About This Blog

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Reaching Millennials" (David Stark)

TITLE: Reaching Millennials: Proven Methods for Engaging a Younger Generation
AUTHOR: David Stark
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2016, (176 pages).

The news is grim. The statistics are not encouraging. The Church in the West are largely shrinking. The conventional belief now is that a growing number of the younger generation, especially the Millennials (Born between 1978-1998) are no longer going to Church. Is it too late to reach them? Can we stem the outflow of believers to an increasing number of "Nones" (Non-Affiliated; Non-Church-Going; and non-committal) group of people? In a book that offers to push back against the tide of dismay and discouragement, David Stark offers this book not just as a life-buoy but a firm call to re-think, to re-assess, to re-imagine, and to rebuild. Before that can happen, two things need to be done: 1) Change the Mindset; 2) Re-work the Methodologies.

In changing the Mindset, Stark studies the gospels and the Acts of the disciples to discover the way Jesus and the early believers reach out to others. He looks at the ways of evangelism; the wisdom and patterns used; the questions posed to unbelievers; and the need for cultural awareness. At the least, do not make it hard for unbelievers to come to Christ.  He shows us five ways in which we can streamline the process of changing mindsets, beginning with ours.

First, we need to move away from a negative toward a more positive stance. We need to keep the main thing, the main thing. Far too often, people and unbelievers perceive Christians as people who are against something: Like against abortion; against homosexuality; against same-sex marriage; against pornography; and so on. These perceptions easily lead to accusations of judgmentalism, something that the younger generation generally dislike. The key then is to focus on what we are for rather than what we are against. Without being defensive ourselves, we may even help others to open up when we are honest about our own struggles.

Second, instead of isolated enclaves, work at building bridges to ideas and ideals; toward community building; to build common ground and interests. Interests such as serving the community; giving back to society; having a sense of purpose and connection to the more important things in life; to building relationships; to social action; and many more. This means working hard to understand the neighbours we live with, their needs, their passions, and be humble to work with them. The key question we can ask is about how the initiative is biblically consistent.

Third, on disputable matters of the Church or of the faith, stick to the essentials so as not to be sidetracked by the peripherals. Know that tolerance is an attribute that the Millennials hang on to highly. Instead of just a one-tool mentality, Stark proposes a modified Wesleyan Quadrilateral that when we discuss matters of dispute, combine relevant parts of Bible, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

Four, do not enter a conversation with the Law or some hard-to-achieve requirement that puts people off. Minimize our list of requirements. Do not lead with the Law. Instead, lead with the good news of the gospel, and to remind one another that because of sin, we are all broken. The greatest commandments of loving God and loving people must be foremost in everything we do.

Five, we need to focus on the gospel rather than what is wrong with us. This means shining a light on our hunger, our thirsts, our deepest needs, and our greatest desires. Use language and concepts that people can understand with regard to these. Learn to understand people even before we speak. Use genuine care and authenticity in our relationship building. Use conversational styles and realize that time is always needed for trust and goodwill to grow.

With these five categories covered, Stark goes on to some "proven methods" that are placed in four quadrants:

  1. Outsider Targeted Services
  2. Internal Ministries Are Open to Outsiders
  3. Caring and Serving in the Community
  4. Partnering with Outsiders
David Stark is President of BusinessKeys International, a consulting practice that services both churches as well as businesses. He has previously served as a pastor and worked with churches for over twenty years before branching out as a consultant. In this book, he shows us that there is hope for Churches, for congregations facing a dwindling population of young people. He believes that it is entirely possible to reach the Millennials, as long as we practice the biblical models of sharing the truth in love, or making it easier for people to come to faith. It is certainly depressing for the Church when we see churches that are filled more with greying people rather than young people. If there is no younger generation, the future of the Church will be at stake. 

What I like about this book is the clear explanations of mindsets to change and the methodologies employed to enable the effective outreach to the Millennials. He places particular emphasis on something that Millennials are familiar with: Online opportunities. From social media to the humble website, he shows us that while the methods of connecting can change, the need for connections remains the same. Communications are now increasingly digital. Virtual spaces are becoming more ubiquitous. Face to face gatherings are still important but often reserved only for the most important types. The four methodologies mentioned above are useful categories to remember. Outsider Targeted Services are for unbelievers and for people outside of the Church. Internal ministries can be designed to be more open to outsiders too via task-oriented groups; relationship-based; content-oriented; and needs oriented. There are ideas galore that should go beyond mere whetting one's appetite to reach out. 

What I am not so sure is the "proven methods" promise at the cover of the book, which may be too much promising. For that, I would urge readers to read around the contexts of each case mentioned as a success in the book. It is tempting for people to look for best methods and uncritically apply them to their own communities. Such people may be disappointed when their expectations are not met. Thus, I would recommend that readers understand the need for a mindset change first of all. Do not jump straight to the methodologies, although I know it is so tempting for one to do so in seaching for a quick-fix. There are no quick-fixes in reaching out to people. People do not like to be seen as something to be solved. Rather, they want to be treated decently as people needing to be understood. I am thankful to Stark for providing this resource not just to kick start our enthusiasm and hope, but also to remember that any effort to reach out to Millennials is a form of discipleship as well. When they see how we love them, care for them, and to reach out to them genuinely, they too will be watching, listening, and wondering about our actions. Perhaps, it would rub off on them and they will then do the same for the future generations.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment