by Joey Lam
It’s becoming somewhat of a perennial question: How can we engage and mobilise millennials for missions, both within the Church and across cultures?
Here’s something my cell member said in one of our discussions about the millennial generation that stayed with me.
"The highest dropout rate from church happens between the ages 17 to 19. It is the age of enlightenment for young adults. They have a new-found freedom. They realise they can do something else with their time rather than go to church.
“The church leadership keeps thinking that there is something wrong with the programmes they are running. They think their transitional initiatives aren’t good enough, or it’s just the ‘A’ Levels.
“But I have seen those who went to church through the ‘A’ Level period ultimately leave the church; and those who disappeared during the ‘A’ levels come back to church after their exams.
“So it isn’t exams, it isn’t transitions, it isn’t programmes.
“It is about the authenticity of our faith.”
I sat there chewing on his words.
I replied, “But I am heartened that the discourse within the Church body is happening. And the answers are starting to get passed around.”
I said that because I’ve seen with my own two eyes how the Holy Spirit has already started a unity movement across the larger Church in Singapore. He has been blowing us out of our silos, causing individual parts of the body of Christ to interact and work together.
During the GoForth Millennial Influencers Gathering on February 1, 2018, we had four individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to exchange and make sense of the “puzzle pieces” of insight they’d received over the years. I believe their revelations are more valuable than their titles.
In the words of panelist Claire Carter, a young lady who’s been organising mission trips to countries such as India before she was even 20: “The antidote to short-lived excitement is to get us millennials acquainted with the person of God, the exciting character of God, and His heart for His people.
“If we make missions about programmes, we will only see the power of the programmes – instead of the power of God.
“Missions are exciting because God is exciting. Young people need to see that the greatest thing they can be a part of is God’s exciting redemptive mission.”
Jason Chua of Burning Hearts House of Prayer, the next youngest on the panel, had this to add: “The way we are raising leaders today is to run good programmes.
“But there is a lack of leaders today who have been raised to first know God and to seek Him. To cultivate a life with God that goes beyond just a Sunday or Saturday affair and is instead, a daily living. And the younger ones need someone older who can model that for them.
“Because you can only reproduce who you are, and you can only reproduce something that you have. If we as their leaders don’t have that lifestyle, there is no way we can tell a young person to do it. They will never be convinced. They have to experience it with the people who are leading them.
“If we can model that, then young people will catch on the spirit of living that life. You don’t have to try to convince them or make them do missions.
“We need to create a greenhouse that emphasises values rather than methodology.”
David Tan, director of Wycliffe Bible Translators (Singapore), shared a similar heart for young adults. “You want to engage millennials, you want to challenge them – but you should never lower the bar for them.
“One of the problems in churches today is that there is so much fear that the next generation is going to run away, so we lower the bar. That is dangerous.
“We have to model our faith to them, show them our faith is real. That the cause of missions is worthwhile.
“That is when they will give 10 years, 20 years or even their whole lives to missions.”
Dr Goh Wei Leong, co-founder of Healthserve and Singaporean of the Year 2018, had simple but wise advice: “The key to engaging millennials is to build strong relationships with them. Then you will never have to tell them to “Go!” – instead you can say, “Let’s go!”.
“It’s easier to go when there people are coming with me. We are all in this together. When you have a group of friends – the body of Christ – going with you, it’s not just easier – it’s more exciting.
“Sometimes the simple things are important, like coffee. Think coffee, conversations, Christ. I think with that, we build relationships first. Then we get the values in.”
During the tea break, I went up to Jason Chua to appreciate him for his sharing. He simply replied, with a nod towards David and Dr Goh: “These are the real heroes.” I knew he was also referring to all who have walked the missions journey ahead of us younger ones.
Besides actively caring for migrant workers in Singapore through his work at Healthserve, Dr Goh also serves on the global team of advisers for Operation Mobilisation. He has been deeply involved in integral missions for years.
David Tan’s decade-long work in the mission field has included translating the Bible into a language that over 1 million people speak. And, by the way, he also has a PhD in Mathematics.
Observing this, it’s plain to see that what the Church can and must do with regards to missions in this day and age isn’t really mobilising just the younger ones – but the whole body of Christ, young and old. Everyone has valuable things to bring to the table.
After all, in Biblical terms, everyone alive during the same time was considered to be part of the same generation. And if we can figure out how to tap on the strengths of the two ends of this generation and bring them together, we will then be able to move forward powerfully.
It is not so much about not pouring new wine into old wineskins. It is about offering both old and new wine from the same cellar.
This article originally appeared on Thir.st on February 21, 2018.