward looking.
- Be apolitical and stay away from politics. Stay away from politics. Younger people in evangelicalism personally despise the mixing of faith and politics. Many younger people are sick of the culture wars. The fight for the Supreme Court or against gay marriage. Many younger people want nothing to do with politics. Since 2016 many younger people have pushed back from the church because they are embarrassed over the political tone that has arisen. If you want to read more about this you can study this recent New Yorker article about the topic as well as this Washington Post article.
- Encourage people to embrace social justice. Many millennials are concerned with issues of social justice. They are concerned about immigration, climate change, environmental issues, racism and more. This is part of the reason why people like Russell Moore connect with younger people. He addresses issues like racism that many millennials are focused on. The church should find ways to work in this context of faith and apply the Gospel in this manner.
- Confess sin in the church and deal with its problems head on. The church needs to confess its sin and get its misdeed out in the open. For example churches should confess if they have covered up sexual assault or domestic abuse. They need to come clean about past misdeeds. By getting this out of the way it will help build trust with millennials. Also chances are many millennials have come to know someone who has been abused, most likely in the church. The Southern Baptists are dealing with the #MeToo movement and that movement will also arrive at the EFCA also.
- Find a sensitive way to approach gays. This next issue will be hard for many evangelical pastors and more to understand. Many millennials take a much different approach to people who are gay. If the evangelical church is going to survive they need to find new ways to respond to this topic. The reality is that many millennials know someone who is gay. They had a friend who came out or saw someone try to change their orientation before they accepted it. There are a number of evangelical churches who can be caught up on this issue. If you want to teach gays to be celibate I think that is fine. But to not find a way to relate and understand them will be something many millennials will reject. Evangelical Christians have been horrific as to how they have treated gays and have little understanding as to what gays have gone through. Also understand the difference between religious marriage and civil secular marriage. Christians should not be up in arms about two secular gay atheists who decided to get married in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. or elsewhere.
- Remind them of ministry in the workforce. Many evangelicals were taught growing up that in order to serve the Lord they needed to do something like become a pastor, missionary, etc… It was in many ways a form of clericalism. Millennials look at the world differently. Churches should teach them that ministry and faith can be lived out where they are at. If its a landscaping company, nurse, physician, park ranger for the National Park Service or serving aboard a submarine like the USS Chicago. Many millennials should be encouraged to embrace the the world they live in and taught to love the world and serve those around them wherever they are at.
- Find ways to deal with the difficult topic of pain and suffering and help to brace them for pain. One of the issues that will be sensitive and needs to be engaged is that of the problem of pain and suffering. Many millennials come from broken homes and have dealt with brokenness. Others are on the cusp of starting to deal with this. The maximum age of millennials are 37. When they push into their 40’s they are going to start to deal with issues like aging parents, disease or more. They will find themselves starting to grapple with dementia, alzheimers, cancer, and more. In order to interact with millennials you need to create community that will comfort many people in times that they need it. One plus is that you are not in the Neo-Calvinist camp, and reformed theology makes the problem of pain and suffering worse due to a warped view of God that looks at things though a form of sovereignty that creates determinism. A few talks before hand will be helpful but when things start to fall apart for millennials in this area respond with love and grace. And if they embrace alcohol or sleep around while dealing with pain and suffering be patient and recognize the bigger picture and how some people respond differently.
These are all suggestions based off what I have heard in talking to people or what I have known. I am at toward the edge of generation X and have interacted with some from this age group.
Younger People Think Much Differently Today
Younger people look at the church in a very different and sometimes jaded way. Many see the evangelical church as leaving them behind and for some people its hard to relate to many evangelical churches. Many see a bubble that is removed from culture and life that they can’t relate to. In order to engage many younger people the church is going to have to reinvent itself, confess its sin, and look at things in a fresh light. Older people may state in response that the church is compromising to a changing culture. The warning of liberal theology will be thrown about, but in reality it should not. There are ways to look at a large number of issues that can be fresh. That is it for the day know that you are loved Grace Free Church.