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The church is the hope for a hurting generation

How do we minister to a generation that’s given up on life? asks Phil Knox

At the beginning of February, I was reminiscing about how I kept up to date with news updates and other important information such as latest football scores before the internet. I still remember the Teletext and Ceefax page numbers for the sports headlines, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit.

These days, I barely go a day without checking news sites or current affairs and sports finding me as I thumb through social media feeds. And as the flickering pixels hit my eyes, there are some stories that make me laugh, some that make me feel warm inside, and others that provoke nothing more than mild indifference. 

But occasionally there is one that hits me like a punch in the stomach. Last week I clicked on such an article, and this is what it said: The number of young people in the UK who do not believe that life is worth living has more than doubled.” That is almost one in five of our young people. 

I am one of the most glass half full’ people I know, but this is a tragic and bitter statistic that would darken the rosiest of tinted spectacles. The YouGov survey for the Prince’s Trust, which polled more than 2,000 people aged 16 to 25, throws up all kinds of questions, but let us begin with two challenges to face as the church in response.

First, we have to be committed to being good news people in a bad news world and be continually thinking about how we communicate hope, life and purpose to a generation that does not believe it has any. As evangelicals, we are good news people. That is literally who we are; evangel means good news.

Now, more than ever, we need to believe and live like Jesus is not just an added extra who slightly improves our situation, but the very source of meaning, who belongs at the centre of our lives. Furthermore, research like this shows us that those around us might be more open to hearing and thinking about the God of hope, life and purpose than we think. Our job is to be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that we have and to show an anxious, hurting and purposeless generation the way home.

Second, we have to talk with all age groups about the celebrations and challenges of social media. I like Twitter and Facebook, particularly their ability to enable me to connect with people and share news and ideas. But, as the news article goes on to identify, these powerful technologies are exacerbating identity issues and damaging the emotional health of many young adults. As the church, we have so much wisdom to share with a generation that desperately needs to hear it.

Take the issue of comparison as an example. Nearly half of all 16 to 25 year olds compare themselves to others on social media, and it makes them feel inadequate. In my opinion, Facebook is a comparison tool. Many of us voyeuristically spy on others and compare their polished, filtered photos to the reality of our lives. And it is not good for us. The Bible has a lot to say on comparison and identity. Hold the Bible, the mirror, up to our lives and its Author will insist again and again that we are loved beyond our wildest dreams despite our shame and brokenness. That is good news.

Of course, the article invokes more than these responses and questions. I also wonder, how do we respond to the increasing mental health epidemic? Plus, how do we build churches that have space for all ages to build meaningful, authentic relationships? And yet another: how can we communicate good news in the online marketplace? But these two are a start.

Today, may you commit to being an Easter Sunday person in a Good Friday world, and may you have greater confidence in the God who changes everything, not just enhances our 21st-century lives. May we talk openly about the realities and dangers of social media, as well as the benefits. And, in the years to come, may our young adults be a generation who believe life is worth living because they know the Life-giver and the source of meaning and purpose Himself.

As the head of mission to young adults at the Evangelical Alliance, I am committed to helping churches reach and disciple young adults and enabling young adults to be good news in a bad news world. Find out about our latest initiative, The Young Adult Conversation, and please get on board.

About the author

Phil Knox is the head of mission to young adults at the Evangelical Alliance. He lives to see people come to know Jesus and Christians inspired and equipped to share their faith. He has a passion for his generation, the local church, loves learning and has degrees in law and mission and evangelism. Phil is married to Dani and they have two sons, Caleb and Jos. He is an avid runner and footballer, a proud Aston Villa supporter and battles a mild coffee addiction.

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