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The Church gets it wrong when it focuses on youth

Christians often talk about reaching the next generation. But Sarah Hall wonders whether our focus on young people is misplaced 

How many times over the last decade have you heard about the Church's push to bring in the “lost generation”?

These days whenever I go to a Christian conference, or see something online about Fresh Expressions, or read an article about a thriving church (yes, they do exist!) the emphasis is almost always on youth: from children upwards to about 35. The Church in its evangelism seems to have three priorities: young people, young people and young people. What I want to know is: what happened to everyone else?

In scripture we are told that we are adopted sons and daughters of God. By virtue of that adoption, we become brothers and sisters in Christ and part of the family of God.

"Family" means more than one generation. There are always people of different ages in any family. There is no upper or lower age limit to a family! Yet last year, when my husband and I were looking to change churches, and to join a church closer to where we lived, we visited several churches which were obviously seeking to attract younger people, almost to the exclusion of people who were above the age of 40. We had both been Christians a number of years but I wondered how I would have reacted if my first visit to a church had been to one of these? Would it have seemed odd to me that I was the oldest person there? 

When Jesus's family come to take him home, because they were concerned for him, he looked around at "those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:34-35)

For Jesus to say, "Here are my mother and brothers," tells us that there were probably men and women there of different ages. There was never any suggestion that some of the people present were not welcome, because the were the “wrong” age. Neither did Jesus say, “I’m sorry, but young people are a bit thin on the ground, here, so can the older ones please leave because they might put off the younger people from following me?”

No one should be made to feel that they are not welcome, not part of the "target market".

The moment we say that our church is seeking to evangelise one group of people over another is the moment that we say that some people are more important to us than others. Is one life saved more significant than another? Are our eyes fixed on the great commission or on the survival of the church?

Maybe we need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who draws people to Jesus, not clever marketing. Yes, we have to be relevant. Yes, our evangelism needs to be contextualised. But no, that does not mean we mimic society’s idolisation of youth culture, in a desperate attempt to attract younger people.

Others may say that research tells us that churches with a specific profile tend to grow. Even if this is the case, I ask, is it right to adopt that approach? We follow Jesus, who calls all people to him, who in his earthly ministry cared nothing for a person’s life circumstances, who chose disciples of all ages. What would he think of a church that focused all its evangelism on the “lost generation”? Isn’t everyone lost without him?

When we focus on one age group, to the exclusion of others, we abandon the notion of the family of God. Not just that, we say to society that some lives are more worthy of saving than others. How can that be right?

Sarah Hall is a preacher and teacher in her local church and churches across West London. She is passionate to see more people come to Christ. In her working life she runs her own consultancy company.

You can read responses to this piece by Rachel Turner and Tim Alford on youthandchildrens.work

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