In Search of the Youthful Church

“I love my church,” my friend said, “but I have to find one where my kids aren’t all alone, where they feel it’s for them, too. You know what I mean, Paul?”

Sadly, I did know what she meant. She was struggling with a challenge experienced by many Christian parents today. To be sure, there are churches in North America humming with the voices, energy, and faith of young people, but they are far fewer than they once were. They can be hard to find. And parents aren’t the only ones searching. There are others of us who want to be encouraged and energized by young people gathering with us in worship services, hearing their faith-fueled enthusiasm, and hoping they will be inspired to consider God’s calling for their lives. Sadly, with the appalling decline of Christianity in the West, the church in North America simply isn’t as vibrant and youthful as we’d like to think today’s followers of Jesus could or should be.

So, where is the youthful church? Where will we find the next generation eagerly embracing the Savior and serving him? This church can be found in North America, but it is admittedly sparse. Elsewhere in the world, however, it can be found in abundance. The youthful church does exist! We find it in the global church! This really shouldn’t surprise us. We find it right where Jesus said it would be. “You will be my witnesses,” he said, “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The gathering of believers has spread around the world, just as he foretold, and some of its most energetic and youthful parts are right at the edges. Are you looking for youthful? Look global.

I have been so very blessed to see personally the vibrancy and youthfulness of the church elsewhere in the world, and that makes me excited for what God is doing, and for where the global church of Jesus Christ is headed! In the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where the church is expanding more than anywhere else, young people gather enthusiastically with their fellow believers. In places like South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo their impassioned praises have caused my heart to soar! Demographic studies in Liberia and Ghana have revealed that the young Christians in those countries are more serious about their faith than are their elders!

I’ve recently returned from Ecuador, where the worship service I attended was filled to the brim with families, with young adults enthusiastically leading the singing. The congregations I was privileged to help plant in the tribal highlands of the Philippines three decades ago are now robust with young people, third generation believers devoted to God’s Word and seeking ways to share the gospel beyond their own communities. The evangelistic fervor of young church leaders I met in Russia still has me praying for them and excited for each new email they send. The worship in the Nepalese congregations I’ve visited is led entirely by young people being discipled by our workers there. I’ve been similarly blessed by young people in Mongolia. The church in Brazil is experiencing an unprecedented missions movement born amongst its young people, eager to see the gospel shared with Muslims, and we are privileged to have one our workers helping them strategize and prepare for that work. Elsewhere, as we are now seeing in India, young adults are energetically taking the lead in sharing the gospel with the unreached of their own countries.

These young adults, guided by the Holy Spirit, are ready for change, increasingly adept with technology and media, and all the more engaging with the world beyond their own cultures. Youth anywhere are less likely to be content with the status quo, and in some parts of the world this means they are ready to cast off the blinding shroud of idolatry and falsehood, and embrace the freedom of the gospel. They are ready to lead.

What are the implications for us, in this world so dramatically different from the one in which the Prayer League was founded by American young people some eight decades ago? First, let’s be encouraged and give thanks to God! He is good! His church continues to grow and serve. Secondly, let’s pray for these young believers around the world! The temptations and challenges before them are great, but so is their potential. Thirdly, we want to engage with these young believers and their churches. What kinds of wonderful things might God want us learning from them? How might we connect our young people with theirs? Finally, we must seek out the ways in which God would have us respectfully partner with them and their faith communities. Opportunities for teaching English abound. Might we send more workers, and young people especially, to do this? Beyond that, we certainly want to see and respond to the ways in which we might contribute to these young believers learning well from God’s Word, being discipled in their walk with the Lord, and responding to the commission to make disciples of all nations. These youthful churches are on the cutting edge of what God is doing in the world today, and with them, we, too, can be there, no longer searching for them, but serving with them.

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