Reaching Young People Through the Noise of Culture
Ken Davis shared this experiment: We conducted a three-phase investigation at Rockford College and used over 100 college graduates preparing for youth ministry.
In the first phase, We took a young volunteer from the room and blindfolded him. We simply told him that he could do anything he wished when he returned. He remained outside the room while we instructed each audience member to think of a simple task for the volunteer. When the volunteers returned, they would shout their instructions at him from where they sat. Before this, we privately instructed another person to shout a specific task at the blindfolded volunteer as though it were a matter of life and death.
This person was to attempt to persuade the blindfolded volunteer to climb the steps at the back of the auditorium and embrace an instructor standing at the door; he had to shout this vital message from where he sat in the audience. The volunteer needed to be more aware of all instructions and previous arrangements. The volunteer represented our young people, the audience represented the world of voices screaming for their attention, and the person with the vital message represented those of us who bring the message of the Gospel to youth. The blindfolded student was led back into the room. The lecture room exploded in a din of shouting. Each person tried to get the volunteer to follow his or her unique instructions. Amid the crowd, the voice of the person with the vital message was lost; no single message stood out. The blindfolded student stood paralyzed by confusion and indecision. He moved randomly and without purpose, seeking to discern a clear and unmistakable voice in the crowd.
The second phase: We told the audience about the person attempting to get the volunteer to accomplish the vital task. At this point, we chose another person from the audience to add a new dimension. This person's goal was to, at all costs, keep the volunteer from doing the vital task. While the rest of the audience was to remain in their seats, these two people were allowed to stand next to the volunteer and shout their opposing messages. They could get as close as they wished but were not allowed to touch the volunteer. As the blindfolded volunteer was led back into the room, the shouting began again. This time, because the two messengers were standing so close, the volunteer could hear both messages, but he vacillated because the statements were opposed to each other. He followed one for a bit, then was convinced by the other to go the opposite direction. We must get close to young people to hear our message. Even then, others with opposing messages are also close enough to make their messages clear. Sometimes they are peers, relatives...The main lesson: only the intimate voices could be heard. Even though the volunteer took no decisive action, he listened to the message.
The third phase: The response to the third phase was startling. In this phase, everything remained the same except the one with the vital message was allowed to touch the volunteer. He could not pull, push, or in any way force the volunteer to do his bidding, but he could touch him and, in that way, encourage him to follow. The blindfolded volunteer was led into the room. When he appeared, the silence erupted into an earsplitting roar. The two messengers stood close, shouting their opposing words.
Then, the one with the vital message put his arm gently around the volunteer's shoulder and leaned close to speak directly into his ear. Almost without hesitation, the volunteer began to yield to his instruction. Occasionally, he paused to listen as the opposition frantically tried to convince him to turn around. But then, by the gentle guidance of touch, the one with the vital message led him on. A frightening realism occurred spontaneously as the one with the essential message drew close to the goal. All those in the audience, who up to this point had been shouting their own individual instruction, suddenly joined in unison to keep the volunteer from taking those final steps. Goose bumps appeared all over my body as students began chanting, "Don't go!" "Don't go!" "Don't go!" So many times, I've seen the forces that pull our youth in different directions join together to dissuade them from a serious commitment to Christ. The chant grew to a pulsing crescendo, "Don't go!" "Don't go!" But the guiding arm of the one with the vital message never left the volunteer's shoulder. At the top of the stairs in the back of the lecture hall, the one with the vital message leaned one last time to whisper in the ear of the volunteer. There was a moment of hesitation, then the volunteer threw his arms around the instructor, and the auditorium erupted in cheers and applause.
When the volunteer revealed how he felt as he went through each phase, it became apparent that if our message is to be heard, we cannot shout it from the cavernous confines of our church buildings. We must venture out and draw close to those we wish to communicate with. If we really seek a life-changing commitment from our young people, we must reach out where they are and, in love, gently touch them and lead them to that commitment. We asked the volunteer why he followed the one with the vital message, the one who touched him. After a few moments, he said, "Because it felt like he was the only one who really cared."
Ken Davis, How To Speak To Youth, pp 19-23.
In a survey conducted by Bruce Wilkinson about teens, some shocking details became known.
65% of all H.S. Christian students are sexually active.
75% of all H.S. students cheat regularly.
30% of all H.S. students have shoplifted in the past 30 days.
45-50% of all teen pregnancies are aborted.
3.3 million teens are alcoholics.
1,000 teens try to commit suicide daily.
10% of H.S. students have experimented with or are involved in a homosexual lifestyle.
One of the things I hear often is that churches are seeking ways to get more with more young adults in their church. Are our churches today positioned to handle the issues listed above? Are we ready for some extreme evangelism? I often shared with my church members that actual missions are messy. Here are seven key things to remember when reaching out to young people today.
1. Go to them.
The unchurched, especially those living a lifestyle outside the Church, have a vastly different mindset than active churchgoers. We need to be patient with these new guests in our midst. Their lifestyle and choices can be quite different from our belief systems. Maybe watching the Gospel will transform their minds. The kind of spirit-altering transformation Paul talks about in Romans, just give it. Time. Be patient!
2. Be relaxed and accepting.
Refrain from being put off if they reject you at first. They expect you to have a judgmental attitude. If they hear that from you, you have lost them. Remember Jesus with the woman at the well. In John 4:17-18 Jesus models evangelism in his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well past. He does not judge her based on her checkered past but offers her a new pathway forward.
'"I have no husband," she replied. Jesus told her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."' Jesus sees her past and realizes her need for a savior.
Like the woman at the well, we must look under the rough exterior, and we will see young people seeking acceptance, a listening ear, and a place to belong.
3. Be yourself.
Authenticity is vital, so you do not try to relate to young people by being like them. They can spot a fake a mile away. Be who God created you to be. Share your authentic walk with God—the ups and the downs, and how God was with you every step of the way.
4. Make them feel welcome.
You do not need a huge budget to start; begin with snacks and a welcoming atmosphere that says, "You belong, and we want you here."
5. Set some ground rules.
Do not make mountains out of molehills. Keep the rules simple and enforce only major infractions (no drugs, damage to property, and fighting). Remember, this may be messy! At first, but give God time to shape them.
6. Keep it simple.
Spend more time building relationships. Keep your messages brief and to the point. This is a TikTok, YouTube generation.
7. Lead with confidence and faith.
Remember the words of Isaiah 55:11: "So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
Be patient, and do not get easily discouraged. The outcomes of any evangelism effort are not your own. The effect is in God's hands. We plant the seeds. We may not even see the results of our efforts this side of heaven, but the seeds we sow could have a kingdom impact.