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Intangible Meets Unchangeable

2017-09-21T09:28:43-07:00August 23rd, 2017|Exclude, Magazine|

Sociologists, marketers and journalists are hurriedly trying to define the next generation of young adults, namely those born after 1995. Labelled “Generation Z,” they have already been dubbed with various nicknames: the iGeneration, the Plurals or the Post-Millennials. Whatever the moniker, this group of young people is set apart by its unique characteristics—they are known as tech-savvy skeptics, and their formative years were wrought with financial and global insecurity.

Generation Z is now arriving on our campuses.

While cultural norms from generation to generation change, the need for the gospel among young people remains. Step onto a Canadian college or university campus and you’ll find this to be true. Beyond the polished exterior of classes, causes and youthful zeal, you’ll find a generation that is struggling for hope. Students desperately need Jesus, but shifting values require that we adjust our approach in how we share the gospel message, through a lens that is contextualized to their unique perspective.

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students at
Canadian Universities

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of campuses offer
international opportunities

I once was lost

P2C-Students wrestles with this reality, working diligently to meet an increasingly diverse and unchurched generation with a message that is no less life-changing than it has ever been.

P2C-Students has found that sharing the gospel with today’s post-secondary population works best through an “engagement model,” a process that begins by creating conversations and building relationships. This journey takes time, but the concept of the engagement model is well-founded, based upon the writings of Don Everts and Doug Schaupp in I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. In their research, the authors identify five distinct thresholds people go through on their way to becoming a follower of Christ:

  1. Trusting a Christian
  2. Becoming curious
  3. Opening up to change
  4. Seeking after God
  5. Entering the Kingdom

Sean Cullen, National Director of P2C-Students, echoes their insights: “Today, students are farther from a Biblical context or worldview than their predecessors. The conversation with a non-Christian starts at just building trust, to show that Christians aren’t crazy weirdos.”

In another day and age, God, religion and church enjoyed the general respect of the culture. Not today. Religion is suspect, church is weird, and Christians are hypocrites. Distrust has become the norm. (I Once Was Lost, 31)

“Today, students are farther from a Biblical context or worldview than their predecessors. The conversation with a non-Christian starts at just building trust, to show that Christians aren’t crazy weirdos.”

Because of the toxic atmosphere Christians often step into, putting the engagement model into practice requires listening, equipping and sharing. “We’re training students to identify where another student is at, resourcing them with the tools, strategies, conversations, points, and experience to help move that student from one threshold to the next,” says Sean.

Many students aren’t even curious about Christianity; they see it as a thing of the past. “They know very little about it and they don’t care to know more,” Sean says. The need to inspire curiosity in others becomes an important part of interacting with Generation Z.

There’s a problem in the world, but it’s not me

Despite an antagonism towards Christianity, students are still eager to share ideas, explore concepts and listen to different points of view. After all, that’s why they are at university: to experience life not only from their professors, but also from their peers. “This generation is extremely open to talking about the spiritual. They’re very willing to accept that there is a truth, even though they’re skeptical that you could know the truth,” Sean says.

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Equal rights, social justice, environmental sustainability, individual tolerance and peer acceptance are all common causes this generation embraces. “Students are uncomfortable with the state of the world and the brokenness they see in it. But don’t dare tell them that brokenness can be a result of their own desire for self,” Sean explains. “Brokenness—the problems are all out there. ‘It’s not my fault. In fact, I’m trying to be part of the solution.’ ”

“Students are looking for a form of religious thought that doesn’t require them to change their lifestyles,” adds one student leader of P2C.

Following the engagement model, recognizing which threshold someone is at is key; this approach enables one to walk alongside them.

“Students are looking for a form of religious thought that doesn’t require them to change their lifestyles,” adds one student leader of P2C.

Evelyn Tan has worked on campuses with students for the past 10 years and knows how important it is to connect with someone where they are. She says it is now more critical than ever to not make assumptions about what they may or may not already know about matters of faith and religion.

“Previously, students were asking, ‘Is this reasonable? Can this be true?’ That’s why we had the Four Spiritual Laws. We named and branded it that way because people were asking those questions,” Evelyn says. That’s no longer the case. The focus has moved to feelings and perceptions. In fact, the existence of God is not always a given. Starting a conversation by saying that God loves you and has a plan for your life is skipping too far ahead of where they are. In fact, some students are actively against that idea as generational values have changed.

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of 18-29 year-olds have
no religious affiliation

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8 sec
average attention span
of Gen Z

Experience is king

“In today’s generation, fact or logic isn’t king. Experience is,” Sean notes. “That plays well with the Christian experience, because it is an experience. We serve the living God and He comes into our lives and transforms us. The story of the Bible is one of relationship—God’s longing for a relationship with us and our longing for a relationship with Him—and it’s that experience of relationship that is powerful.” P2C-Students teaches its workers and Christian students to tell their own story, not as a series of logical events, but as their unique experiences relating to God, ultimately, through the person of Jesus.

Sean tells our student leaders, “You have the best tool available to you in evangelism right now. It’s your experience with Jesus. Indeed, while young people today are interested in hearing personal stories, they are also taking note of their own experiences with Christians. They pay attention when believers live out their faith, such as caring for the poor, orphans and widows; making sacrifices; welcoming outsiders or loving on the seemingly unlovable. For Generation Z, these encounters with believers are all part of a powerful, experiential testimony that speaks volumes about who God is and His incredible love for all people.

Sharing the same message

While the how of communicating our faith to students has changed over the years out of necessity, the message of the gospel remains unchanged.

“I think one of the great strengths of Power to Change throughout its history has been its focus on sharing a simple, clear, gospel message,” Sean says. “The need for that continues. We need to add to that a skill in the art of listening to people and knowing when you can fully enter into their conversation.”

In an age of instant gratification and immediate results, having the patience to walk with Generation Z on their early faith journey is key. It takes ample time and prayer as progress can seem slow. However, it’s essential that we listen well to how the Spirit leads and are attentive to where He reveals individuals are at in their spiritual journey.

“We need to be really personal with people, and be willing to journey with them in the long haul,” explains Evelyn Tan.

P2C-Students staff are consciously adapting and adjusting to shifting cultural norms on college and university campuses nationwide. Underlying their every effort, the Spirit remains at work, convicting and drawing new believers to Himself.

Please pray for P2C-Students as they continue to labour and meet with Generation Z where they are this fall.

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Power to Change – Students has been on campuses across the country since 1967. They currently have a presence in every province. | 1.800.563.1106