If the Church is serious about engaging the next generation, we need to answer their deepest questions, says Alanzo Paul. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers a narrative of redemption that they desperately need to hear
As I’ve traversed the diverse landscapes of the UK, every heartfelt conversation I have with young people reveals a consistent, poignant truth: their souls are awash with deep-seated questions of identity and the profound mysteries of existence.
In our digital era, where TikTok influencers often shape cultural narratives as powerfully as intellectual giants, the foundational tenets of secular thought, echoing figures like Friedrich Nietzsche who infamously declared the “death of God”, pose challenges to the Christian gospel.
Simultaneously, as theologian NT Wright elucidates, the good news beckons with a promise of a robust identity rooted in the redemptive narrative of Jesus Christ. The intersection of these two worldviews brings forth many essential questions. One that looms especially large is: “Why should church leaders prioritise nurturing faith in the next generation?”
In Jesus, individuals discover both the freedom they long for and the objective foundation they need
Firstly, the decline in church participation is not merely about dwindling numbers. It mirrors a deeper spiritual vacuum. In A Secular Age (Harvard University Press) sociologist, Charles Taylor, explores the profound shift from a society where belief in God was unchallenged (or ‘porous’) to one where it’s considered one option among many (or ‘buffered’). If church leaders wish to counter this drift, it’s imperative to address relevant questions, like the identity crisis, head-on.
A generation adrift
The so-called post-Christian, Western secular narrative might offer freedom of self-exploration, but often at the cost of anchorage. In this realm of autonomy, individuals frequently (and easily) find themselves adrift. As philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre opines, without an ultimate purpose or shared understanding of the good, moral discourse can degenerate into emotivism, with identity becoming ever elusive.
Today’s young people sadly find the roots of their identity firmly planted in subjective mid-air. In contrast, the gospel, as the late Tim Keller often underscored, presents an identity “not based on our performance, but God’s affection.” In Jesus, individuals discover both the freedom they long for and the objective foundation they need.
In our churches, addressing existential concerns - morality, meaning, justice, suffering - is essential for reaching the next generation. The secular response, as illuminated by existentialists like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, often tethers meaning to individual creation, which can be dauntingly subjective. The gospel of Christ, on the other hand, situates these questions within the grand narrative of redemption. It suggests that amid suffering, there’s a God who empathises; in moral dilemmas, a guiding eternal compass; and in the quest for meaning, a story larger than one’s own.
Grounded in faith
In today’s challenging landscape where addiction, anxiety, cancel-culture, despair and self-harm are tragically prevalent amongst young people, a generation grounded in faith becomes the beacon of hope. The gospel offers more than just consolation; it provides objective truth, genuine transformation, forgiveness and a new life, by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The decline of the Church isn’t merely a tale of vacant seats; it’s about communities at risk of losing this message and the healing, restorative power it brings.
Addressing the next generation isn’t about a return to blind traditionalism. It is about addressing today’s most pressing issues. The church’s challenge - and opportunity - lies in bridging the age-old gospel message with the contemporary language of identity and existential quest. For church leaders, the mission is clear: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Addressing existential concerns - morality, meaning, justice, suffering - is essential for reaching the next generation
Ignoring these questions, and the issues faced by young people, risks exacerbating church decline and societal disconnect. We do not honour the Lord by avoiding young’ people’s questions. The Great Commission is still the responsibility of every follower of Christ. In a world teetering on the precipice, we are not called to sit idly by. But rather, like Jesus, we are to deeply engage, understanding that in every young soul’s question is an echo of eternity waiting to be awakened.
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The OCCA runs Reboot, events that aim to answer young people’s deepest questions about life and God in a safe environment that offers kind and credible responses. The next event is in London on 16 September. To find out more, go to rebootglobal.org