Popular ministry leaders with a proven track record of reaching youths offered suggestions on how to communicate Christ to the younger generation last week at the 2008 Mission America Coalition gathering.
Evangelists and youth outreach leaders, panelists agreed, have to start texting with cell phones and participate in the technology that the younger generation is so heavily reliant upon.
"They don't expect us to live there," said Mark Fey, director of Christian Worldview and The Truth Project for Focus on the Family, "but they expect us to show up there."
Others suggested allowing students to lead outreach plans while adults just supervise.
"Involve them in our services and don't be so worried about quality control," said Paul Fleischmann, president of the National Network of Youth Ministries. "Take them camping and get them up in front of people [to tell about it]. Don't worry about what they say."
On a similar note, Chue Tou D. Vue, youth pastor of St. Paul, Minnesota's Hmong Alliance Church, advocates letting the youth make major decisions and "own the ministry."
More than 120 ministry leaders from across the United States gathered in Minneapolis on Oct. 7-9 for the annual MAC gathering to rethink evangelism strategies in reaching the younger generation.
Dr. Paul Cedar, chairman of the Mission America Coalition, called the gathering "one of the most effective meetings" in the organization's history.
Among the many speakers at the gathering was former NFL San Diego Charger defensive back Miles McPherson, who now pastors a megachurch in San Diego.
Based on his experience, McPherson recommended that Christian leaders learn to listen to the stories of young people instead of trying to tell their story first.
"Respond to someone's pain," he told the pastors, ministry leaders and cityreachers. "Don't assume you know their pain. Go listen. If we go to church and don't deal with that, God says, 'What good are you?'"
McPherson heads The Rock Church in San Diego, which has 11,000 young worshippers in their teens, 20's, and 30's.
Another speaker advised providing an environment for students to explore doubts about their faith, which, studies have shown, allows them to plant deeper roots of faith that will help them survive the "turbulence that awaits them in college," said Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Powell also suggests getting students involved in inter-generational worship in high school so they can experience the support and encouragement of people of all ages in church, not just other youth or a youth leader, before they head off to college.
Meanwhile, well-known evangelist Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania ministries – one of the world's largest Christian youth organizations – urged parents to build a Christ-center culture in the home that is stronger than the secular culture that is "destroying your kids."
"Make it hard for them to go to Hell," the culture-warrior said. "We don't have to be cool, we can be the strategists. When we dream for them they will come. If MTV and BET are the only ones who dream for them, that's where they'll go."
Luce offered a hopeful challenge to the evangelism leaders gathered when he pointed out that most people come to Christ before the age of 20, and only half of millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) are over 20.
The gathering's host, Mission American Coalition, is a network of national church and ministry leaders who have come together to mobilize the Church for praying, caring and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in deed and word. The network boasts leaders from 81 denominations, more than 400 ministries, and dozens of ministry networks.