Evangelising the generations

Originally posted in 2002, and then updated in July 2009

It has been a tremendous privilege over many years to be able to (almost) seamlessly blend my ministry and work aspirations. This is something many people spend their whole lives striving for – to integrate what they do for a living with the passion in their hearts. I fell into this very young, and have been privileged to continue to do so.

Specifically, the work I do on different generations, and seeing the world through other people’s eyes (see http://www.graemecodrington.com) has application in many different areas – from schools and churches, to marketing and HR departments of large corporates, and even government institutions, too.

A few things have happened recently to remind me of work I did a number of years ago on evangelising the next generation. I wrote a chapter on “Generations at church” in my 2004 book, “Mind the Gap”. Now, EE3, the global evangelism movement, will be providing my book to its members. I have also been in contact with the organisers of the upcoming Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation, to be held in Cape Town 2010.

So, previously unpublished on this blog, is an article I wrote in 2000 for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association magazine.

Evangelising the Busters
by Graeme Codrington

Living in the difficult days of transition between two idealistic generations, the Busters (also known as Generation X) are children of revolution, birthed and raised in one of the greatest times of changes ever seen in history. Like most teenagers, they have reacted to their parents. But unlike any teenagers and young adults before them, the world in which they are living is virtually entirely unlike the world of their parents or grandparents.

The skills they have leant, they could not learn from their parents. The values they have inculcated are those necessary to survive in the world in which they find themselves. These values can be used as a point of connection as we approach Busters with the Gospel of Christ. Some important values, phrased as statements they might make, are:

1. “What must I do to be loved?”
Relationships are the key felt need for this generation. In fact, relationships can be said to be “everything” for them: from network marketing, to the way they do business, to the fact that they operate with a much smaller, but more tightly knit group of friends. There are two implications for evangelism: (i) “mass evangelism” won’t work – one-on-one friendship evangelism will work, and (ii) it may take a lot longer to win their trust before we have an opportunity to share our faith.

2. “I am not a target market”
This generation hates being treated like a “project”. If your interaction with them is scripted to produce a result (i.e. conversion) they will pick it up very quickly and will distance themselves. Our attempts to befriend them must be of genuine friendship. The best concept is to think of two of your good friends who have never met. You know both very well, and think that they will hit it off if they have an opportunity. So you create a space for them to meet. How their relationship develops is now not up to you – it is between the two of them. So it is with Gen X and Jesus: you love both, and hope that after an introduction they’ll become good friends. But your friendship with each is not dependent on their friendship with each other.

3. “The truth is out there”
Gen Xers are not asking “Is it true?”, they are asking “Does it work?”. The only way to show them this is to show them how it works for you. They need to see the Gospel before they will hear it.

4. “Just do it”
Xers live on the edge. They love a challenge. They will give their lives to those who ask the most of them, not the least. In the words of a new dance song: “They’re living and dying to find something worth living and dying for”. Evangelism should emphasize commitment, sacrifice and long-term discipleship. The parable of the tower should be a guide (see Luke 14:28-35).

5. “My now is more important than my future”
They are more interested in an anaesthetic than a cure. You can’t scare them into heaven with stories of hell anymore. They want to know the value of Christianity in the here and now, so an emphasis on the Kingdom and on the fact that we have (present continuous tense) eternal life are vital. They need to know that Jesus makes a difference now, and that the Gospel has a message for the present world. The need to see this message being acted out by Christians who make a difference in the worlds (communities) in which they find themselves.

6. “Music is my life. I listen with my soul.”
We cannot use music enough in evangelism. In particular, we should use the popular music of the day, as it reflects a search for meaning. We can provide the answers that many of today’s songs are asking.

7. “I live in cyberspace”
Evangelism by email and webpage is a novel idea – but a necessary one for this generation that can only vaguely remember “before” PC’s. (2009 update: 9 years later this comment seems a bit “obvious”, yet how many churches are using their websites as evangelistic tools?)

8. “Let me tell you my story, and then I’ll listen to yours”
Narrative evangelism is essential. Mark 4:33-34 tell us that Jesus only used stories when speaking to the crowds (the unconverted). We need to follow His example. We do not have His perfect knowledge of each person’s situation, however, so we need to learn to listen a lot longer before we speak.

9. “I don’t trust institutions”
The focus should not be on joining a particular church, but rather on a relationship with Christ.

The best salvation outlines for this generation come not from the courtroom analogies of Romans, but rather from the relational ones of Ephesians: adoption, family, inheritance and guarantees. Above all, this generation needs to see that Jesus is the friend of sinners, the healer of the wounded and the lifter of heads. They will see this, if they see wounded healers in what they see in you and me.

One thought on “Evangelising the generations”

  1. Hi,

    This is a great enlightenment for me. I have been a bible scholar and this opens another dimension for biblical understanding. I’m commenting at a time when we r witnessing a lot of farce in the religious circle in Kenya. A recent case involves a church that refused to bury their pastors after they were involved in a car crash, supposedly to pray for their resurrection. The other involves a sect called finger of God that has made a young lady to disown everything she knows including parents to indulge in a funny ritual. With this trend we need a re-awakening to truth. This article is so timely to shed light in this area.

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