Evangelism and Generation Z
This past fall, I volunteered as a cabin leader for a middle school retreat with my church. I was assigned a cabin of 8th grade girls. During the weekend, one topic of conversation kept coming up during our cabin discussion time: what it looks like to share their faith with their friends and peers. They would ask, “We know we are supposed to talk about Jesus, but how?” Several of them were afraid that they would get in trouble if they talked about Christianity in their public schools. One girl even quoted the popular saying, “Never discuss religion or politics in polite company” as a way of explaining why she was hesitant to talk about her faith. They wanted to be able to talk about their relationships with Christ to others, but they didn’t know how to begin.
In their fear of coming across as judgmental or pushy Christians, it seems that Generation Z is struggling to find the art of evangelism. In one sense, I cannot blame them. The common perception of Christianity has been tainted by images of church-goers holding picket signs and casting damnation and judgment on those who disagree with them. Of course these students don’t want to be associated with that brand of Christianity. Nobody wants to be seen as one of those Christians.
But if sharing your faith doesn’t mean handing out tracts and shouting into a megaphone on the street corner, what should it look like for these young Christians?
My response to them was simple: share your story; talk about your journey with God. Even in our current post-Christian culture, very few people will contradict or belittle our shared experiences of encountering Christ. When we speak about our faith, we should focus on how God has changed our lives and what being a part of the Body of Christ means to us. We shouldn’t push our faith onto others, but instead we should seek to honestly express how faith in Christ has impacted our own lives. In this way, we are not making it about their faults and their sins, but instead about the transformative power of the One we follow.
I recently read a book called Faith Formation in a Secular Age by youth ministry expert Andy Root, and I was glad to see that my advice to those girls coincided with the latest research on sharing your faith in a post-Christian era. Andy Root states, “Faith is the experience of sharing in the person of Christ” (139). By sharing the the stories of how our life was transformed because of Christ, we may even move others to have their own transformative experience with Christ.
Root goes on to say, “Story is the expression and explanation of our deepest experiences. But story does more than just convey information about someone. Rather, when someone tells her story, she reveals her person” (142).
This quote reminded me of the gospel narrative of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. After her encounter with Jesus, she just could not help but leave her water jug at the well, run back to her village, and tell the others about him: “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” (John 4:29, CEB) Through her story of her genuine encounter with the Messiah, many other Samaritans were led to believe in Christ for themselves (John 4:39). Her simple story was the spark for a whole town encountering Christ in a real and powerful way.
By sharing the stories of our faith--our transformative encounters with Christ--we reveal our heart. These stories connect us in a deep way to our listeners. When stories are true and vulnerable, they are powerful. Stories have the power to change people’s perspectives and opinions and even their lives. Stories are the means through which we can change the world and bring it more in line with Christ’s Kingdom.
Evangelism has to look different for Generation Z. It has to look like stories and shared experiences. It is less about adhering to a certain set of beliefs or making a public commitment or even joining together with a specific group of people. Instead, it is about joining our own personhood to the Person of Christ, and then telling others about how that experience has changed our lives. By putting the tools of storytelling into the hands of Generation Z, we can begin to help them recapture the art of evangelism.
Everyone loves hearing a good story. Let’s begin to use our stories of faith to connect others to Christ.