by Greg Carpenter
Most teenagers today have God on their minds but not in their hearts, and they are searching for spiritual answers in a culture that has replaced the nurturing love and support of family with the fear and isolation of a multimedia-driven society, according to Thom Rainer, a seminary professor and author of a book on modern youth culture.
What is the church going to do to reach the second-largest generation in U.S. history-72 million strong- Ranier asked.
"You're about to get the greatest numerical wave of teenagers, and I was about to say ‘in your church,' but that may really depend on what your church is doing," Rainer said during a youth ministry conference held last fall at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
"We have failed them because we have done everything but evangelize them," Rainer said.Rainer said a survey of nearly 5,000 individuals revealed that of those between 16 and 18 years of age, less than 4 percent claimed to be a Christian.
The "Bridger Generation," so named because this generation bridges the 20th and 21st centuries, consists of those born between 1977 and 1994. Only the "Boomer generation" (those bor n between 1946 and 1964) number more, at 76 million.
Rainer, who has three teenage sons, said it was his interaction with his teenagers, as well as their friends, that prompted him to spend two years in focus groups and conducting surveys which resulted in his book, The Bridger Generation.
The concerns and fears of Bridgers, Rainer said, include getting a good education, becoming victims of violence, losing parents to divorce, and dealing with daily stress. Add to this the failure of the church to reach out to Bridgers, and you have a generation in crisis, he said.
Cultural influences shaping the lives of today's youth, Rainer said, are high-tech multimedia, disappearance of moral boundaries, escalation of violence, gender confusion, the issue of personal rights, devaluation of life, commercialism and the disappearance of community and familial relationships. For the first time in history, a majority of a generation will grow up in day care and not under direct parental supervision, Rainer stated.
"This is a generation that is begging to hear that there are absolutes, that there is truth," Rainer said. "They want to go to places where the pastor preaches the clear, inerrant Word of God. They want to go to places where they can get in Bible study and really learn."
Rainer said the key for churches to reach out to Bridgers is through personal evangelism. "Don't tell me that personal evangelism is dead," he said. "We can talk a lot about methodologies, and we can talk about the latest way to confront the culture…but there's one simple little thing that we need to remember: just share Jesus, just share Jesus. They are ready to hear about Jesus Christ."
To prove his assertion, Rainer said, "in the course of the survey, nearly 300 people of the 5,000 we telephoned accepted Jesus."
Some practical steps for churches to reach Bridgers cited by Rainer include showing unconditional love, setting clear boundaries and high expectations, developing a cultural awareness, having adults mentor youth, and being willing to get confrontational on current issues.
"We found that churches that had high expectations were churches that were more likely to reach Bridgers," Rainer said. "In so many churches we have dumbed-down so much of what it means to be a part of God's church that it means nothing."