By Dave Arnold
I needed an escape from the office, so I headed to Barnes
& Noble, a gold mine for someone who loves books and coffee. That's where I
met Jimmy, a college student majoring in Computer Science.
I sensed God leading me to talk with him, so I walked over to where he sat
looking through the pages of the latest issue of Wired. "Excuse me, do you mind
if I ask you a question?"
"No, I don't mind," he replied. He was cordial enough and invited me to sit
down. I fired off my question, "What do you think spirituality is?"
He sat back in his chair, rubbing his chin in deep thought. "Well… I'm a
rationalist. I only believe in what can be explained."
"So you're saying you don't believe in spirituality?" I inquired.
More chin rubbing.
"Well, I don't really think about it. I guess it's a way of explaining
things that people don't understand, something that doesn't have a rational
As the conversation continued, I quickly realized I was talking with a
well-read person and a deep thinker. He went on to say he'd read the Bible
(many times, he claimed), the Koran, the Talmud and some Hindu writings.
"I believe Jesus existed historically-that He was a good guy who told people
to be nice."
But Jimmy said he didn't believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that He
rose from the dead. "These are only theories-they're not concrete."
Jimmy is one of millions of college students and early twentysomethings in
North America who are lost and searching for something solid to grasp, but
coming up short in their quests.
Author Leonard Sweet talks about our postmodern culture as EPIC
(Experiential, Participatory, Image-driven and Connected). College and early
twentysomethings are very "EPIC" in how they think and live.
Many churches aren't quite sure where to place them or how to address their
unique needs and questions.
Gary Jennings, Collegiate Evangelism manager, North American Mission Board,
describes students as a searching, experiential population segment. "Most
college and twentysomethings haven't been reached with the gospel, but they're
very open to talking about spiritual things. They're in an exploration time in
their lives and will try just about anything to fill that void."
As a pastor myself to that age group, I've found that they're very spiritual
in how they deal with life. For many, college becomes a smorgasbord of
spiritual paths to choose from, while discernment is in short supply, as
demonstrated by my brief friendship with Jimmy: he had read about
religion but not formed a relationship with the Savior.
"College is a time when you're confronted with who you are and what you
believe to be true-so, by definition, the college experience is a spiritual
journey," says Gary. "This generation is hungry for truth."
That journey can be a foundation for understanding the gospel for students
who are open to hearing it. But to share Christ effectively, we must understand
this generation. How do we begin?
The first step of reaching this next generation is to be aware of them.
Churches are usually good at reaching children and teens in effective ways:
hiring staff, doing various outreach programs, ministering in relevant ways.
But something happens when a person turns 18. They graduate from the youth
group, and the church rarely has a specific ministry for them.
The church can't expect that when students graduate from high school they're
automatically going to plug into the church because they're "adults" now.
Rather, those who are between 18 and 25 face some of the toughest and most
life-altering decisions they'll ever make-decisions like finding purpose,
finding a vocation, finding the right spouse, etc. The church needs to provide
a place for them and offer guidance during this formative time.
The 18- to 25-year-old group is indeed a specific "population segment." As a
group they have specific needs, speak a certain language, have similar
interests and many times a certain outlook on life.
Not only must the church be aware, but it must take action, communicating to
this population in relevant ways to reach them with the gospel.
This means creating an environment for college and early twentysomethings.
The ministry I lead in Michigan is called NextGen Ministries.
We meet weekly-once a month on Saturday nights (for Vintage) and the other
three weeks on Sunday nights (for The Gathering). Vintage feels like a café and
features a live talk show where college students and twenty-somethings can
watch as their peers are interviewed. The Gathering is a time of worship,
relevant teaching, drama, video and other creative elements. Both Vintage and
The Gathering exist to provide an environment where this age group can connect
with God and connect to others.
For more information on reaching this generation visit:
postmodern/20-something ministry articles, ideas, etc.)
insight into the post-modern, post-Christian culture)
Books on the subject:
The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost
and Allen Hirsch
An Unstoppable Force by Erwin McManus
Pray that this generation will find the truth in Christ in a world that
pushes tolerance and relativism. Pray that God will raise up Christian leaders
from this age group. The church can be effective in reaching them. I think the
key is to provide an atmosphere of relevance and authenticity, a forum for
exploring ideas and life's choices-without ridicule and judgment for those who
show up with thinking that varies from Christian beliefs. People in this
generation need to find Christ for themselves, and the church can provide the
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