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In the church growth heyday, scholars and pastors were wrestling with how to reach out without dumbing down.  Today I would argue that we reach out precisely by not dumbing down.  The door is open like never before to challenge people with good Bible teaching.  People want to learn doctrine.  They really do, even non-Christians.  Whether they accept it all or not, they want to know what Christians actually believe.  Young people will not put up with feel good pablum.  They want the truth straight up, unvarnished, and unashamed.

Thom Rainer did a study a number of years ago asking formerly unchurched people the open ended question "What factors led you to choose this church?"  A lot of surveys had been done asking the unchurched what they would like in a church.  But this study asked the formerly unchurched why they actually were now in a church.  The results were surprising.  11% said worship style led them to their church.  25% said children's/youth ministry.  37% said that sensed God's presence at their church.  41% said someone had witnessed to them from the church, and 49% mentioned friendliness as the reason for choosing their church.  Can you guess the top two responses?  Doctrine and preaching--88% said the doctrine led them to their church and 90% said the preaching led them there, in particular, pastor who preached with certitude and conviction. One woman remarked, "We attended a lot of different churches for different reasons before we became Christians.  I tell you, so many of the preachers spoke with little authority; they hardly ever dealt with tough issues of Scripture, and they soft-sold the other issues.  Frank and I know now that we were hungry for the truth.  Why can't preachers learn that shallow and superficial preaching doesn't help anybody, including people like us who weren't Christians."  When it comes to reaching outsiders, bold, deep, biblical preaching is not the problem.  It's part of the solution.

The next generation in our churches needs to be challenged too.  In his book on the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers, Christian Smith coined the phrase "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" to describe the spirituality of American youth.  They believe in being a good moral person.  They believe religion should give you peace, happiness, and security.  They believe God exists and made the world, but is not particularly involved in the day-to-day stuff of life.  We are naïve if we think this is not the faith of some of the best and brightest in our churches, or even those reading this blog!

Church people are not stupid.  They are not incapable of learning.  For the most part, they simply haven't been taught.  No one has challenged them to think a deep thought or read a difficult book.  No one has asked them to articulate their faith in biblical and theological categories.  We have expected almost nothing out of our young people, so that's what we get.  A couple generations ago 20 year olds were getting married, starting a family, working at a real job or off somewhere fighting Nazis.  Today 35 year olds are hanging out on Facebook, looking for direction, and trying to find themselves.  We have been coddled when we should have been challenged.

Challenging the next generation with truth starts with honest self-examination.  We must ask, "Do I know the plotline of the Bible?  Do I know Christian theology?  Do I read any serious Christian books?  Do I know anything about justification, redemption, original sin, propitiation, and progressive sanctification?  Do I really understand the gospel?"  We cannot challenge others until we have first challenged ourselves.  The "average" churchgoer must think more deeply about his faith.  Many Christians need to realize, like I did one night in college when confronted with some of my own ignorance, that they don’t really know what they believe or why they believe it.

You've heard it said that Christianity in America is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Well, it's more like half a mile wide now.  Christian influence is not as pervasive as it once was.  I'm convinced that if Christianity is to be a mile wide again in America, it will first have to find a way to be a mile deep.  Shallow Christianity will not last in the coming generation and it will not grow.  Cultural Christianity is fading.  The church in the 21s century must go big on truth or go home.

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19 thoughts on “Reaching the Next Generation: Challenge Them With Truth”

  1. James Bell says:

    Bravo! Thanks for the call to challenge with truth. People must have truth! As we know, the Word of God is truth given by the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth and who teaches and leads into all truth, while always glorifying Jesus who is the ‘way the TRUTH and the life!’

    However, from what I’ve witnessed in 40 years of ministry, I have little faith in surveys such as Rainer’s. Is there a remnant who loves sound doctrine? Yes! Must we live and preach sound Biblical doctrine which God uses to radically transform lives? Yes! (2 Timothy 3:15-17) However, the trend until Jesus comes back, is that the masses want their ears ‘tickled’ (2 Timothy 4:1-5) Thus, many of the pulpits of the land are filled with ‘Aarons’ who are leading congregations in great ‘worship services’ and the people love ‘Aarons’!! (Exodus 32) The tragic posibility is that this is not even ‘shallow Christianity’– but is not much of it simply the flesh appealing Harlot? On the planet, there are only two churches: The harlot and the Bride of Christ. The multi-denominational harlot is growing and uniting and will increasingly hate the Bride. The Bride of Christ loves TRUTH and is loyal to TRUTH because she loves Christ. She will increasingly be persecuted and as she is purified and will experience true growth. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church!”

  2. Travis says:

    I have been blessed by this series of posts. Thank you! Which Thom Rainer book did you reference in this post?

  3. Abu Tulip says:

    Great series. Luvin’ it.

  4. David Axberg says:

    Thank you Kevin,

    Preach it from the streets and mountain tops.

  5. Cathy says:

    Wow!! This is one of the best posts that I have read in a long time! Keep the truth coming Reverend! We love it!

  6. Jon Solomon says:


    I love how you are Humbly bold.

    I think the fact that Christianity is going from a mile wide, to 1/2 mile actually may be a good thing. Post-modern challenges to Christianity are forcing true Christians to think deeper about Christian doctrine. The chaff are being weeded out. Christianity may be 1/2 mile wide, but that 1/2 mile is getting deeper as the width shrinks. The Young Reformed movement is a good example of this.

    When confronted with the ever-growing sophisticated challenges of our post-modern world, Christians will either go deeper, or they will succumb to the convincing challenges the world brings. We are losing “church goers”, but those who are sticking around have their roots deeper than ever in God’s glory, grace, and sovereigny.

    I think post-modernism has strengthened Christianity in my generation, not harmed it.

  7. Will Grovitz says:

    The coming persecution?
    Christians have been persecuted since Cain & Abel.
    Do you mean in the U.S.?
    In many other countries the persecution is horrifying.
    True christians are always persecuted. In fact, if you are not being persecuted, you really should question whether you are truly in the kingdom of God.

  8. Nancy says:


    These are GREAT posts! Thanks for stepping up and speaking out!

  9. Matt Swanson says:


    Great words…I cant say AMEN enough! Have been reading a couple of your books, great stuff.

    Our mutual friends, John and Mary from Orange City, sent me one of your books…thanks!

    Hope to cross paths some day…

  10. Nathan says:

    AMEN BROTHER!!!!! You have hit the nail on the head. Preach it brother!!!! We see the same thing in New Zealand. Do you have a link or anything for the study to talked about? I would like to read it.

  11. Richard Moy says:

    Yeah what we find in Wolves,UK is that solid doctrine is in but churchy jargon a total no no!

    We need people who can teach like Jesus – uncompromising truth, compelling story telling

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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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