If the conversation that we have in the kitchen is about style of teaching, this one is about substance. This is a conversation about difficult conversations, and it takes place in the dining room. Families talk about life and discuss the big issues around the table. 

A number of different conversations need to take place here.

Firstly, the worldview of an evangelical Christian young adult is increasingly out of step with the prevailing worldview of society. As the church, we must continue to be faithful to the teaching of the Bible, but also equip 20s and 30s to handle the difficult conversations they will face with non-Christian friends.

Secondly, we should consider the issues that we talk about and ensure that those that are relevant to young adults are addressed. Marjorie and Nick Allen, leaders of The Well Sheffield, put it like this: It is imperative that churches publicly address the issues that matter to Generations Y and Z. We should scratch where they itch. What do they care about? What are they afraid of or just plain confused about?” These issues need to be talked about and grappled with.

Thirdly, it is also worth noting the setting for these issues is the table, a space for dialogue, not a one-way information stream. That is not to say that biblical truth is changed to suit the audience, but it is to say that in engaging with difficult issues it is important to create environments where young adults feel comfortable expressing their opinions and can engage in discussion about them.

To get us started here are three issues that we must talk about: doubt, racial justice and mental health.

  1. Doubt. It is in young adulthood that the worldview and foundations of belief are often hardwired for life. This means that this time can be a particularly fruitful age for evangelism, as people are open to new ideas. But it also means that if they have grown up surrounded by faith, these years can see them push against their Christian upbringing.

    A contributing factor to this is the sheer quantity of competing worldviews in 21st century Britain. Most young adults have a network of relationships in which a smörgåsbord of grand narratives will be represented and believed. Naturally, this can lead them to question and reconsider their own basis of faith and perspective, especially if inherited from parents.

    When this happens, we must help young adults wrestle well with their doubts. Research on both sides of the Atlantic has found that a common cited reason why this generation leaves church is a failure to get this right. We must create environments and relationships where people feel safe to express doubt We must have confidence in what we believe, but not give unhelpful, overly simplistic answers to people wrestling with complicated issues.
  2. Racial Justice. 20s and 30s are acutely aware of the justice issues in society today. The fact that this generation are more globally connected than any other before them and have an instant stream of up-to-date newsfeeds means that world events and campaigns have a greater impact than ever before. The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 highlighted the critically important issue of racial injustice, and younger age groups were at the heart of the protests that took place throughout 2020. This issue is both on the radar of this generation and it is close to the heart of God, therefore we should consider as a church how much we teach on it, discuss it and speak up on it. Listening to the perspectives of young adults will be important in this conversation.
  3. Mental health. One of the common themes that emerges as we talk to church leaders and young adults is the prevalence of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. On a national level 16 million people in the UK experience a mental illness and 75 per cent of these begin before someone enters adulthood. A report by the Prince’s Trust in 2019 found that 18 per cent of 16 – 25 year olds did not believe that life was worth living.

    There may be an interconnected web of contributing factors including rapid change in life circumstances, highly stressful work environments, struggles with money, family and, as some studies include, the prevalence of social media. As a church we must talk about these issues, be vulnerable about our own challenges, provide a safe, non-judgmental space for young adults to navigate them and, where possible, have members in mental health first aid who can support this generation struggling in this area.