Over 40 years ago when ICR’s founder, Dr. Henry Morris, worked with Dr. Tim LaHaye to start Christian Heritage College (now San Diego Christian College), the baby boomers were the trailing-edge generation much like the millennials of today. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the “greatest generation” struggled with their understanding of hippies—the rebellious youth of the time. Many church leaders scrambled in search of ways to reach them, and the gaps between the theologians and philosophers widened with each passing year.
Here’s a list of the generations living in the United States today:
- The greatest generation: born before 1928
- The silent generation: born between 1928 and 1945
- The baby boomer generation: born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980
- The millennials or generation Y: born between 1980 and 19941,2
- Generation Z: born after 19952
Now, the silent generation and even the boomers are beginning to wane, and generations X and Y are running the churches and the corporations of the country. Generation Z is entering the workforce, and the electronic and technological world is changing faster than the latest cell phone. Social media have reached such a level that Internet startups are making millionaires out of teenagers, and initial public offerings for social media companies have raised billions within hours of their entry into the market.
Survey after survey has noted the rapid secularization of our country, and the younger folks seem to be deserting the churches faster than they can be replaced by babies born to young marrieds returning to the church of their roots. Over one quarter of millennials are unaffiliated with any particular faith.1 Seminaries have stopped offering Christian education degrees since Sunday school is no longer a factor in many churches, and the rise of lay worship leaders has become such a phenomenon that young graduates work at Starbucks to supplement their weekend ministry roles.
Or so it seems.
The truth is somewhat less concerning—although it demands notice. Young people are leaving mainline churches and flocking to nondenominational assemblies that cater to a new paradigm: Emerging church movements that emphasize the nontraditional are seeing exponential growth. Churches that insist on old hymns and expositional Bible-preaching seem to be waning and losing membership. Yearning for “the way it used to be” has become a common conversation topic for older church members—and even their social groups and Sunday schools are fading out.
Does this mean that we must “soften” or “water down” the Bible’s message so that these younger folks will pay attention to us? The Lord Jesus insisted that He would build His “church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Was He mistaken? Has the authority and power of the Word of God become ineffective? How far do we take change in order to reach the young without altering the powerful message of Scripture?
While the message of the gospel does not change and the authority of God’s Word is not ever to be questioned, the means and methods by which we present that message to the hearers must adjust and use available technology if we are to be obedient to the timeless command to disciple all nations. Door-to-door visitation was effective and well-received 50 years ago when neighborhoods were open and congenial. Today, everyone is afraid to open their doors to strangers. Flannelgraph presentations may work in some situations, but most children expect the hi-tech animation and visual presentations they have grown up watching on TV.
The means of delivering such a life-giving message must adapt and be attractive to the audience, or the audience will be drawn away by society’s sound and sensation overload. Yes, the gospel is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). Yes, the Holy Spirit is still the One who is responsible to “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). And yes, we are each still responsible to be “a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Well, how then do we reach those whose minds and hearts are being enticed away from the Word of God? How are we to capture their attention? The Bible tells us that our Lord has “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). So, we have the ability to discern from the Scriptures the appropriate means and methods necessary to meet the needs of those God entrusts to our care.
Permit me to suggest the obvious. When sharing the truths of God’s Word, use tools that will grab the notice of your audience. Compel your listener to want the message.
Tell stories. (The Bible uses the word “parables.”) Jesus often used this means of teaching throughout His ministry. He primarily had verbal discourse at His disposal. We have visual media. He was limited to the assembled crowd. We have the Internet and radio and television and movies and DVDs! He had the power of His vocal cords. We have microphones and, well, just about every conceivable means possible to amplify and multiply our message.
Remind your listener of our history. (The Bible is mostly history.) Genesis 1–11 is not an optional portion of Scripture—it is foundational! If we fail to set the stage with the great Book of Beginnings, then the sequence of subsequent developments will flounder in disconnected stories with no message other than perhaps character lessons. And again, we have at our disposal the means to visualize the stories! We can show what the Flood of Noah did to the earth! We can animate the wonders of life and the majesty of science. If we only talk, then we are burying the opportunities available to us in the “ground” of disuse—and may well even be called a “wicked and lazy servant” (Matthew 25:26).
We live in a wonderful age of opportunity—this is the “challenge of plenty” we discussed last month.3 Yes, the opposition is strong and active, and the clearer the message of truth, the more active are the opponents. But we should “not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). Of course, there are not only many cutting-edge ways to tell Scripture’s great messages, but there are also audiences primed to receive them.
Millennials, for example, don’t just use technological gadgets—they’ve “fused their social lives into them.” Three-quarters of millennials have created a profile on a social networking site.1
ICR is actively seeking new ways to reach the younger generations of our world. We must do so—it is a crucial connection! The message of Scripture is as vital as it has ever been, and the need is as great as it has ever been. There are methods that will continue for the foreseeable future. We will still publish Acts & Facts and Days of Praise. We are still providing the radio programs Science, Scripture, and Salvation and Back to Genesis. We are still writing and publishing books. We are still actively doing research in the sciences that deal with origins and the early chapters of Genesis. That will not change.
But we will be doing more, as well. We hope to produce publications generated and designed for children. We are currently producing youth-oriented online media. We have begun an extensive video series geared toward young people—specifically, the millennials. (See our team at work in the Grand Canyon location shots on page four.) Lots of things are going on at ICR. You will be hearing more about all of this in the days ahead. Please pray for the Lord’s wisdom as we seek the best means and methods for these critical days, and join in supporting ICR as you are able. As always, we are grateful that you graciously partner with us—we function under God’s provision through you.
- Taylor, P. S. Keeter. 2010. Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. Confident. Connected. Open to Change. Pew Research Center.
- Some sources define millennials as being born between 1977 and 1994 and place generation Z as starting in 1995. See Schroer, W. J. Generations X, Y, Z and the Others. The Social Librarian. Posted on socialmarketing.org, accessed September 30, 2013.
- Morris, H. III. 2013. The Challenge of Plenty. Acts & Facts. 42 (10): 5-7.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.