Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Drew Dyck's recent book, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith… and How to Bring Them Back, (Moody Publishers, 2010).
Many young adults who grew up praying to Jesus and participating in church are tragically abandoning Christianity. Some walk away deliberately after deciding that they no longer believe; others drift away from the faith as they focus on pursuits that seem more exciting to them. But no matter how far young adults go from Christ, there’s hope for them to return to faith if Christians like you reach out to them.
Here’s how to bring back young adults who have left Christianity:
Reach postmoderns. Some people who’ve left the faith adhere to a postmodern philosophy, in which they value experience over rationality as a way of discovering truth, and believe that truth is different for each individual, according to that person’s experience. Postmoderns think that moral absolutes are dangerous, because those absolute beliefs may be forced on other people. You can reach out to postmoderns best by telling them your personal story of how you began a relationship with Jesus what that relationship means in your everyday life. If you honestly share your struggles and doubts when telling your story, postmoderns will see that you’re similar to them in some ways and can relate to your story of faith. When discussing the Gospel with postmoderns, describe its stories about Jesus creatively and passionately, to help postmoderns consider the Gospel in fresh ways. Build trust with postmoderns by befriending them before you talk with them about faith; make sure they know that you truly love and accept them as people unconditionally. Since postmoderns often have strong social consciences, invite them to join you to do volunteer work on community service projects and let them see how your faith motivates you to serve.
Reach recoilers. Recoilers are people who have left Christianity because of the emotional pain they’ve endured and associated with God somehow. They may have been abused by a professing Christian or victimized by Christians who committed sins such as gossip or greed that hurt them as a result. When reaching out to recoilers, dispense with arguments about Christianity and instead focus on listening to their stories of what they’ve suffered and how they feel about it. Empathize with their pain and, after you earn their trust, help them think biblically about their pain and delineate the difference between God and the people who hurt them in God’s name. Once you’ve established trusting friendships with recoilers, you can share how Jesus suffered in this fallen world, cares deeply about what they’ve gone through, and can redeem the injustices that they’ve suffered if they place their trust in Him.
Reach moderns. The worldview that moderns adhere to doesn’t have room for belief in anything beyond the physical world, so moderns don’t believe in the existence of souls or anything supernatural. Moderns search for truth through scientific investigation rather than spiritual revelation. So don’t try to reach moderns through arguments based on premises they don’t share, such as by quoting the Bible when they don’t believe that sacred scripture has authority. Instead, help them see the hopelessness of their worldview and pique their curiosity about truth that’s not limited to just what they can see and understand. When moderns ask questions about your faith, it’s crucial for you to be able to give them thoughtful, biblical answers. If you don’t know how to answer a particular question, say that you’ll study the issue and then follow up with them to discuss it after you do. Stay focused on the essentials of Christianity – Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – rather than getting drawn into debates about peripheral issues and contentious topics such as believer’s baptism versus infant baptism. Let moderns see how your own quest for truth enriches your life.
Reach neo-pagans. While neo-pagans correctly sense the sacredness of creation, they end up worshipping the creation rather than the Creator that it reflects. Neo-pagans tend to think that Christianity is boring compared to the excitement they find by invoking spiritual powers on their own, but they’re invoking powers that can unleash evil into their lives. You can reach neo-pagans best by living a Spirit-filled life for them to see how exciting it is to have the Holy Spirit guiding and empowering you. Be sure to pray regularly for neo-pagans, asking God to bind evil powers that may be influencing them.
Reach rebels. Rebels are people who leave Christianity because they find sinful pursuits more appealing than following the faith’s moral standards. They may still hold Christian beliefs, but not be willing to live a Christian lifestyle. When God reaches out loving hands toward them, they raise defiant fists toward Him. Rebels need a compelling cause to motivate them to grow spiritually, and they’re always looking for adventure. So help them discover God’s purposes for their lives during times when they’re spiritually receptive, such as when their sinful lifestyles lead them to a crisis. Help rebels see that a relationship with Jesus brings true freedom, since every person serves something in life, but those who serve Jesus have the power to overcome sin and find real fulfillment.
Reach drifters. The sinfulness of human nature in this fallen world gives all people the tendency to drift away from God if they don’t keep investing in their relationships with Him. But drifters have actually allowed themselves to drift so far away from Jesus that they no longer consider themselves Christians. Since drifters are easily influenced by their environment, invite them to church and other places where they can be around believers who are growing closer to Jesus. Stay in touch with them regularly and help them make other Christian friends so they’ll have the relationships they need with other believers to deepen their faith. Help drifters see the importance of truly committing themselves to Jesus and His Gospel message. Challenge them to move beyond seeing church as just a social club and discover how they can participate with others in church to actually change the world for the better.
Adapted from Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith… and How to Bring Them Back, copyright 2010 by Drew Dyck. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Ill., www.moodypublishers.com.
Drew Dyck is editorial manager of the ministry team of Christianity Today International, where he overseas four online publications, including BuildingChurchLeaders.com. Drew holds an M.A. in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and previously served as editor of New Man magazine. He and his wife, Grace, live in Illinois.
Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor. You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.
Publication date: May 18, 2011