Testimony Helps Churches Reach Students

By: William D. Shiell

How does a church reach millennials and Generation Z? If there’s one plea that I hear across the country by congregations, denominations and church leaders alike, it’s this one: “Help us reach young people!” I understand their concerns. As a parent, pastor, president, and church volunteer, I’ve had a unique seat in the conversation that so many churches are having. I’ve watched students live an active life of faith and fall away from a congregation. It’s a pressing need that requires innovative and intentional ministry.

For the last year and a half, I’ve volunteered on Wednesdays at my church. When I’m not traveling for Northern, I co-lead a seventh-grade boys’ small group. For all those times I said as a pastor, “I could never be a youth pastor,” or announced from the platform, “Please help out in the youth group,” now I’m the volunteer. And I love it. I don’t pretend to be an expert, just a participant in the drama unfolding in young adult culture today. These boys are full of life, craziness, and hope. They have longer attention spans than you might imagine, but they’re multi-focused. They listen to everything at once. If they’re any indication of what Generation Z is like, then we have a lot to learn from them; and they have plenty to teach us. They’ve also become a learning laboratory for me to understand how churches can reach emerging generations.

The good news is I’ve also discovered is that our students at Northern are on the front lines of this work. They’re reaching students using biblical training and innovative strategies. Let me give you one example. In the small community of Mahomet, Illinois, Northern student Jacob Chase used the power of story with his youth group. He encouraged his students to write and share their testimonies. In turn, they lead worship by sharing their testimonies with the entire congregation twice each month. In the process, they engaged their congregation; and many others at First Baptist Mahomet got involved. Using scripture, Jacob taught his students how they were participants in God’s work.

Today, students need to see their story in light of God’s work. I’m amazed at how my seventh grade guys know the Bible and retain plenty of facts. They’re wonderful with bible verses; they engage critically; they listen (while appearing to be distracted). They lack, however, the big picture of how God’s work intersects with their daily life today. Through the power of testimony, churches can grow and lives can change. Generation Z leads the way through the power of the Spirit.

For more information about how seminary can help you reach Generation Z and Millenials, join us for a week of free classes at the Taste of Northern November 18-19. Sign up here.

November 8, 2019

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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