Reaching Out to the Digital Generation for Jesus Christ

Reaching Out to the Digital Generation for Jesus Christ January 15, 2019

Reaching Out to the Digital Generation for Jesus Christ

Reaching Out to the Digital Generation for Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Let me share with you an important shift that I believe has happened in the culture. We have moved from modern society to a postmodern society. I think this is similar to the differences between the Jews and Gentiles that Paul speaks in this passage. The modern society has a knowledge of God and Jesus. They are familiar with the church. The church was part of the culture and it was interwoven into their lives. The church was the center of society for many people. If you wanted to know what happened to people, you went to church. You called the pastor. You called your Sunday School class. For some of us in this room, this is still the case. This is still the culture we live in. However, as we rapidly move to newer generations, this kind of culture is dying. We are in a midst of transition.

Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. (1 Corinthians 9:19–21, CSB)

Paul says that there existed different groups of people he reached in his day. It was a transition from Jews to Gentiles. I believe the same exists today when it comes to acceptance of the technology.

We are moving from an analog culture to digital culture. We are moving from a modern to postmodern culture.

Dave Tomlinson summarized the key characteristics of postmodern world. It’s a world in which—

(1) People reject truth claims, dogma, and absolutes;

(2) emotions and intuition are acknowledged and communication is through images and symbols;

(3) people feel a close affinity with the environment, and sense global unity;

(4) people are suspicious of institutions, bureaucracies and hierarchies;

(5) spirituality is talked about with ease.1

You can think of it this way: modern culture is black and white. Good is good and bad is bad. There is a definite line between good and evil. Morality has a clear absolute value. That’s modern culture. Postmodern culture is all grey. There is no black and white. Whatever was the authority is now questioned. Whatever was spiritually significant has now moved from objective truth to subjective truth. People don’t believe the Bible as much as they used to. It’s not a source of truth anymore. They don’t believe in the institution of the church, but they believe in a church family. They are spiritual but not religious. So this way of thinking (or philosophy) is one line that separates the generations.

There is another line that separates the generations. This second line works in cooperation with the first line. This line if technology, the digital line. Many of us grew up on radio, TV, and computers. But now, people live on the Internet.

The line that separates the digital immigrants and the digital natives runs through the land of Google.

You and I who were born before Google are digital immigrants. We are foreigners. We may have been born in this county. We may have lived in this county all of our lives. We may think that living and breathing in Barry County gives us the right when we share Jesus with others. The fact, even you are a native resident of Barry County, you are a foreigner to the younger generation around you.

If you don’t speak the language of social media, you are going to have a hard time reaching the next generation. These digital natives grew up in a different world than you and I.

They get their education on Google.

They get their community on Facebook or Facebook Messenger.

They share their ideas and opinions on Twitter or Pinterest.

They do their business networking on LinkedIn.

They go find dates on Tindr.

If you don’t know how any of this works, you just classified yourself as a digital immigrant. The wall that separates you from digital natives that define this next generation is the screen on the computer, laptop, iPad, or smartphone.

So what do we need to do about these changes? We have to identify the new culture and try to reach it, using a medium they will understand. It will take more than having a prayer chain on email. It will take seeing how they think, finding what deep meaning they have, and adapting our methods to reach them. That may mean that some things are going to have to die. Just because they worked for me does not mean that they will work for the digital culture. If I hang on to what I like and my preferences, and I force the digital generation to accept my preferences, they just won’t come.

Paul understood this principle. This is why he was so successful at reaching both Jews and Gentiles. The problem is that we have designed our church to reach only one group of people. The problem with that model is that it was designed over 100 years ago, and it had its best efforts fifty years ago. Maybe Sunday evenings have to change. Maybe Sunday School has to change. Maybe we need to try new things and new methods. But ultimately we need to listen to how God is working in the lives of this generation and do our best to reach out to them. After we reach out to them, we need to do our best to accept them, so that they may be willing to stay. Now they are going to think differently than you. They are not going to have the same kinds of values as you. But they still need Jesus. And they want to belong.

“…I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits. (1 Corinthians 9:22–23, HCSB)

Paul says that he becomes all things to all people so that he may possibly save some. That means he didn’t use the same methods, the same programs, the same tactics with everyone. He changed his methods whenever he needed to in order to reach a different group of people. With spiritual Greeks in Athens, he used a very different way of reaching than with Jews from Thessalonica. What you do for people who watch “Andy Griffith” will be different than with folks who watch “Duck Dynasty.” What you do to reach hunters and fishers will be different than what you do to reach Walmart employees. So that may mean that the programs you use now are out of date for the younger generation. You may need to experiment.

Some of us are unable to reach the younger generation because we don’t understand them. Some of us are unwilling to reach this next generation because we think they need to change to our way of thinking. What will it take to reach this younger digital generation?

It will take more research and development. Companies invest in research and development to make new products to sell them to a population which expects better products. Churches need to research this generation and then develop methods which work best to reach out to this digital generation. What works well for one church may not work for another church. Just because the Southern Baptists have researched a method, it doesn’t mean that that’s the best way to reach people. Sometimes we have to go outside of the Southern Baptist box to reach people. Apple uses ideas from Google. ABC uses ideas from NBC. It is just fine and ok if one of our churches uses another idea from another church or denomination. What matters is that we reach people for Christ.

“…I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits. (1 Corinthians 9:22–23, HCSB)

Don’t you want the benefits that come with sharing the Gospel and seeing people come to Christ? I do. Are you willing to become all things to all people so that you may by every possible means save some? Does it mean that every method will work? No. Does it mean that I may need to look at what I am doing and whether I am really reaching people? Yes. May God help us as we reach Washburn, Seligman, and the surrounding communities for Jesus Christ. Let us partner with God as we “become all things to all people so that we may by every possible means save some.” How do we begin to do this? Because the responsibility to reach other people falls on me. It requires that I learn to adapt. Remember, I am the digital foreigner. I am a modern person living in a postmodern world. Let me share with you four different ways I can reach the digital generation. Remember, this is just a starting point.

FOUR WAYS I CAN REACH THE DIGITAL GENERATION

Don’t look DOWN on them.

When you insult their children for how they behave. When you talk about how they don’t live the same kind of moral life like you live, you are pointing fingers at them. You are talking down to them. These digital natives, these postmodern people, don’t like that. That immediately makes them want to reject the church. It reinforces the idea that the church is full of hypocrites.

Do whatever I can to make them feel like they BELONG.

We are the foreigners in this culture. They are the natives. While we may have a fear of them because they are different, we shouldn’t try to circle our wagons and prevent them from joining us. Church will change because they join it. But that is ok. We have to make them feel like they belong. Because if we don’t, they will go somewhere else. They have an incentive to go elsewhere. It is not their responsibility to adapt to us. It is our responsibility to adapt to them.

Be PATIENT with how they process their faith.

Adapting to them also means being patient. We should not rush the idea that they need to get saved and changed immediately. For them, everything is a process. Processes take time. We have to be the ones who should be patient. We have to wait on them. Remember, the challenge for this church is to accept them, allow them to belong and that will take time.

Let them BRING their fresh ideas to the table.

With new people comes to new ideas. We have to be accepting of these new ideas. If we reject the ideas, then they will think we are rejecting them. So don’t be so defensive.

Some here may object and they may say: They have to conform to our standards. This is the very attitude that the digital generation will reject. They are crying: accept me for who I am. Now they may be crazy. They may do things very differently than you did. They may like things you don’t like. They may reject your notions of God and spirituality. The principle of evangelism still remains the same. I need to become a slave to all (or adapt my church) in order to win more people.

Billy Graham was quoted as saying:

The evangelistic harvest is always urgent. The destiny of men and of nations is always being decided. Every generation is strategic. We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear the full responsibility for the next one; but we do have our generation. God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfill our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities.2

1 John Stott, The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott, ed. Mark Meynell (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

2 Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 183. From Billy Graham, quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

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