Evangelizing Millennials

What is the best way to communicate the Gospel message to the "millennial" generation? Our church has committed itself to reaching out to this group, but I'm concerned about what I perceive as a tendency to "broaden" the Gospel's appeal to twenty-somethings by watering it down and removing all references to sin, repentance, and judgment. To me this seems like a huge mistake. After all, Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" touched off one of the greatest revivals we've ever seen in this country. As I see it, the Church is supposed to be proclaiming the truth, not initiating a "dialogue" about it. Can you help me sort this out?

It’s possible that your struggle is rooted in some modest confusion about styles and methods of evangelistic outreach, especially with regard to the best way of contextualizing the Christian message in order to maximize its effectiveness in a particular cultural setting. It’s been said that “the Gospel is neither a discussion nor a debate – it is an announcement”; and yet there are situations in which a certain amount of discussion and debate can help prepare the way for the announcement.

The apostle Paul understood this. That’s why he opened his address to the Athenians on Mars’ Hill with a few poignant remarks about “the Unknown God” instead of launching straightway into a five-point sermon on sin and salvation (Acts 17:22-31). He had something similar in view when he wrote, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:22).

The idea here is to be so keenly attuned to your audience that you’re able to present the message in a way that addresses their attitudes, assumptions, and most deeply felt needs, while also addressing core salvation elements such as sin, repentance, and judgment with biblical integrity. As Paul exhorted the Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:5, 6).

This, we would suggest, is exactly what needs to be done in the area of “millennial” outreach. What you’ve interpreted as a dangerous “broadening” and “watering down” of the Gospel is in many cases simply an attempt to establish a point of contact with relativistic, postmodern young adults. For the most part, they are fed up with what they regard as the narrow “dogmatism” of the church. At the same time, however, we’d suggest they are more than willing to listen if we can couch the Good News in a context of relational concern about personal needs.

Remember, there’s a big difference between “judgment” in the sense of “condemnation” and “judgment” in the sense of “discernment.” If we’re going to win our contemporaries to Christ, we’re going to have to be discerning enough to make our message relevant to their situation. If we can’t do this, they’ll turn us off and look for help somewhere else. It’s also worth bearing in mind that there’s a time and place for everything. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” may not have gone over quite so well if Edwards’ listeners didn’t already believe in the reality of hell and weren’t already sensitized to the seriousness of their own sins (such assumptions were endemic to their culture). Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your concerns at greater length, call us for a free consultation. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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