by Matt Manry
We live in a time where people are feeling more alone and isolated than ever before. In 2010, the Mental Health Foundation discovered that 18 to 34-year-olds felt more lonely and depressed than people over 55-years old. So what might be the cause of this? What has led to this shift in culture? I think the answer is simple.
The explosion of the Internet, along with the social media revolution, has played a major part in isolating most millennials in the Western world. From Twitter to Instagram to Facebook, there seems to be more and more focus on social media status than there is with social status. The amount of “likes” that a status or picture receives seem to mean more to millennials than face-to-face interaction does.
With these thoughts in mind, we must ask ourselves a few tough questions. Does the Christian church need to rethink some of the ways in which it tries to reach millennials? Is there a need for the Christian church to reform some of the methods and techniques that are currently being used in discipleship? To put it bluntly, is there a massive overhaul that is needed within the church?
Well, I think the answer has to be both yes and no. Here are a few reasons why.
The Church and Its Online Presence
I have argued elsewhere that the Christian church should in fact adopt a transformative discipleship approach. Without getting into a lot of the details, this method simply encourages church leaders to be willing to evolve their view of discipleship in light of their current cultural context. With that in mind, I believe that the Christian church should strive to do their best to increase their online presence since we do live in an Internet-addicted culture. Simply put, church leaders should seek to engage millennials (and perhaps even other generations) online. What might this look like, you ask? Well, I would say that a multi-faceted approach would make the most sense. Some church leaders might only use their church’s website to post blog posts, while other church leaders might use Facebook as an avenue to schedule events outside of the church or to simply stay in contact with those in their college group.
There is no universal law that must be followed to connect with millennials. However, since a majority of millennials abide online, it makes sense to seek them out and engage them on their home turf. We must always remember that the apostle Paul communicated with the church at Rome, when face-to-face engagement was not an option (See Rom. 1). So let’s follow Paul’s ancient approach and apply it to online communication in the 21st century.
We Cannot Forsake Face-to-Face Discipleship
While the church should do their best to engage with millennials online, it would be a complete mistake to downplay the importance of face-to-face discipleship. Remember that the apostle Paul longed to see those at the church of Rome (Rom. 1:11). He desired to meet with them in person. Obviously, church leaders should apply this same mode of thought to their current ministries. Now it must be noted that face-to-face discipleship is going to take intentional effort. Ministry leaders must not be passive in this area, but must actively seek out millennials and engage them. This means that church leaders are going to need to (1) set aside time in their weekly schedule so that they always have specific time to meet, and (2) be flexible enough to meet with students/young adults at the drop of a hat. This might mean that a majority of church leaders need to reassess the current way that they are spending their time. And honestly, that should be acceptable.
Christian ministry leaders must always be open to reforming their current discipleship methods to better engage the culture with the good news of Christ. Face-to-face discipleship is an absolute necessity, and the church must do all that it can to revitalize this discipleship-model even in our social media driven society.
Change Can Be Good
The discipleship playing field is ever-changing and the Christian church must be willing to evaluate what it is currently doing, and then contextualize the message of Christ to best fit today’s world. The message may not change, but the methods that we use to communicate the message should always be open to change. We cannot hold our discipleship methods and techniques so close-fisted that we forget that the apostle Paul challenged the church at Corinth to contextualize the gospel to fit the people and culture that they ministered to (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Dr. Oliver Crisp once said, “Reformed theology is always being reformed in each new generation.” I think this phrase can be reshaped for discipleship: “Discipleship and the methods that the church use should always be reformed in each new generation.” This idea challenges the church’s current discipleship system, and encourages church leaders to be creative in the way that minister to others, and to not be afraid of reforming the current methods. The Christian church cannot be afraid of reformation. The idea of reformation should be applied to all of the ministries within the church, and status quo discipleship should never be accepted simply because it is the “tradition.”
The Christian church should continue to increase its online presence so that they can connect with a growing generation of social media users. However, the church must also not forsake the primary goal of meeting with individuals, and discipling them face-to-face. Discipleship is so multi-faceted and change can definitely be a good thing, as long as church leaders remain faithful to the Word of God and to the power of the gospel.
Matt Manry is an assistant pastor at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship.