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Connect the Next Generation With Christ

The crying need of the day is to connect the next generation with Christ.

There are young people in Canada who have never heard the Gospel, never read a portion of Scripture, and never known the love of God.

According to a study by the sociologist, James Penner, “Fifteen per cent of young Canadians classify themselves as atheists”. Statistics Canada (2005) found that 33% of Canadians aged 15 to 24 have never been to church, compared with 25% in 1985. A recent assessment on the state of the Anglican Church in Canada indicated that it “may be only a generation away from extinction.” And the Hemorrhaging Faith Report states, “Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.”

Can these trends be reversed? I believe they can! The Lord does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV).

When we think about connecting a disconnected generation with Christ, some may assume that it’s just not possible. Humanly speaking we know it’s an enormous challenge. But God isn’t limited! And, by extension, neither is His church.

So how do we connect the next generation with Christ? From a Bible engagement perspective it begins with mastering the message. All evangelism should be rooted, informed and driven by the Word of God. The message is all important. Methods are secondary.

To master the message the messengers should know how to explain the Story. This requires regular Bible reading and reflection. The aim of every Christian should be to know God’s Word from top to bottom and from beginning to end.

But mastering the message is not enough. The message should master the messenger. “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” 1 John 3:18 (NIV). We must be living epistles! Our passion for the Word should be demonstrated by our compassion for the world. Children need to see how we live and give. To connect the next generation with Christ, our walk must line-up with our talk.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Bible Engagement and Evangelism

In Canada in 2002, 34% of 15-29 year olds said religion was important to them. Seven years later it had dropped to 22% and continues to decline (Statistics Canada General Social Survey). This isn’t something new – faith in Canada and the USA has been on a significant downturn since the early seventies. In fact disaffiliation by generation continues to rise exponentially. The painful reality: 29% of Canadians born in 1987-1995 say they have “no religion” compared to 4% of Canadians born in 1946 or earlier (cf. Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Centre).

I wish the news was different. For decades I’ve prayed for a revival of faith. My heart yearns for the salvation of the lost. But as the years march on the ranks of secularism swell.

So for those of us who long for a resurgence of faith, is there something we can do? Well that depends on when you ask me! On my down days I tell God it’s not my problem, it’s His! He’s sovereign. He’s the only One who can incline people to know and love Him. But there’s more to it than that. There’s the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). I have a part to play. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 (NIV).

“Someone preaching to them”. We rarely do this outside our church buildings and sometimes don’t do it inside! Alarmingly, evangelism seems to have fallen on hard times. Our churches elevate preachers and teachers, but where are the evangelists? We say the Gospel is important, but who are we evangelizing? We have marriage seminars, pot-luck suppers and fun events for youth, but to whom are we proclaiming the Good News of salvation?

Questions are vital precursors to dealing with problems. Why is it that only one in three young people, who attended church as children, still do so today? (cf. Hemorrhaging Faith Report, 2012). Ed Stetzer says, “The young adults who do drop out of church often lack a firsthand faith – a faith of their own – and a relationship with Christ that matters deeply in their own personal life apart from their parents’ pressure.” (cf. The Real Reason Young Adults Drop Out of Church, LifeWay Research)

A “firsthand faith”. While there are other reasons for young adults leaving church, this must surely be the one that demands our immediate attention.

So how do we help children and youth take ownership of a “firsthand faith”? If I understand the essence of Douglas Hall’s theology (cf. Thinking the Faith), faith isn’t faith unless it’s an informed faith. Faith that is Christian must begin in, live with, and be nurtured by the Scriptures. In order for children and youth to take God seriously, to own their faith, they must connect with the Word.

The biblical mandate is explicit: “Impress them (the Scriptures) on your children” Deuteronomy 6:7 (NIV). Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it: “Get them (the Scriptures) inside of you and then get them inside of your children” (Msg).

Whatever way we look at it, Bible engagement is integral to evangelism and evangelism is integral to Bible engagement. To embrace a relationship with Christ that matters deeply requires a deep commitment to the Scriptures. Simply stated, if children and youth are going to develop a faith of their own, we must do everything we can to help them listen to and submit themselves to the Scriptures.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5

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How to Ramp Up Bible Engagement

What is the single most important thing that can be done to ramp up Bible engagement?

Before we answer the question it may be helpful to review what the church has been doing to invite and encourage connections with the Bible:

From a distribution perspective – Bibles, Bible reading guides, Bible commentaries and dictionaries, daily devotions, reading plans and a host of biblical tools, media and resources have been printed and published. In addition to printed materials the Bible and related resources have been made available online and through audio and or visual formats like DVD’s, Apps, MP3’s, CD’s, and such. In fact the Bible is more accessible, in more formats, through more mediums, to more people, in more languages than ever before!

From an interactive perspective – churches, Bible colleges and agencies have facilitated and promoted the reading, singing, studying, discussing, dramatising, memorising, teaching and preaching of the Scriptures. There are films, games, seminars, billboards, workshops, museums, courses, competitions, plays, t-shirts, stained glass, tattoos, paintings, talk shows and other creative means employed to publicize, promote, proclaim, illustrate, advocate or communicate the Word.

But despite everything that has been done, Bible engagement in the Western world is in decline.

So what are we doing about the decline? Pastors are urging their congregations to read the Bible, church boards are praying about it, small group leaders are buying Rick Warren’s 40 Days in the Word, seminaries are promoting biblical studies courses, and Bible agencies are creating more products.

When things don’t go the way we want them to go we work harder, attempt something new, do what someone else is doing, or try to improve what we’ve been doing. Sometimes we make excuses, blame others or give up. But most of the time we fight the good fight. We strive to leverage social media, seek to better understand culture, work to overcome negative perceptions, harness technology, rebrand, innovate – anything to keep on keeping on.

The trouble is, more of what we’ve been doing produces more of the same results. Yes, there are mission agencies, Bible agencies, local churches and organisations with success stories – but in the grand scheme of things we have to face the facts – there are fewer Westerners engaging with the Bible today, compared to twenty years ago (e.g. a 50% decline in weekly Bible reading in Canada since 1996).

Which naturally leads us to ask, “Is there any hope?” Always! But we need a radical paradigm shift. We must stop thinking we can do something to improve Bible engagement and start calling on God to do what only He can do. We need supernatural intervention for a supernatural problem.

So what is it that only God can do to improve Bible engagement? Many things. But perhaps the most important thing is for God to save people from their sins and incline their hearts to Him.

Belief matters! When people love Christ they love His Word. A correlation of findings from Bible engagement studies reveals that most of the people who intentionally engage with the Bible are people who have embraced Christ by faith alone, i.e., Spirit filled children of God. Real Christians connect with the Bible because that’s what real Christians do (real Christians are spiritually inclined and constrained to live by the Bible’s precepts).

Here’s the bottom line: The decline in Bible engagement is primarily a relational problem – people aren’t connected to Jesus. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” John 8:47 (ESV).

If people are not real Christians then the main task is not to get them to read/hear the Word (as helpful as that may be), the chief task is evangelism. In short, to ramp up Bible engagement we must focus on leading people to Christ.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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What Helps People Connect With the Bible?

Research indicates that the primary factors helping people connect with the Bible are:

  • being a committed Christian
  • accessibility and availability of a Bible
  • attending church
  • reading books that aid Bible reading

Simply stated, people are more likely to engage the Bible when they are committed to Christ, linked up with other people (go to church, attend a Bible study or youth group, speak to friends and family about what they read in the Bible) and use easy to read or contemporary versions of the Bible together with devotional books, reading guides, or commentaries.

Conversely, the main reasons why people don’t connect with the Bible are:

  • they are not relationally connected to the Christian community
  • they do not read books or don’t own a Bible
  • they say they are too busy or have other priorities

Slick advertising campaigns or just handing a stranger a Bible are unlikely to have much success in helping connect people with the Bible. Relationships are crucial. We must facilitate and nurture vertical (with God) and horizontal (with God’s people) relationships. For this to happen we must share the good news (evangelize), teach people how to live for Christ (make disciples), and foster authentic Christ centred communities of faith.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014

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