NASHVILLE, Tenn., — Adlai Stevenson stated, “That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.” He did not have a particularly high view of the next generation, but he does challenge us to consider the radical changes in thinking that are sometimes seen between generations.
The reality is that generations do think differently and different views emerge – and it is worth our time to consider them. As George Orwell said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
This bothers some and challenges others. For me, my concern is not to rail against the next generation – I want to reach them.
In the book, “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them,” I shared some of the findings from a survey conducted of 1,000 unchurched young adults about the issues of church and spirituality. The study revealed that the younger generation is more open to issues of spirituality than our conventional wisdom allows us to admit.
This generation is open to God and spirituality. When asked if they considered themselves to be spiritual, 73 percent of respondents age 20-29 answered affirmatively. They are interested in learning more about God or a higher supreme being. Eighty-two percent believe a person’s spirit continues to exist in some kind of afterlife. Seventy-seven percent believe in the idea of heaven and 60 percent believe in the idea of hell. Perhaps most surprising, 66 percent even believe that Jesus died and came back to life.
The Jesus that they believe in, however, is in some ways a Jesus of their own creation. Only 57 percent believe there is only one God, the God who exists in the Bible. Fifty-eight percent believe the God of the Bible is the same as the gods or spiritual beings of other religions. Though Hinduism ascribes to a million gods, Buddhism has no god, and Christianity has one God, a majority of young adults believe that all of these gods are the same.
While there are clearly negative implications to this pluralism, there are also great opportunities for the church. Sixty-three percent said they would attend a church that presented truth in an understandable way. We need to be proactive about sharing the gospel to this demographic in clear, understandable terms. Simultaneously, we should defy the “Chicken Little syndrome” that believes the church is about to crumble under the weight of pluralism.
It’s easy to look at some of the viewpoints of the younger unchurched and write them off. Rather than throwing up our hands in disgust, we need to extend a hand, exemplifying Christ and His gospel now more than ever. We need to enter into authentic relationship with a generation filled with brilliance and potential. We need to begin honest conversations with those who have honest questions.
by Ed Stetzer