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Step up outreach to children & young adults, prof advises

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A call to evangelize children and young adults was sounded by a seminary professor during the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Nov. 16-17 annual meeting in Louisville.

Thom Rainer, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, led a workshop on “Baptism Trends and Recommended Strategies for Kentucky Baptist Churches.”

Rainer and his son, Sam, presented a comprehensive report on the spiritual health of Kentucky Baptist churches and argued that successful evangelism requires a willingness to invest intentionally in the lives of unbelievers.

Although Christians should not place their focus on numbers, surveying statistical data can help to gauge the spiritual health of churches, Rainer said.

Citing a study conducted by the Rainer Group church consulting firm, Rainer noted that baptisms in Kentucky declined from 20,460 in 1980 to a low of 13,395 in 1994. Beginning in 1995, the number of baptisms began to increase, but the growth of Baptist churches in the state still lags far behind the growth of the overall population, he said.

“If the current trends continue, [Kentucky Baptist churches] will net a loss of 58 persons per year by the year 2025,” Sam Rainer said.

In order to reach the state’s population more successfully, churches must make sharing the Gospel with children and young adults a priority, Thom Rainer said.

Research reveals that the Bridger generation (those born between 1977 and 1994) is both the most unchurched generation alive today and the generation most receptive to the Gospel, he said. This data should encourage churches to increase their efforts to reach unchurched young people, Rainer said.

“We have had a decline in reaching young people, yet this generation [the Bridger generation] has 72 million young people — second only to the Boomer generation,” he said. “When we begin to test receptivity to the Gospel … the Bridger generation is the most receptive to the Gospel. This generation is both the most receptive and the least reached.”

The most effective way to reach the Bridger generation is not necessarily to launch new and creative programs, Rainer said. Instead, churches must make an intentional effort to build relationships with young people and lovingly teach them the Good News of Christ, he said.

“It all boils down to intentionality,” Rainer said. “Are we being intentional … Can we not help but speak about what we have seen and heard? Those who are intentional about reaching young people tend to reach young people. Those that are not intentional don’t reach young people.”

Pursuing young people with the Gospel will require prayer, a willingness to change, a focus on children’s ministry and the development of high expectations, Rainer said.

“Here’s the bottom line: we must speak about what we have seen and heard. If we do this, the KBC will have more baptisms than it will have ability to count. We will see revival, and the SBC will have an explosion of evangelistic growth.”