Youth sociologist challenges Christian church leaders to be more open in their walk with Christ

Posted: January 13, 2014

Leaders need to be open and honest in their walk with Christ if today’s youth are to stay engaged in the church. 

This is the message James Penner, youth sociologist and principal author on the Hemorrhaging Faith study, will be sharing this year at Briercrest College and Seminary’s think-tank Engage.

“Unless we are walking alongside youth and they literally get to see everything about us, including our dirty laundry and how the Gospel defines us … youth simply don’t know how to live a life of faith. They cannot be what they cannot see,” Penner explained.

 “I would like to challenge every leader that no matter where they go to take a millennial with them,” he said speaking of young people between the ages of 18 and 34. “There is hardly a setting where we (older leaders) should not have a millennial beside our side.”

The think-tank, which will be held March 13-14 at Briercrest College and Seminary, is the second part of a three-year project aimed at exploring how to keep youth engaged in the Church. 

Throughout Engage, Penner will reference the Hemorrhaging Faith study- a national study that surveyed 2,000 people between the ages of 18 to 34 and looked at their engagement with the church- and discuss the implications coming out of the study.

“I think that this conversation will give a new boldness to church leaders to call themselves, their congregation and their youth to a new level of Biblical maturity,” he explained.

 “It is literally a chance to be in on a conversation that the Canadian church is having about how to be deeply rooted in Jesus because this is an identity issue, it’s not about self-effort.”

Penner said he will be exploring four main questions youth seem to be asking today.

“Question number one is, does the gospel flow out of me?  The way they answer that question is by asking if they sense a close relationship with God. If they don’t, they tend to walk away from the faith. Secondly they ask the question, does the gospel work for my parents? Did I see it vibrantly modeled in a way I would like to have in my adult like? If the answer is no, they tend to walk away,” Penner explained.

“Thirdly they ask the question, does the gospel flow out of my local church? Is it vibrant there and making a difference? If they say no, they tend to leave. Lastly, they ask, does the gospel flow out of the Bible? Is this a restrictive rule book or an empowering tool book? Does it help me to live well in the 21st century? If they answer no, they tend to leave.”

Without being able to answer ‘yes’ to these four questions, youth simply tend not to stay engaged.

“The youth tend to be bench sitters, wanderers or rejecters if they cannot answer yes to these four questions they are asking,” he explained.

Penner hopes Engage will be a place where people can start thinking about how to help youth answer ‘yes’ to these questions.

“I really appreciate how Briercrest has taken this study seriously. I was part of the event a year ago and significant questions were raised,” he explained.

“I love that there is a reflective listening posture in this coming conference. I like it is going to be about deeply listening to what Jesus seems to be asking us because we know if Jesus is lifted up He will draw all of us to Himself.”

Registration, which is open to the general public, began January 10.  Attendance will be limited to 150 people.

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