The challenge of reaching a new generation

By MICHAEL J. BROOKS / Guest columnist

Note: This is an opinion column.

I traveled to another county to visit a church member and passed a church building near the highway. Their outdoor sign read: “Jeremiah 29:11.” Only the reference without the verse.

Certainly many believers are familiar with Jeremiah’s word. It’s one of the most beautiful promises in scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

But I wondered about the target audience for this communication. Was this church intentionally giving a “coded” word of encouragement to Christians who drove by, or were they perhaps suggesting that drivers look up the reference when they arrived at their destinations? Would a non-Bible reader, or even a person without faith, but open to faith (some call these “seekers”), know what this message is?

Theologian Ken Ham demonstrated in a recent book, “Gospel Reset,” that two apostles in the New Testament used different tactics in their messaging.

Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost according to Acts 2. He quoted Hebrew scripture and explained the savior he proclaimed fulfilled biblical prophecy as the son of David. He urged his Jewish hearers to believe this message about the messiah, turn from their sins and find forgiveness.

When the apostle Paul found himself with some “down time” in Athens, the intellectual capital of the Mediterranean world, he couldn’t restrain himself from gathering a crowd and preaching about Jesus. But he didn’t quote the Hebrew scriptures in Acts 17. Instead he quoted Greek philosophers. His audience was different.

Ham insisted that our world is increasingly more Acts 17 than Acts 2.

Statistics show that many in our generation don’t know or follow the scripture. It’s estimated that the late Billy Graham said “the Bible says” 50 times in every sermon he preached. Many younger people today might respond to this with “so what?” since the Bible is not authoritative to them. (Of course, the Bible is authoritative to the church. We revere it and teach it and try to find effective ways to relate to those who don’t).

Additionally, our outreach methodology is challenged today. I as a teen accompanied deacons on church visitation and can’t remember a time we weren’t invited in to talk about spiritual things with those in our community. Today many residents won’t answer the door if someone shows up they don’t know, so how to do community outreach is on our minds constantly.

Research demonstrates more than 80 percent of those who first come to a worship service were invited by a friend, neighbor, workmate or relative. Thus, friendship evangelism has always been, and continues to be, our finest outreach tool.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.