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Getting a book published is a funny thing.  People you've never met suddenly think you're amazing.  Other people you've never met (but may leave a review on Amazon) think you're the scum of the earth (and not the good Pauline kind).  And lots of people expect you to be an expert in things you don't know much about.

After my first book came out, Why We're Not Emergent, pastors and other Christians started asking me how my church reached out to young people.  "I agree.  We don't want to go emergent," the questioner would ask.  "We need sound doctrine.  We need good preaching.  But what do you do in your church to reach the next generation?"  My usual response was, "Nothing."  I wanted people to understand that there's nothing fancy or brilliant about our church strategy.  We are just trying to be faithful.

But after awhile I began to sense that "nothing" was not a terribly helpful answer.  So I talked about our campus ministry, and staff structure, and our small groups--all of which matter.  But this kind of answer seemed like more of the same.  "If you want to reach young people you have to have this program, or capture this feel, or go for this look."  Don't get me wrong, thinking about strategy, structure, and feel is not sinful.  I'm thankful for all the people in our church who work hard in these areas.  I try to be wise in these areas.  But this is not the secret to reaching the next generation.

There have been times as a pastor where I've been discouraged by the slowness of growth in my congregation.  I've thought, "Why is that church over there so successful?  Why did they go from 150 to 1500 in three years?"  I've even been borderline snippy at times,  "Lord, if I get to heaven and find out there was some secret musical style or movie clip or new program I was supposed to use in order to be successful, I'm going to feel pretty bummed."  But in my saner moments I've come to see two things:  One, it's more my sin that wants success than my sanctification.  And two, the secret is that there is no secret.

Reaching the next generation--whether they are outside the church or sitting there bored in your church--is easier and harder than you think.  It's easier because you don't have to get a degree in postmodern literary theory or go to a bunch of stupid movies.  You don't have to say "sweet" or "bling" " or know what LOL or IMHO means.  You don't have to listen to...well, whatever people listen to these days.  You don't have to be on twitter, watch The Office, or imbibe fancy coffees.  You just have to be like Jesus.  That's it.  So the easy part is you don't have to be with it.  The hard part is you have to be with Him.  If you walk with God and walk with people, you'll reach the next generation.

Let me unpack that a bit.  After thinking through the question for over a year, I've come up five suggestions for pastors, youth workers, campus staff, and for anyone else who wants to pass the faith on to the next generation:  Grab them with passion.  Win them with love.  Hold them with holiness.  Challenge them with truth.  Amaze them with God.

Grab Them With Passion

Increasingly, people do not go to church because they feel like they have to.  This is true especially among the young.  Newer generations will not give Christianity a second thought if it seems lifeless, rote, and uninspiring.  They will only get serious about the Christian faith if it seems like something seriously worth their time.  You can have formal services, so long as you do not have formalism.  You can have casual services, so long as you do not approach your faith casually.  Your services can have a lot of different looks, but young people want to see passion.  They want to see us do church and follow Christ like we mean it.

We would do well to pay attention to Romans 12.  "Let love by genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord" (9-11).  We would be far less likely to lose our young people and far more likely to win some others, if the spiritual temperature of our churches was something other than lukewarm.  People need to see that God is the all-consuming reality in our lives.  Our sincerity and earnestness in worship matter ten times more than the style we use to display our sincerity and earnestness.

I'm tired of talking about authenticity, as if prattling on about how messed up you are and blogging about your goldfish are signs of spiritual maturity.  We need to start talking about zeal.  Young people want to see that our faith actually matters to us.  They are like Ben Franklin when asked why he was going to hear George Whitefield preach.  "You don't even believe what he says," they told Franklin.  To which he replied, "I know.  But he does."  If our evangelical faith is boring to us, it will be boring to others.  If the gospel is old news to you, it will be dull news to everyone else.

We cannot pass on what we do not feel.  Whitefield blasted the church in his day because "the generality of preachers [in New England] talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ.  The reason why congregations have been so dead is because they have had dead men to preach to them."  The next generation, every generation really, needs to hear the gospel with personal, passionate, pleading.  There is a time for dialogue, but there is also a time for declaration.  People don't need a lecture or an oration or a discussion from the pulpit on Sunday morning.  They need to hear of the mighty deeds of God.  And they need to hear the message from someone who not only understands it, but has been captured by it.

If we are to grab the next generation with the gospel, we must grab them with passion.  And to grab them passion, we must be grabbed with it ourselves.  The world needs to see Christians burning, not with self-righteous fury at the sliding morals in our country, but with passion for God.  As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, "I'm not looking for someone to set the world on fire.  I want to know that if I dropped you in Thames it would sizzle."

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37 thoughts on “Reaching the Next Generation is Harder and Easier Than You Think: Grab Them With Passion”

  1. Chris says:


    These are extraordinary insights. Chalk me up as one who read your first book, thought you were amazing, and bought your other books. Thanks for your ministry. God is using you.

  2. Jimmy says:

    Kevin, I enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for the encouragement of this one. As I read it I found myself saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I’m assuming you are going to tease out the other four suggestions in the days ahead. I hope so. I want to share them with the leadership at our church.

  3. Erik says:

    “Reaching the next generation—whether they are outside the church or sitting there bored in your church—is easier and harder than you think…You don’t have to be on twitter, watch The Office, or imbibe fancy coffees. You just have to be like Jesus. That’s it.”

    Fantastic summary Kevin.

    [Though us folks up here in “Coffeetown USA” (Portland, Oregon) will still try and cling to reaching the non-Christian through the ‘imbibe fancy coffee’ approach.]


  4. Matt Rodatus says:

    Are you going to do Monday Morning Humor posts anymore, now that you’ve switched to the TGC blogging platform? I will miss those posts.

  5. Frank Turk says:

    Yet another reason you’re the most vivacious baby-baptiser in the English-speaking church, Kevin. Who knew that if we really loved Jesus and acted like we loved Jesus rather than just talking about Jesus we’d win some people to Christ?

  6. Thank you, Kevin. The insights are sobering and healing as I lick my prideful pity-party wounds. Blessings!

  7. Kevin,

    I am a youth pastor in Portage, Michigan, and I’ve been wrestling with the Lord lately with many things. I’m one who has lived, spoken, and written with a kind of fury at the apathy of our youth and congregation, yet a fire burns within me to be God’s instrument for change. I’ve been given a holy discontent for the very things you speak of and my heart burst into flame as it resonated with your thoughts in this post. The passion within me has not been visible or contagious or tangible, partly because my heart’s passion has been driven by fury and dissatisfaction rather than a thriving relationship with Christ. You have not only spoken profound truth here, you have provided encouragement and accountability for my weary, selfish soul. Thank you for inspiring me to action through your commitment to Christ.

  8. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I will tease out the other four points over the next four days. And I will probably start Monday Morning Humor back up next week. I’m glad if this post can encourage others to focus on what matters most. I know I don’t always do it myself. On some days I write better than I minister. (On other days I don’t write that well either.)

  9. Alan K says:

    Here is a piece of advice for traditional churches: Stop singing 19th century evangelistic songs that either mention “joy,” “glad,” or “happy” in every forsaken song.

    Bring in the djembes.

  10. Michael says:


    So what do you do if you find that you are not passionate about God as you know you should be and really genuinely want to be? What if you are reading books on the cross and what Christ has accomplished on our behalves is not producing the kind of religious affections that you would desire?



  11. Michael says:

    …sorry, and reading and memorizing the Word…just doing everything yet feeling very little…

  12. David Axberg says:

    Is not the next generation the responsiblity first with the family (father) and then the church? We always blame the church for the loss of the youth from our churches when we should be looking in the mirror. I love your 5 reasons but they should be to the family better yet fathers.

    Love your heart thanks.

  13. patrick says:

    ouch! Right between th eyes. A word from the Lord. Thank you.

  14. Greg Gibson says:

    Amen! Robert Murray McCheyne said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”

    We don’t need new messages, methods, and programs. We need the apostles’ old message and methods.

    The message: Peter preached a passionate, sin-convicting, Christ-exalting sermon. His listeners were cut to the heart, and desperate for salvation.

    Church growth methods: They devoted themselves daily to the apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer. And, what was the result? They grew by the thousands.

    Pastors who seek new messages and methods risk growing a church born of men. But, pastors who copy the apostles old message and methods grow a church born of the Spirit.

  15. Dan S. says:

    Good stuff, Kevin. Thanks for encouraging me to re-kindle my affections for the living Christ. We cannot pass on what we do not feel.

  16. Nancy says:

    Eagerly awaiting the next four posts!

    Is this the outline for your next book? :-) If so, can I pre-order now?

  17. Barbara says:


    I’m not a pastor, nor a teacher, just a redeemed sinner saved by grace only a year and a half ago…but I notice one thing missing from your “I’ve done” list – I know from my own experience (and from James 4) that many times we do not have because we do not ask, and I have learned to ask Him for pretty much everything. He’s shown Himself in His word and in history and in His dealings with me that He is absolutely faithful to answer, for all who would come to Him must believe that He Is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. From what I can see, it’s all a gift from Him anyway, and it seems that He delights in answering those prayers that are seeking to know Him more and thus to love Him more, even begging Him for that heart. Like the old hymn…

    More love to Thee, O Christ, More love to thee –
    Hear now the prayer I make on bended knee;
    This is my earnest plea, more love, O Christ, to thee,
    More love to Thee, more love to Thee.

    Grace be with you,

  18. David Zook says:

    Excellent piece…and one that greatly challenges me. Thanks for your clarity.

  19. Christopher Lake says:

    What a great and needed message! Even though I am a serious lover of art and culture (especially quality books, films, and music), at 36 years old, I often feel “out of it” around younger people. It is simply impossible to keep up with every new band and every new movie. Moreover, there are *some* things to which a Christian probably should not expose him/herself, for the good of his/her soul… How good it is to know that it is the Gospel, openly proclaimed, which reaches and saves non-Christians, rather than the Christian’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of popular culture!

  20. Andrew says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think this is a great point not only for pastors but for congregations. The idea that style matters less than passion for God has been really helpful to me as a worship pastor in a church with extremely diverse (to put it mildly) stylistic preferences. Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

  21. Israel says:

    I completely agree with what you’re saying. I will add one thing though, passion comes alive with the Holy Spirit alive in us. Once that happens, we are on fire.

  22. Phil says:

    Thankyou. Here is how I communicate that…

  23. Jay says:

    Dear brother Kevin,

    Good post..

    “Let love by genuine.”.. Thats a spelling mistake..

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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