by Will Graham
It’s commonly said that Christianity is always one generation from extinction. Although that may seem alarmist and almost impossible, there is a level of truth to it. God has always been faithful to raise up new leaders of the faith and new generations of young people on fire for Him. As the current generation of Christian leaders, however, we need to uphold our role by making an intentional, concerted effort to reach the next generation and disciple them in the faith.
It is incredibly important to engage with young people today in a way that encourages a real, authentic and life-changing relationship with Christ. It’s possibly more important than ever! According to a Barna report from earlier this year, “Nearly six in ten (59%) young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away, and the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade from 44% to 52%.”
What’s the answer to these problems? It’s more than simply dragging your child to church until he or she is old enough to run the other way. Let me share three ideas.
First, live the life you want your child to live. It does no good for you to spout Christian sayings while sporting a “do as I say, not as I do” lifestyle. If your faith is superficial, he or she will quickly realize that. If your walk is authentic and directs your path, however, your child may be more inclined to follow in your faith.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Parents, I would encourage you to take this to heart and invite Jesus into your life and home. Make sure your faith in Him is more than lip service; allow Him to direct what you see, hear, discuss, and pray as you go through your day. Love your child with the grace-filled love of Christ.
Church leaders, do the same. Don’t just relegate the young people to that room at the end of the hall with the beanbags and sofas. Engage them, encourage them, pray for them, and help them as they navigate a pressure-filled world that may be hostile to their faith.
Recognize them as a priority and as partners in the gospel. Every day your youth are going into an incredible mission field. Equip them to shine the light of Jesus.
Second, disciple the children in your care—both at home and in the church—and encourage them as they learn and grow in the faith. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach them (the words of the Lord) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”
You only have a limited amount of time with your children before they are sent out into the world. Never miss the opportunity to impart scripture and sear the word of God on their hearts.
I still remember the very first Bible verse I memorized. Did I learn it in Sunday School? No. I learned it because my parents had a little plastic “Bread of Life” container on our kitchen table with Bible verses on cards stuffed inside. My parents made it a priority to lift up the Bible in our home, and I would encourage you to do the same.
Similarly, pastors and youth workers, Sunday morning or Wednesday night might be the only time some of your young people are exposed to the gospel. When church or youth group is over, some go back to very difficult lives in homes where the name of Christ is never spoken. Disciple your youth. Feed them a healthy diet of truth from scripture, tackle the tough issues, and mentor them as much as you can in the limited time you have.
Finally, if the children and young people in your life have not yet made a decision for Christ, pray and watch for opportunities to present the good news of Jesus Christ. First Peter 3:15 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” As you pray, God will soften their hearts, break down barriers, and open doors for you.
Is Christianity always one generation from extinction? Yes, I suppose it probably is. But, are we—you and I—going to let that happen on our watch? Not a chance! The gospel is for every generation. Live a godly life, disciple your child, and reach the young people around you with the gospel. There’s too much at stake to let this moment slip by!
Will Graham (William Franklin Graham IV) (@tellagraham), grandson of Billy Graham, is an associate evangelist and vice president with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He has proclaimed the gospel across six continents since beginning his evangelistic ministry in 2006. He is also executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C.