Tony Campolo kicked off the early day of the Youth Work Summit with a general introduction. He quoted Pew research that has discovered three things that young people look for in religion, but usually don’t find:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Authenticity
  3. Hopeful eschatology

If we want to reach young people with the gospel, if we want our youth ministries to be effective, this is what we need to offer.

1. Spirituality

Young people are becoming more and more spiritual, but less and less religious claimed Tony Campolo. Spirituality is a term that’s used in all kinds of context these days however, so it’s important to define what we mean by this. Tony Campolo didn’t (or of he did, I missed it), but usually spirituality refers to the search for the ‘sacred’, as opposed to the normal, everyday life. Another way of defining it is the focus on what is unseen and intangible, rather than on the physical. In the broadest way, spirituality has to do with searching and finding the meaning of life.

For Christians, spirituality has everything to do with the Holy Spirit and this is how Tony Campolo described the need in young people: young people are looking for the evidence of a true Spirit-filled spirituality. There’s an interesting contradiction in this: spirituality by its definition refers to the unseen, yet young people are looking for evidence. They want to see the result of the unseen in our lives, meaning our actions, words and attitude.

Young people are looking for spirituality, for authenticity and for hope. What are you offering them? 

2. Authenticity

This of course is closely related to the previous aspect. As Tony Campolo stated: young people think Jesus is terrific, but the church sucks. The church doesn’t feel real to them and neither do Christians. But we can change that. When we live out the radical lifestyle that Jesus taught us (for instance in the Sermon on the Mount), we will be different, we will be radically authentic.

I came across this tweet this morning about the Oklahoma tornado that caused so much damage and cost so many lives. Apparently this is what a reporter said about how churches are responding to this disaster:

“Wait for government aid and you’ll be here forever. The Baptist men will get it done tomorrow.”

Now that is a reputation that will attract people to Christianity, to Jesus. That is being radical and authentic.

3. Hopeful Eschatology

This part really resonated with me, but that may also be because like Tony Campolo, I grew up in a Baptist church that seemed to delight in the world taking a turn for the worst, because it meant Jesus was coming back soon. In many churches, all young people hear is how bad the world is, how rotten our culture is and how the whole creation groans and labors…but they don’t hear about hope.

Young people need hope, now more than ever. Our eschatology (which is a fancy word for what we think will happen in the end times, what the future of the world looks like) should radiate hope because we have every reason to be hopeful. The enemy has been defeated already! The world may be getting worse, but the Kingdom of God is getting better. God is at work, carrying out His master plan for the world and that is every reason to rejoice and hope. The circumstances may be tough, but our God is greater!

Take a critical look at your church, your youth ministry. How are you ‘scoring’ on spirituality, authenticity and an eschatology of hope? What can you do to grow in these areas and thus offer young people what they are searching for?