While engaging college students about the AIDS pandemic, we approached a pre-law student who shirked our invitation to participate, saying, “I know what you Christians believe and I don’t want to become one. I don’t want to just go to heaven. I want to go into law and help people and the world now.”
Sounds like a pretty successful evangelistic conversation, right?
Unexpected conversations like these have prompted significant shifts in the way that I reach millennials with the Gospel. My twelve years as an evangelist to universities with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship taught me so much about millennials and the seven values they hold. I learned they are globally conscious, socially concerned, civically active, committed to the environment, spiritually hungry, assume their communities will be multi-ethnic, and seek partnerships to serve society. And even more, I learned these values shape the way they process life, including the Gospel.
Let me ask two questions that reframed the way I approach reaching millennials:
First, what are the most common components of the Gospel message you hear when it’s preached?
I asked this question to evangelists while leading a seminar on “The Gospel & Emerging Communication” and they responded with the components you’d expect: “God will forgive my sins; I will not go to hell but to heaven; God will make my life better; God wants to change my behavior; I can be individually reconciled to God.”
Second, if a millennial heard you preach these gospel components, what thoughts, questions and responses might be elicited?
Just then, the evangelists had an epiphany about how the common Gospel message could be interpreted by millennials. Here were their responses:
- This Gospel is selfish - it impacts people on an individual level reconciling them to God and improving their personal lives.
- This Gospel is naive - we’re portrayed as escapists who just want to get to heaven producing no earthly good beyond moralism.
- This Gospel is impotent - it doesn’t acknowledge the needs of our society nor offer any solutions.
The Robust Gospel
Now, we know the Gospel is more robust and more attractive than this. So what are some shifts we can make to more effectively reach and retain millennials for the Church? Last year our ministry, A Faith That Overflows, sought to answer this question by developing an online course called “Reaching Millennials with the Gospel”. Taking cues from Aristotle’s philosophy for effective communication, one module focused on the three shifts preachers can make in the areas of logos, ethos and pathos to better connect with millennials. They are:
- For logos, shift from preaching Moralistic Therapeutic Theism to the Kingdom of God.
- For ethos, shift from preaching and teaching to conversation and dialogue.
- For pathos, shift from presenting propositions targeting their minds to sharing stories capturing their heart.
So far, I’ve been leading us through a reflection around Shift #1 logos - the message we communicate to millennials - helping us see why the content of the common Gospel has been declared “insufficient” by millennials.
A notable change took place in the way millennials engaged with our outreaches when we shifted from solely preaching Christ’s desire to forgive individual sins to incorporating the broader themes and wider implications of the Kingdom of God. When we brought Christ’s passion for shalom to the core of our messaging - that his aim is for all broken areas in society (and individuals) to become whole and eventually flourish - millennials lingered long in spiritual dialogue, packed large auditoriums and even partnered with us in week-long campaigns that coupled evangelism with justice initiatives. They grappled with the Gospel that speaks truth into the plagues of racial inequality, human trafficking and pandemic disease. And as a result, their apathy toward Jesus turned into curiosity, and their curiosity turned into over 4,000 decisions for Christ in the past decade!
What could’ve happened with the pre-law student I mentioned earlier if the Gospel of the Kingdom was more widely preached by evangelists? I believe he would’ve gladly lingered in dialogue listening for how his passion to help dying AIDS victims flourish could find an avenue of expression through Christ and his Kingdom. However, because the Gospel he’d heard was not this comprehensive, he figured he’d have to do it without God.
Amplifying your Gospel message
So let’s reflect on ways your messaging can meet millennials longings…
- What issues of pain and passion do you see millennials organizing around?
- How does your current Gospel messaging boldly face and embrace these issues?
- What are ways you can incorporate the broader implications of the Gospel to address these issues as you preach to millennials?
Right now, some of you may be motivated to incorporate these themes into your Gospel messaging but sense you need more tools. Here are two resources to help you reach millennials more effectively:
1) You can access the full lesson on “Three Shifts to make in Preaching to Millennials” for free along with the complete curriculum on how we reached and retained over 4,000 millennials for the Church at: www.reachingmillennials.info
2) Intervarsity’s “The Big Story” Gospel outline & App depicts the broader themes of God’s Kingdom using a simple outline or app you can use in your Gospel messaging.
James Chambers is the founder of A Faith That Overflows, a ministry which coaches pastors in developing Discipleship-Evangelism cultures so their churches primarily grow by conversion. His seminars have equipped thousands of ordinary believers around the world to more deeply abide in Christ and be confident in sharing Him with others. He received an M.A. in Evangelism & Leadership from the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Get social @JamesChambersIV or email [email protected].