Today’s younger generations, according to the Pew Research Center, may be leaving religion for good. Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated. They are “now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian.“ (1)
This may sound alarming especially if you live in a country, such as the United States, where the majority of people identify as Christian.
Even though I have lived in America for twenty-five years, I am motivated more than disturbed by this fact. I see it as a challenge to overcome and an opportunity to rethink how we reach twenty and thirty-year-olds for Christ.
I am from across the pond and grew up in England where, along with other European countries, a decline in religious affiliation happened some time ago. Now Britain and most of Europe are considered to be post-Christian cultures. This means that younger people growing up today in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, do not associate with or have a knowledge of the Christian faith.
My lack of concern is not mere fatalism. Instead of fearing what might or is inevitably going to happen in the USA, I see a chance. In part, this is because having been brought up in a Christian home and having stopped going to church in my 20s, I know there is hope. I renewed my faith in my 30s.
If Americans—particularly where I live in the North East United States—are leaving the church or do not consider religion to be an important part of their lives, then I want to rise to the challenge of discovering how we can help them renew their faith. This is what I am doing, along with our team, in my role as Executive Content Director for RADIANT.NYC, an online magazine and community for women in their 20s and 30s.
Our mission at RADIANT.NYC is to reach young women—at the moment we’re focusing on New York City—who identify as Christian but no longer attend church or consider religion an important part of their lives. They have been brought up in the Christian faith but no longer have an active faith. Their reasons for rejecting Christianity are closed-mindedness and lack of inclusiveness in the denominational churches they have attended. And, as one woman told us: “There are so many rules!!”
These women do, however, consider themselves to be spiritual. This is a good start. They do want to be part of a community, but they are often not ready for a traditional church community. This is where we step in.
We focus on a number of strategies to reach these women. These may serve as pointers to help you think about how you can communicate with this generation.
We Walk Alongside Women
“We see you and we’re like you.” In these words, we hope to give women an opportunity to consider what works for us will work for them—that is, Jesus is the change-maker in our lives. Jesus is the One who empowers us to live resiliently and radiantly in the middle of uncertainty.
We do not tell women to live in a particular way, or how they are living is wrong. We do not judge or tell them how to live their lives. Instead, we believe it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict.
Our voice aims to be one that is inclusive. We welcome women regardless of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, lifestyle, or religion. In this way we hope women who have been put off by their church experience will still feel welcomed.
We Remove Christian Jargon
“God’s hand is teaching me,” “Surrender to God,” and “Let go and let God” are examples of Christian jargon. It is surprising how much Christian jargon we use without thinking about what it means. Even those with a young faith pick up on Christian language very quickly.
Christian jargon can be off-putting to people who struggle to re-engage with their faith. So, our voice aims to be one of clarity. We want to write and speak in a way that someone who has no understanding of Jesus, or is without a Christian faith, would understand.
We Are Not Polished
One millenial woman asked me if we wanted the articles for our magazine to be “polished.” This made me think how we sometimes sugar-coat what life is like as a Christian. Yet, these women want us to be authentic and transparent. They want us to be honest about our doubts and fears. Life with Jesus doesn’t always go the way we’d like. We need to be clear that we wrestle in our faith, just like our readers do. We are not perfect, but flawed. As Cecil Murphy said at a workshop I attended on Unleash the Writer Within, “The people God uses are the people who are transparent—let the world see us as flawed creatures.” When we write in this way, we can shine the light on Jesus and his flawless perfection rather than on ourselves.
We Make Jesus Attractive
Our theological thinking has been influenced by set theory as introduced by Paul Hiebert in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. (This must be the worst title ever for a book!) Hiebert explains that churches, and Christians, often see themselves as a bounded set—like a box. In this view, a person is seen as either inside or outside the group. It leads to a tendency to include or exclude people based on their lifestyle and behavior. This can also create a rigid and rules-based expression of faith and a “them and us” mentality.
Instead, we believe a centered-set thinking is more in line with being inclusive, not exclusive, accepting and not judgmental. In a centered set there are no boundaries. At the center is Jesus and around Jesus are people. Some are facing away from him, some are facing towards him. Some are close to him and others are further away. The purpose is to help each person turn toward Jesus and move closer to him. In this way, we hope that we make Jesus, and the Christian faith, attractive.
We Focus on Unity, liberty, and Charity
Our thinking is in line with a saying often attributed to St. Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
In essentials, unity: Based on John 3:16 and John 11:25, RADIANT aims to help women know two essentials—that they are loved by God and that believing in Jesus as God’s Son brings life.
In non-essentials, liberty: Using Romans 14:1-10 from The Message Bible as a guide, RADIANT aims to not make the non-essentials of the Christian faith a stumbling block. We recognize that the woman we are trying to reach has been put off by the rules and restrictions of Christianity, and that these can stop her from seeing who Jesus really is.
In all things, charity is based on 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 in the Good News Translation. RADIANT aims to model this love as a team. We want to show love to the women we reach. We want to show love through our writing and speaking.
Although we see our role as pointing women to Jesus, we do not see ourselves as replacing the role of the church to lead people to Christ. Instead, we are connecting with churches through LEAD.NYC that brings together churches, leaders, and nonprofits to see 1 million metro New Yorkers reached by the gospel of Jesus Christ by 2030.
If you are interested in our mission at RADIANT.NYC, I would love to hear from you and consider having you write for us.