Family over Faith?? What’s the way home for the ‘lost’ generation?

There are surely more statistics available about young people today than any other generation in history. Sadly, many of them make for a difficult read. Faced with the facts on such problems as the concerning rise in NEETs, the growing ‘young debt’ issue, or simply the challenges young people currently pose for employers, those of us within the church are kept well informed of the huge task set before us in reaching this so-called “lost” generation.

A recent survey commissioned by BBC  Religion and Ethics polled over 600 16-24 year olds.  When asked about the most important moral issues only  4% listed religious faith or belief as most important.

Religion came as the top answer in response to the “least important issue”, with 33% choosing it.

This is a typical statistic indicative of a generation choosing to turn away from “religion”. Whilst discouraging, these results are perhaps no surprise. But what is interesting to us is that 59% chose “looking after their family” as the top moral issue.

The least important issue is religion. The most important issue is family.

Many people looking at church from the outside see religion, not family. And yet on the inside we know that the church is, and should function as, the family of God. If people see the church, and Christians, as defined by religion this doesn’t just create a barrier but a huge chasm, especially amongst this generation.

As we take time to observe this generation, we can start to see beyond the challenges and instead gain some helpful insights into how to reach them with the un-changing good news of Jesus.

As the stats above indicate “Family” is key for Generation “Y” (the oldest of whom turned 30 around 2010). Many of us will represent Generation “X” (mid 30’s- late 40’s) who, as young people, chose to reject the “family ideal” in response to the experience of broken families – instead  focussing on friendships (the US sitcom “Friends” embodied “Gen X”). Both family and church were crumbling for this generation so they chose to stay away from what they thought would collapse.

Generation “Y”, however, is different.

Generation “Y” is a rebuilding generation.

The tremors of the earthquake have passed and now they stand looking at the rubble and the relics, desiring to build something.

We have a new opportunity with a new generation, but where do we start?

At the beginning of the university year, it seems timely to consider how some of these cultural observations might help us in rethinking our approach to students – most of whom currently sit right within this generational bracket.

When Christian students start University there’s a wealth of opportunities to share Jesus with their friends. Students are often open to thinking about a new way of living. University provides a fresh start;  the old life has gone and students often look to re-create themselves in their new environment. One of the 3dm team, when reflecting back on their student days, said “We would often talk into the early hours on many occasions debating Jesus, church, pre-destination, science , you-name-it”.  Students today are much the same: they are still open to new thought patterns, new beliefs, and new lifestyles.  But more than ever ‘Gen Y’ need authenticity. They look for the integrity and the grounding of the message in reality. They need to see the message authentically lived out in at least one person’s life, but preferably amongst a community of inter-generational believers: an extended family.  And they need to be invited into this extended family to experience a different way of life.

If family is the most important value for this generation then we need to be thinking of how our churches can form inter-generational extended families that students can be part of.

We need extended families located amongst students: Families who are reading scripture, praying, and eating together; families who are sharing resources, and sharing a common mission together. We need to be modelling Jesus in these gospel-centred extended families. This provides the best environment for discipleship and mission.

Too often there is too big a gap between church life, families and students. Rarely do the worlds overlap.

How much more effective would discipleship and mission be if extended families chose to invite and welcome in students and young people?

How could you catalyse this in your church setting?

Are you already doing this? We’d love to hear your experiences.


Image courtesy of: (Some great tips for Gen-Yers seeking employment)


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